USA :: December '96 -- May '97

Subject: The Circle Game
Date: Sunday, 4 May, 1997 15:54


00:00 64th & Granville, Vancouver; Canada :: 01 MAY 97

I'm finally feeling pretty settled in my new internet domain, <synaptic.bc.ca>. I may still be living out of a backpack, but I've finally got a permanent address, well, a virtually permanent address: an address that'll follow me around like a friendly, frisky puppy.

But getting a home of my own wasn't the impetus for moving. It is simply the latest turn in a long series of events. Nearly two years ago, I'd returned from a year's travel and at a coming-home party I staged in Whistler, was thinking out loud to a friend, "I'd kinda like to combine all those Travelogue entries, photographs, video and sound into a multi- media package. Maybe a CD-ROM or a web site." The friend, also named Patrick, shrugged,

"Why don't you put it on my server?"

Pat had moved to Whistler after finishing his co-op with Microsoft right around the time I got out in 1994. He's a hell of a snowboarder, so Whistler was shangri-la, but he was also working on some net security stuff of his own, when not shredding the couloirs. Problem was, there was no internet provider in Whistler, which meant big long distance bills to Vancouver, the nearest internet connection. One month brought a $2000 long-distance bill which made him think it was time to start considering other options. Several happy coincidences later, aided with some good `ol gumption and risk-taking, Whistler Net was born.

"On Whisnet? Free?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure."

"How much space?"

"How much do you need?"

"How much have you got?"

The thought of the potentially disk displacing data mass of 300+ pages of journal text, three dozen rolls of 36 exposure slide film, and 33, 2-hour Hi-8 video tapes didn't seem to phase him.

Patrick's Travelogue was born. In a very significant way, it is as much his as mine; I doubt it would ever have happened without all that tantalizingly free web space.

Not that it happened right away. I'd only just returned from the travels and had nothing to return to but my beloved `86 Honda Civic and a storage locker full of bicycles, furniture, kitchen supplies, and other apartment detritus. And my desktop computer. And an accumulation of professional electronics and video equipment. And no place else to put it. And no desire to put it anywhere.

When you've been travelling for a year, living out of a backpack, your attitude about stuff changes. And this time I don't mean philosophical stuff--I mean stuff, things, objects. Like a lifetime's belongings crammed into an 8X7X7 foot locker. A car is a beautiful thing. It speeds you about, hither and yon. It is movement. It is freedom. Driving a winding highway is like dance. A car is not merely transport, it transports you. Stuff just sits there. It begs, "Please find a place for me, a pretty place where you will love me and give me attention." Placid, stolid stuff wants to set down roots, to stand still. It wants a cozy abode to curl up in, even on sunny Sunday afternoons, whiling away the hours counted out by old grandfather clock in the dining room, second-by-second.

I'd last seen the locker, with all its slumbering stuff, six months earlier, at the end of a brief travelling intermission visiting family and friends during the Christmas holidays. After packing away my didjeridu, computer and a couple other items of varying utility, I stepped back and looked at the literal bulk of my material value. The desperate urge struck: just walk away; leave the door open, put a notice at the front desk, "FREE STUFF IN LOCKER 796" then walk away. Buddha comes the closest to describing what I felt about the contents of that locker: entanglement.


The irony of the trade-off between disk space and living space didn't strike me until just a moment ago, just before deciding how to write Pat's response.

See, there I was standing with my friend Pat waiting for his reply, the gauntlet I'd thrown down laying at his feet: How much space? He bent down, straightened and, gauntlet in hand, lightly tapped my cheek.

