solar birthday musings

Today marks the beginning of my 37th trip around the sun. I don’t celebrate birthdays, but I think completing a trip around the sun is full of significance. Here are some of my thoughts on that, as a gift to you:


That’s how I was livin’?  Surrounded by girls and strangers.  I chose not to choose.  I chose not to be like you, like them, like anything.  A Rebel Without a Cause, or a Clue.

Is this really what it’s all about?  Going to a good school, and getting good grades, so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, so you can have a good marriage and kids, who you put into good schools, so they can get into a good college and get a good job that will afford a good marriage and good schools for their kids…?

This was not my future, spending the best hours of the best days of the best years of my life sitting in a cubicle?  Living in a cube, staring at a tube, dreaming of a picket fence?

I don’t want “the job, the family, the f—ing big television. The washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electric tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisure wear, luggage, three piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing gutters, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die”?

You know in Maine there was this fisherman, he lived by the sea.  He had a simple life.  He wasn’t poor or rich.  When he had a good catch, he’d take a couple of days off.  When he didn’t, he’d head in early and live to fish another day.  One day, a businessman from New York, a stockbroker, came to the coast of Maine for vacation.  He was on a walk and he saw this fisherman, so he asked him,

“What are you doing?”

“Well, I set out my lobster traps and now I’m going to take a nap and check ’em later?”

“Whaddo you do with your lobsters?”

“Oh, I sell ’em to the local market, a truck drives by every morning and evening.”

“Oh, buddy, lemme tell ya:  you’ve got it all wrong.”

“Really, whaddo you mean?”

“You should go to a bank and get a business loan.”

“What’ll I do with that?”

“You buy yourself a lobster trawler, you know, the boat.  Then you hire an assistant, and you and him will be lobstering 24/7.”

“Well I guess we’d catch a lotta lobster.”

“You betcha you will.  And soon enough you’ll have your loan paid off.  Then you can invest your profits.”

“Invest ’em?  In what?”

“More trawlers, that’s what.  Pretty soon, you’ll have your own company.”

“My own company?  What am I gonna do with that?”

“You’ll dominate the region.  Imagine, you, not going to the market, not selling to the market, but owning the market.”

“Well, hell, that’s outta sight.  Then what?”

“Well, you can branch out into other ventures, lobster-related of course.  For example, you could open your own chain of restaurants.  What’s your name, buddy?”

“James.  James Thomason.”

“James…  Thomason…  Hmmm….  JT’s By The Sea.  That’s the name.  JT’s By The Sea Lobster and Seafood.  How d’you like the sound o’that?”

“Best name I could think of.  But, mister, your ideas sound good and all.  But where does it all end?  I mean, this sounds like a lotta money and hard work.”

“This is the good part.  Once you’ve gotten your chain of restaurants and wholesale and distribution, you take your company public.”

“Public?  Public like what?”

“You let investors put money into your company.  It’s like a fundraiser to have money to do more business.”

“Well can I keep any of it?”

“That’s the point!  You can cash out, sell all your shares of the company and put it all- all of it- into the bank.”

“Really?!  You’ve got some really good ideas.  Whaddo you reckon I should do with all that money?”

“Why, retire, of course.”

“What’ll I do after I retire?”

“Well you buy yourself a house on the beach, and spend the rest of your life fishing all day…”

Why not just take the shortcut, live the dream instead of just dreaming about living the dream?  Really, how long is it gonna take to get a good enough job to pay off the school loan you took so you could get a good enough job to have the income to take out a mortgage for a house big enough to get a home equity loan to pay your kids’ way through college?

Is there a bigger dream than having enough money to borrow more money?

But what’s there to reach for besides the pie in the sky?

“Sometimes I look up at the stares and analyze the sky

and ask myself ‘Was I meant to be here?



Quotes from picture and 4th paragraph from the 1996 film Trainspotting.

