The space between my ears

In life, you never arrive

I’ve rounded the corner on three years in the Peace Corps. I have less than four weeks until I “COS”, or see my close of service.

It’s arriving with little fanfare.

Peace Corps service is like climbing a mountain, and then climbing back down again. The peak was somewhere in the middle. Little heralds the return journey. There is no culmination in the last steps.

Maybe that’s why it feels so strange. I’m looking for that final moment, the finish line, a nice and neat wrap-up to everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve done, everyone I’ve met along they way. And then I realize, the culmination was all these little things, all these moments that have already passed me by.

I think in some ways I knew that. I could feel it in those moments. Those moments where your surroundings dim and you see everything by the light of a smile. Those moments where you’re simply present, enjoying and being washed in the immensity of now. You don’t see those moments while you’re in them. You somehow can only recognize them afterwards—these times of deep satisfaction, of eminent value.

Maybe it’s also the fact that I’m coming back. I’ll finish my contract in June, be back in the States for a couple months then return to Kyrgyzstan in August to live, study Russian, work a little and finally get to live close to my girlfriend who’s in the capital, Bishkek. I don’t have to have closure. I don’t need to summarize my experience. I don’t need to face the fact that I will be leaving people I love.

Part of me doesn’t want there to be an end. Maybe that’s why I’m coming back—so I can have an excuse to not hold any going away parties, to not wrap things up, to let it just trickle out, to simply say, “See you later” instead of that final and crushing, “Goodbye.”

It’s just life

Those familiar with Peace Corps lingo immediately recognize the term “RPCV.” For everyone else, it’s Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. This phrase has always meant one thing or another to us volunteers on this side of the finish line. I don’t know what yet, but I guarantee you this phrase is going to mean something totally different once we do finally finish our service.

Some might see it as a culmination—see that label as a final stamp on two years or more worth of work, of experience, two years of blood, sweat and tears. But if we couldn’t see the peaks of service until looking back, it’s likely to be the same for all of the rest of life.

I used to think life was marked by these large milestones: high school, college, first job, spouse, house, family. But anyone a good ways into it can tell you it’s a bit more convoluted than that. Things come in spurts, or never at all. And once you hit a moment where you think you’ve arrived, you find that life keeps rolling on and there’s little time to realize those significant moments in your life.

When you live life for the culminations—for the arrivals—you end up missing so much in between. So live now. Take your eyes off the future significant and dwell in the immense significance of now, in the momentous moments of today.

A life mantra


Always. Choose joy. Deal with the hard stuff in its time.


Make mental maps of places, people, experiences, thoughts. Read lots of books.


Keep your hands busy and do good, keeping a sober mind and body, and a disciplined spirit.


Share your joy and observations through the end of a pen and pushed out through fingers on a keyboard.


Love God and love people, dedicating special attention and time to the important people in your life.

Withdraw to lonely places

For those who too are depressed, anxious or exhausted–I’m sharing an excerpt of my journal from today.


I trust you, Lord. I’m just going to keep saying it and keep doing it until I believe it. Our beliefs follow our actions.

I’m ill today, Lord. Not physically ill though, in the way I lied and told my mother, counterpart, students and club members I threw up this morning. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I’m depressed and anxious. There’s a spirit of fear still residing in me, Jesus, and I am at your mercy to cast it out!

I made it through two winters here already and the third is about to begin. Now I’m busier than ever and I haven’t been looking after myself and I just broke down. Had to spend a morning in the shop, aka my bed, for repairs before I could get back on the road again.

Part of living with this depression is being able to function when I’m hurting. To be able to perform at quarter capacity. Not perform well, but to simply show up and bounce along down the road of life. There are tough paths everywhere and quitting to take a new route isn’t going to make the journey easier. The scenery changes, but the trials and challenges don’t.

So it’s somewhat about pushing through the mental pain. Doing before feeling. Finishing in last place instead of taking a DNF.