"Let's see what kind of damage you can do."
Back on that day I weighed the possibilities of practically unlimited free web space against letting all that stuff get out of Pandora's locker where it would no doubt find a comfy place and resolutely refuse to budge ever again.
"Let me think about it," I replied decisively.
For me, thinking about something sometimes means removing myself as much as possible from the process of considering it. The next day the Civic and I danced highway 99 back down to Vancouver where the Jazz Festival, for which I had an all-event pass, was heading into its second week. One night at the Cultch, The Vancouver Cultural Centre, in the quiet moments before the show, I was reading The Georgia Straight, a free weekly newspaper/entertainment guide, idly glossing over the Accommodations section of the classifieds.
Deep Cove. Two rooms in downstairs of waterfront cabin.
Own bath. Shared kitchen. Part. furn. Lndry Fac.
$625/month, inclusive. July to end of September.
Three months was as long as I cared to plan ahead. Three months seemed about long enough to cobble together the web page I had in mind. In the end it wasn't quite but the cabin remained available through November and the extra 62 days got me over the hump. It was a memorable, idyllic summer and fall, with my two windows 30 feet from high tide, a big cedar providing both shade from the mid-morning sun and a sense of intimate privacy without blocking the ocean view. I'd be intently blasting away at the keyboard, while through open windows came sea air mingled with the sounds of playing children or Saturday afternoon concerts at the park across the cove. And except for the didjeridu, a desk and the computer, all that stuff stayed in the locker.

December found me compromising with Pandora's locker. I bought a 35' fifth wheel and stuffed it with stuff, though only mobile stuff. The beloved Civic was replaced by a gas chugging behemoth that could pull the fully loaded trailer up Blackcomb Mountain's Saudan Couloir. The trailer didn't move at all for the next five months while modifications converted its diminutive living room into a desktop audio/video studio.

Patrick's situation at Whistler Net changed during that time, his control of Whistler Net sold in exchange for financial security and an opportunity to continue the internet security project he'd started Whisnet to enable in the first place. He eventually called me up to explain that his new partners were wondering why 25MB of displaced disk generating thousands of hits a day wasn't generating any revenue. We arrived at an agreeable solution, adding the Whistler Net logo to every one of the website's pages in exchange for continued free use of Whistler Net disk.

After five stationary months, the trailer rolled ceasely for the next three, trundling Katrin and I, and all our mobile stuff, down the West coast to Los Angeles, East to Phoenix and then back up through the canyon lands, to Yellowstone and the Glacier National Parks of Montana and British Columbia. Another summer of web editing followed and the image gallery's inventory more than doubled, as did the server space required to store it. How much longer, I wondered, would it be reasonable to expect Whistler to continue supporting the growing Travelogue?

Meanwhile, the entangling stuff worked its quiet ways. Stuff sets down roots, not in the ground but in you. Rootlet by rootlet, stuff slows you down until the taproot sets and you forget there was ever a life without stuff. This is OK if you are setting down your own roots, if you've found a place in the world you can stand still and still gather the nourishment you need. But for now my nature remains that of a creeper with its shallow, tentative roots, not a prodigious willow. Standing still for too long weakens me. Feeling complacent and all too directionless, it took some time to muster the gumption for travel. It took time and a few fortunate prods like a friend deciding they needed a 35' fifth wheel to live in through the winter. Still, it wasn't until November that I stood looking into the locker and shook my finger at the conspiring stuff.

Travelling did not unfold as planned. It never does, but this time it did not unfold well either. Travelling well you can't plan. Travelling well is something of a Zen quality rather than a planning quantity. It happens, but can't be made to happen. That's not to say I wasn't having a great time, visiting friends and interesting places in England, Belgium and France. It's just that I was visiting not travelling. Visiting is a rooted behaviour. We pick up our roots like a hoop skirt, rush over to some other comfortable location and plunk them down for a while, but we're only comfortable once settled into the chair, the hoops demurely flattened and the ruffles fluffed. Rotating thus among the warm hearths of my friends in Europe conflicted the creeper in me, but not enough to set me creeping.

Change came suddenly and dramatically when news of my father's death reached me. I've already told some of these stories and there are more to tell, but for now I'll say that the news sent me to the Arizona desert where for two months I consoled my mother and thought about stuff. No, not the kind you put in an 8X7X7 locker, the other kind. Deserts are good places to think about that kind of stuff. Like the dessert itself, we strip ourselves of all but the essentials.

Providence stepped in again, in email from a friend with the enticing subject line, "Trippin in China".

My little press agency is coming along slowly. It will happen in time. I have the name and the phone. I am working on the stationary, bank account etc.

I have a project that you might be interested in working on with me.

China! I am going to do a documentary in China on the importance of the bicycles. There are six bazillian bikes there. I am quite sure I can sell articles to 6 to 12 magazines. I was going to go it alone but I don't think I really want to be stared at 24 hours a day for weeks without being able to bounce the frustrations off someone. I've spent a little bit of time in China and remember the blank stares. Aggggggh!! I don't have the departure date yet. It will depend on the weather and the areas to be traveled. I want to do the trip on bike, jumping on trains and buses when needed. The important thing is to travel to anything bicycle oriented.