Final quote from Ghostface Killah’s “All That I Got is You.”

i came to the fork in the road and went straight… (my improbable journey to Islam & a lot of other places, part I)

i came to the fork in the road and went straight…

I love travel. It is a love that began without me noticing. I grew up in Texas, far from my mother and father’s Rhode Island and Virginia roots, so annual trips to see the grandparents were probably my first travel experiences. Those were road trips, by the way; it’s expensive to fly four kids cross country. My dad’s parents had bought a huge recreational vehicle, or camper, and I still remember our trips through forests and up and down the Atlantic coast.

After that, sports took me a long way. Between basketball and soccer tournaments and track meets, I’ve spent as much time on a school bus and crammed in a van as I can stand. All us cool guys would sit at the back of the bus, but that was also where going over a speed bump can pop you out of your seat, or jolt you awake from a nap. Once on the way to a soccer tournament, I was the only guy in the van who couldn’t speak Spanish. Someone would tell a joke and they’d all laugh while I waited for a translation, only to find that the funny part was often untranslatable.

Travel came to me with a sense of adventure. The colleges who recruited me flew me to their campuses in my senior year of high school, and I saw all different kinds of climates (Imagine a Texas boy seeing snow in May!) and people. I broke up a fight on the streets of London, and then literally had to flee- for my life, I presumed- back to my hostel. During a trip to Europe, I saw currencies, languages, architecture and geographies change several times in less than the time it took to drive across Texas. I was an extra in the Matrix II and got free entry to premier nightclubs because of people who had seen me there. In many ways, my life was like a movie, and I won’t say what rating.

I love nature. After 3 semesters at Columbia University in the thick of New York City, I enrolled at Sydney University (Australia) as an exchange student. The orientation took place in the Blue Mountains, so named for the hue it reflects from a distance. After our first night there, I walked out of my cabin, took a breath, and smelled nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was clean fresh air, as far as I could remember for the first time. That one moment, that single impression, has left more of a mark on me than any book or lesson or song or conversation.

It was a sign.

I almost got killed. It was all a mix-up where someone’s bag was stolen that looked like mine, and the word got to the local gang, who felt there ethnicity had been slighted by an outsider. They pulled a gun on me. I don’t brag when I say that I wasn’t scared, but I wasn’t, so what else can I say? I didn’t beg for my life, I just played it cool, my usual strategy. But I was nervous, sorta like how you feel walking toward your new school for the first time. What’s gonna happen once I go inside? Bottom line, I didn’t want to die. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but the next day I asked myself what would have happened if they’d killed me. I wouldn’t have just died. I would have died for nothing. To date, I’d achieved nothing with my life, had made no contribution, had left nothing worthwhile behind.

This was the fork in the road.

My intelligence told me to run, that the danger was sure to resurface. The guy whose bag was stolen came back at the gangsters that threatened me, but how many more people had gotten the wrong story? My ego told me to stay. I had the Friday night set up at the local nightclub, with DJ Smoove and the Turkish Delights, two twin dancers from Turkey! I wasn’t gonna let that money or prestige go. Besides, I wasn’t afraid anyway. Then I chose the other path, the one that wasn’t really being offered. I wasn’t going to go right or left. I followed my heart and went straight…

jahiliyyah (part 1)

each night & every nap i dream

i can’t remember what happens

i don’t know what they mean

maybe shaytaan is playin’ wit’ me

are these visions of events my eyes will soon see?

what’s gonna happen to me? i aint ‘fraid

i’ll give my life but i wanna die in Peace

i remember when my whole plan shattered to pieces

i & my friends scattered like winds on stormy beaches

i walked the desert & faced the sun

i learned from my deeds, every one:

i used to tell lies to my own mother

i hid & ran for cover in the lives of others-

the others were those i was trying to be;

but an image & crew couldn’t make a new me-

i used to die in my sleep:

i woke & couldn’t move or even breathe

my whole life was a game:

the goal was to get mine before i got old

or went insane

when you’re on the way to nowhere

the journey never ends

when you’re nowhere you’re alone,

even with friends everywhere you turn,

you’re still trapped within

your escape is to repent

while you still can…

* ‘jahiliyyah’ is árabic for “period of ignorance”