Even you withdrew to lonely places, though Lord. Even you needed a day off, away from people, away from the demands and empty bellies, broken spirits and hurting bodies. Even you said “no” to people sometimes.

You withdrew to lonely places to pray. To connect with the Father. To unload and be refilled again. You knew the crowds would still be there, that there’d always be the poor, that there’d be no break in the lines of the needy.

So you talked to your father. You called him and taught us to call him, “daddy,” like a child climbing up into his lap.

I imagine you talked about your week, the masses crowding around you, those who wanted to stone you and those plotting your murder.

I imagine you asked for strength to resist your human nature’s desire to lust, lie and envy. I imagine you spent time just looking out over the hills and the trees and the water and marveled in the beauty of the creation you helped your father make, bringing Him glory in your obedience and receiving joy in return.

My battle here Lord is not against people and not against the world but against the spirits of darkness hovering here in my bedroom, sailing down the streets and slipping into pernicious corners in dark alleys of our homes and in our minds. That satan wants to kill and destroy and his workers gnaw at the edges of our souls, pushing us to abandon the straight and narrow path and throw off Jesus’ light yoke, trading it for a necklace of chains.

I ask for the freedom of doing your will. I ask for assurance that everything will be ok in the end. I ask for your yoke pulling me out of bed each morning to go at it alive and free and in the joy of being known by you, my creator.

It’s the afternoon. The shops are going to close soon and I need to pick up some things for the Halloween party tomorrow. Then, I need to print some stuff for the seminar, then I’m going to continue this day with you, withdrawn to the lonely corner of my bedroom, a few more hours of worship, the smile of your countenance on me, the warm raindrops of your mercy washing things anew, and the rest of being in your presence.

Be near oh God! Amen.

Hidden rules – a meditation

The idea of “hidden rules” comes from Dr. Ruby K. Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty first published in 1996. It advertises itself as “a must read for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers” and I’m going to add, for anyone who does anything.

Knowledge of hidden rules is defined by Dr. Payne as “knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.” This she specifically applies to the three classes—poverty, middle class and wealth—with adroit attention to the different ways classes use and value things such as time, personality, education, etc.

While the book focuses on understanding poverty and discusses strategies for improving people’s lives, the concept of hidden rules can be applied for anyone trying to function within a group where they don’t yet have a working command of the unspoken habits and cues.

It’s a simple yet enlightening concept. What I like about this book is how straightforward Dr. Payne presents the strategies for functioning in a different group.

For example, one might say to a group of fourth-graders, “Do we use the same rules when we play basketball as when we play volleyball? No—the rules are different. Just as we must use different rules in different games, we must use different rules in different situations in life.”

The part in which he considers hidden rules and his identity

This concept revealed a lot for me as an America Peace Corps Volunteer living abroad, half-submerged in a different culture. Sure there’s always been the tossed around phrase “when in Rome,” but I couldn’t quite unravel it all from my sense of identity. That, as I fall in step with the habits and cues of a group, I begin to edge towards an identity crisis, wondering how much of who I feel I am is changing into something else.

This Dr. Payne acknowledges as a “painful process” but one that can be smoothed by being “aware of the choice.” I wonder, though, is it possible to eventually work ones way up to being able to swoop in and out of several different groups while maintaining a static understanding of one’s identity? I personally am having a hard time with that.

I think it was being raised in such a monochromatic middle-class culture that made it difficult for me to see that transitioning between groups was less a matter of simply being born into it and more about being able to apply an understanding of the cues, habits and hidden rules. I can play the part of the blonde, blue-eyed, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, sitting on a folding chair in a church basement, Norwegian heritage sweater wearing, uff-da muttering, reaching-out-and-putting-an-awkward-hand-on-your-shoulder in an act of consolation, self-esteem shunning, seasoning hotdish with the three God-given spices of salt-pepper-and-ketchup, pretty gosh darn well. I’m pretty miserable at fitting in almost anywhere else.

