23,803 Miles, Sarawak, and Home Again

It’s exactly 6 AM and I’ve been wide awake for almost two hours. The sun isn’t up and I’m already on my second cup of coffee. Since I’ve returned I’ve been waking up earlier than usual so I might as well be productive. I’m starting to like the morning.

View from my hotel room. Kuching, Malaysia.

My last transmission was on the 4th of March. I was across the Pacific in Okinawa, Japan. I was living in a bare barracks room with horrible internet and hideous decor. I spent most of my free time smoking cigars, drinking beer, and getting reacquainted with Dostoevsky. It rained a lot. That warm, humid, Japanese rain. Miserable.

In the past three months I’ve flown 23,303 miles. First moving from Japan to California. Then being sent back to Japan for work for a few weeks. After that I spent a bit over one month in Kuching, State of Sarawak, Malaysia. Now I’m finally home.

Moving my entire life across the Pacific is a surreal experience. Leaving a place, an entire country, an entire culture, and way of life is jarring and hard to describe.

In February I flew my family to our new home in California. I only stayed with them for two weeks then back to Okinawa to catch up with my coworkers so I could go on a project in Malaysia. It’s been weird coming home because when I arrived back in California what I’m calling home is more foreign to me than Sarawak. After all I only lived in my current house for a few days but spent the better part of two months living in a hotel room in Kuching.

Land of the White Rajahs

When I was out in the jungle my coworkers would talk about back home. It was strange because I didn’t really know anything about back home except what my wife described to me.

I got back on the 14th of April. Catching up, carving out my place, getting acquainted with the furniture. I have a new desk. New couches, new bed. Bought a grill, some patio furniture, domestic stuff so we can enjoy the California summer.

The weather in California is nice. Growing up here I took it for granted until we lived in Japan. California weather is just right, a bland nice. After the 95 degree 90% humidity of Sarawak I like the niceness. But I do miss the jungle.

This past Thursday was my 36th birthday. I was born in 1983. Off the top of my head Ronald Reagan was president, David Bowie and Phil Collins ruled the radio and everyone wore hideous clothes. Of course I had no idea because I was just born and living behind the Iron Curtain. It was a good birthday.

I’m reading Barry Hanna, my coffee is cold, and my battery is low.

Above all, don’t lie to yourself.

Last night I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. The last time I read Dostoevsky’s masterpiece was two decades ago when I was a teenager in high school and it had a tremendous impact on me. Ever since I considered it my favorite book and the greatest novel ever written. So, I decided that being in my mid-thirties, a husband, and father, I should revisit it from a more mature point in my life.

Right away I was struck by the narrator’s voice is a lot more comical and light-hearted than I remembered. The book is framed in a typical 19th-century fashion where the assumption is that the narrator is telling the reader a true story and every fact and detail is through the lens of an unnamed speaker recollecting the events to the best of his ability and also injecting a fair amount of his own personal commentary. The opening chapters that lay out the background of the story contain a lot of historical and literary references that I appreciate a lot more now that I’m much better educated on 19th century European and Russian history and politics.

But it was in Book II Chapter 2 where the novel really begins and I immediately re-discovered why it’s considered a masterpiece.

The section is titled An Inappropriate Gathering and takes place at the local monastery. The Karamazov family agrees to discuss the matter of Dimitry’s inheritance while the elder Father Zosima acts as the mediator between the father and son. Upon arrival at the elder’s chamber, the horrendously boorish and offensive Fydor begins running his mouth, insulting the people around him, and playing the fool. He turns to Father Zosima and in a mocking fake victimhood he asks “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Father Zosima’s response is fantastic.

Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a smile:

“You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can’t close all, at least two or three. And, above all- don’t lie.”

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.

The above passage is outstanding. Like our modern day outrage hunters, Fyodor Karamazov is an opportunist who seeks to defraud and take advantage of others.

I believe lying to oneself is one of the main problems underlying our current cultural malaise. We tell ourselves fantasies about who we are, what we can achieve, what is good, what is moral, and react negatively when faced with the truth. We force lies onto others and act indignantly when they refuse to acknowledge our fantasies. We take actions that were considered foolish a century ago and are crushed when the predictable results harm us.

So much of the current cultural and political climate would be improved if everyone followed Father Zosima’s teaching.

California

It’s been seventeen days, five thousand or so miles, three airports, three hotels, two planes, one car rental, and we are finally with family in California.

Flying across the Pacific Ocean with my wife, a seven-month-old baby, and our dog has been a challenge. Living out of suitcases and sleeping in airport lounges has been an experience and even after seventeen days, our journey is far from over.

Everything we own that we didn’t carry with us is making the slow trip across the Pacific by container ship and will not arrive until the end of next month. That means we are living in a new place with minimal furnishing.

It’s enlightening how one can accomplish day to day tasks with limited supplies and how much we take the simple things for granted.


Expect intermittent sporadic transmissions in the coming months.

Rethinking the Blog

I’m sitting here at my favorite bar in Yokosuka Japan enjoying a cigar and dark beer reflecting on the past five years of blogging. I begun blogging early on when I first decided to take writing seriously.

When I started Barbarian Book Club my goal was to use this space to document my writing process and to make it a hub for promoting my writing. In the past few years due to this place and social media I’ve grown as a writer and also developed numerous professional connections in the independent world of writing.

But, honestly I’ve used this place as an extension of my social media, almost as a long-form version of Twitter.

Yet the biggest undercurrent of development in my growth as a writer has been in the scope of the politic. The more I’ve delved into the culture of the creative the more I’ve realized that all art is strictly in the philosophical and the political. Every act of art is political and cultural because culture is anchored in the political. Culture does not exist independent of politics, because culture is intertwined and reflects the philosophy of the creator.

Accepting the above fact means that I’m no longer going to shy away from using this medium to discuss my philosophical and political observations. Views that have matured and changed drastically in the past five years.

Practically what this means is that I will be using this place as a home not just for my writing but for my observations on culture, life, politics, and religion.

I plan on restructuring this space away from a focus on everyday blogging and towards a more essay focused medium discussing subjects such as masculinity, fatherhood, personal growth, and how these subjects pertain to a fledgling career in the independent publishing subculture.

I have a lot of material planned and outlined and I hope I can grow this page as a discussion hub or at least a place worth visiting for like minded readers and writers.