Here is the only catch. It has to be a "Co" trip. Either co-written and co-photographed, or written by you and photographed by me. It is important for me to build my career as well as produce an article. It will be a good trip. I think it could bring in a bit of money as well as open up some doors. If you are at all interested let me know. We can slowly work out the details. I am going to try to get to the China Embassy in a couple of weeks. If its not your cup of tea (a little China joke) no worries.

I'll take a pot of that tea, please. Of course I'm interested. And the more I think on it, the more I'm interested. For three years I've been believing I travelled for the sake of travel, just to go and see what things are like elsewhere, otherwhere. I even wrote a journal entry attempting to support this premise. It was a poor result, but that always happens when you're not telling your own truth.

The year in Australia and SE Asia was intended not just to travel, but to collect media material always with the explicit intent to create something from the results. I didn't know what I would create...that was to be discovered. In that way, I discovered the initial Travelogue. After that came the project of building the mobile studio, and then seeing how it travelled and whether I could work out of it. Always a goal, a reason for taking the journey.

But after returning from the coast, the canyonlands and Yellowstone, I lost the thread. I ran out of purpose. I knew it at the time, but didn't know what to do about it. It was a small summer, lost in the innumerable moments our memories never conjure up. What happened to me from July and August, I really can't say. September came the annual Vancouver Fringe Festival. I reviewed five plays, and saw five more. Some rise out of the fog. October was the Film Festival. I attended over 60 screenings in two weeks. Many of those films are now being released to general distribution in the first-run cinemas. I met some of you now on this distribution list. Some of you, who I would later meet, sent your first email my way. Most of the rest of it is lost.

I thought reentering the journey would shake me out of the doldrums, that travel for travel's sake would be purpose enough. Decidedly not the case. I was in a funk even travelling to Europe didn't cure. And certainly the death of my father was no help.

The message "Trippin in China" roused me. There was planning and training to do. I booked a flight back to Vancouver.

00:43 64th & Granville; Vancouver, BC -- Canada :: 2 MAY 97

It's not like everything went right in Vancouver. I got sick almost immediately upon arrival and was layed up for several days. For a number of reasons, China's been delayed at least until the fall. Whistler Net pointed out how much space and bandwidth I was using, and how little revenue they earned from it. The free web ride was over.

Delaying China's turned into a good thing. I am beginning to realize how ill-prepared I would have been for the journey.

It was a good time to move away from Whistler Net. I've established a permanent presence on the web. This process reminded me of the past two years' achievements. It highlighted the purpose underlying the journeys which I'd fallen into the habit of believing were travel for travel's sake. Most important of all, it re-established my sense of independence, of striking out on my own. Going through the domain change reminded me of the importance of keeping occupied while working toward a goal and that a goal can only be attained once. I realized picking a new travel destination is not equivalent to picking new goals.

This story has an unusual closure to it. Over my lifetime, I've become something of a collector of unusual closures. I like this one. Tonight I dined with two friends from Microsoft days, guys I hadn't seen in a while--more than a year. One of them is Patrick. We talked about the things old friends and colleagues who haven't seen each other talk about. When the subject of my website came up, Pat asked me,

"Why don't you put it on my server?"

"For free?"

"Yeah, sure."

"How much space?"

"A couple hundred gigs."

I'm thinking about it. There are some catches, as always, like a small charge for `bandwidth'--the data transmitted from the server to your browsers--but free web space is not something to turn down lightly. Where would I be today if I hadn't taken him up on the same offer nearly three years ago?

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

Marxism is especially like religion in the nature of certain basic questions which it attempts to answer. It includes--though not under these names--a theory of how evil came into the world and how it will be eliminated; a vision of powers which are beyond man's control and inflict suffering upon him, but which carry him onward to a blessed fulfillment; a prophecy of a final paradise where humanity will live in perfect freedom and happiness. It is impossible to understand the deep appeal of the Marxist system unless we consider its powerful effect upon emotions which are essentially religious.
  graphical element Samuel H. Beer
From his Introduction to,
The Communist Manifesto

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