But now I have the language to be able to deal with things a little better. I have the permission of someone saying, “Go ahead—learn the new rules and then decide to what extent you want to change, shape or mold your identity.”

The part in which he becomes less lucid

In Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, the young protagonist Kimball O’Hara becomes a master of ‘The Great Game’ in Central Asia and India in the second half of the 19th century. He grows up as an orphan on the streets of Lahore and it’s there he learns the ways of unnumbered classes of people scurrying about their lives.

It’s such a fascinating book full of intrigue and adventure. I wish I had the mind of young Kim to traverse multiple cultures and identities with such ease and mischief.

Even though I’m more than twice his age, in a lot of ways I’m just learning his lessons.

To open my eyes to the world around me.

To seek without jadedness.

To desire knowledge and merit beyond what I know today.

To humbly accept my reality yet have the humility to learn from it and be better.

To watch people without staring.

To remember without memorizing.

To engage without shutting down.

And to fight when necessary.

I think that in trying to smooth my rough edges I dulled the point that had any chance of poking into new worlds and new thoughts and new ideas and new stories. I never want to reduce my walk to that of the mailman, down known and tired paths, working the same little messages into smart little boxes. I want to be the trash-digger, the treasure hunter, the guy who sifts past an old banana peel to save a magazine or a piece of furniture.

I’m ready to get back at it, and though I’m well past what university would call my “prime” and the military would deem “acceptable for use” and though this mind is dusty and these wheels need a little grease, and though I’ve sacrificed much on the hills of newsfeeds and consumerism, I’m making the turn. I’m repenting. I’m facing a new direction.

Well, the proof’s in the walk and not the talk, as they say, and so I’m two weeks into a six week course on journalism at Yes, the rest of the course is in week five, but I’ve been catching up and will meet up with the class for the final. It’s so good to be learning something again rather than just consuming.

And that’s a topic for a future post—the idea of a “CREATE MOVEMENT” or a call for us to produce more and consume less. This idea started to formulate during my first months on my blog hosted by tumblr. I realize that tumblr was developed and is created around the repost, but what I find fascinating and discouraging is the number of blogs that consist entirely of reposts. (And I suppose this is the point of pinterest as well. Does anyone actually add pins or are they all repins? And then where do the originals come from??)

It’s no more than a statement of one’s hobbies and interests. It’s not a blog. Blogs are supposed to be creations, not regurgitations. Tell me I’m wrong?

The part in which he wraps up his still forming thoughts

This blog has been an experiment over the past 3-4 months since I moved platforms. I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of posts and on many occasions have slipped away from my originally intended structure for the blog. I think I’d like to get back at it again and get back at it in the way the steam of indignation over injustice boils in an engine, hauling thousands of tons of weight screaming through the countryside.

I hope I’m not alone.

Chili horse mac & cheese with tomatoes


I had an entire Saturday to myself. I was going to get so much writing done. I was going to organize my room. Somehow I managed to drop more crap on my floor and pull the pin on the lazy grenade and then fall on it. I sacrificed myself on a battlefield of candy wrappers and dirty socks for buzzfeed articles and a stomach ache from downing an entire box of kraft mac & cheese with leftover boiled horsemeat, chili powder and tomatoes. (No, ladies, he doesn’t cook.)

Now it’s 11pm and the words just start to drip—no, that’s too fluid. I feel like I’m pushing them out like the toothpaste I should have put on my toothbrush 20 minutes ago so I can go to bed, a failure.

But the bed needs to be made and that’s another chore. I’m too mentally exhausted at the moment to go to bed.

Do you ever have those days? Those evenings, where you know you just need to flip the power switch and try again another day?

Ok. The world looks like it’s going to keep on spinning a bit longer, so I think there’s another chance. (Though the ebola scaremongers would have us think otherwise.) Yes, barring ebola making its way upstream to Kyrgyzstan, I think there’s going to be another chance.

Lord—flip the switch for a few hours. I’m powering down.