Far Away From Far Away Places.

By the time we landed in Fiji we had been backpacking for just over a year. Our remaining stops were Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York and then home, Dublin. We would be jumping from fall to spring and reliving the same seasons all over again by crossing into the northern hemisphere. We had already done it from north to south a year earlier. It occurred to me that in less than a month we would be very far from these far away places. This was to be the last of these moments.
There are hundreds of islands that surround Fiji, but we picked one that was suggested by some locals. It was a small island with an even smaller population, known for welcoming visitors. That night on the mainland we hit a local bar, got drunk and barely made it to the boat the next morning. After sometime at sea we passed several small islands. One in particular seemed to be nothing more than the exposed tip of a white blade cutting through a blanket of deep blue. All I could think about was the towering mountain that lay underneath, and the unnoticed life that clung to it.
We arrived at the island and sailed through a small channel they had cut out of the coral, just wide enough for our small boat to enter. The island rose up high in the center and was surrounded by several distant and smaller uninhabited islands. A group of local women waited for us on the beach and gave us gifts as several men played native songs on their guitars. There have been times when I’ve felt further than I could possibly be from where I started, and it can be a soft immovable calm and it can be frightening at the same time. That day, as the islanders greeted us from the boats, I felt nothing but calm.
We walked into the village and were shown the huts we would be staying in for the next three days. They had several on the island for tourists like ourselves and they differed only slightly from the ones the locals lived in. Breakfast and dinner would be served at 10 am and 6 pm at a communal eating area.In the center of the village was a bar with one single small screen TV–that was it.
That evening–and for the next 3 days–we explored the island. This was not a difficult task. We could walk the perimeter in just over an hour and each time we did, we discovered something new. Locals went about their daily routines while we walked alone, swam alone, collected shells alone, but mostly just stared out into the ocean, alone. There was nothing to do and it was magnificent.
Connected Horizon

As often as possible we would climb to the highest point of the island to view it in its entirety. I had never seen the horizon meet the water on all sides before. It was impossible to see exactly where the sky stopped and the water began. My best guess was at the center of where white and blue became the same color.

Looking North

In those moments on the hill, even for a non-believer it was hard to block out those feelings. I had many moments when those feelings stirred unexpectedly in the most remote places, and it was only ever in those remote places. It was a sense of connection, that you belonged to the world wherever you were, that loneliness was the result of distraction, doing something wrong. It’s hard to describe so, like many other things, I just never talked about it.

Growing up in Ireland where dusk lasts forever, you can see clearly the tear between day and night. Walking along the beach or in the park, in those moments when the trees are black against a sky shaking out its stars, you suddenly realize that it’s here where all folk tales, music, poetry and those feelings are born and live. Then it’s gone, and there is darkness but the feeling lingers so you chase it with a pen or a song or to the bottom of a glass. Maybe it’s just a simple form of happiness, being lost in familiar woods or falling asleep to your favorite song.

Looking North West
Looking South East
Looking North West From The Coastline
Exploring & Finding
On the last night we were treated to a fire show by the some of the locals who danced, spun flaming clubs around their half-naked bodies and sang their hearts out. It was not for tips, we paid no money, all that was required was our undivided attention to quietly view and absorb their culture. It was amazing. Afterwards we sat in the bar, slowly got drunk and talked to strangers.
A short time later the bar owner shuffled over to the small, battered TV that clung to the wall and switched it on with a loud ‘click’ that got everyone’s attention. Its tiny screen lit up with fire and explosions as a British accent perfectly pronounced the devastation and horror that was unfolding in night vision and shaky hotel balcony footage. The Iraq war had begun. It had found its way through the corral. The bar went silent. I felt all the calm drain from me as easily as I had gained it the last few days on the island.
We finished our beers and returned to the cabin under the piercing stars I had grown accustomed to in the past year. The sky of the southern hemisphere didn’t seem so alien anymore, but the following night we would be in Hawaii, in the company of familiar constellations, our old friends. I couldn’t sleep for the longest time, but I had the sounds of the island and the ocean. And they had me.
In the morning we got the boat back to Fiji and a plane back across the equator to Hawaii. I dreaded Hawaii, I dreaded all its noise, colors and distractions. But upon arriving we checked into a cheap motel and in a few short hours I fell in love with the place for all the wrong reasons. The smell of fried food, the beer-soaked mahogany bars, overly lit gift shops, neon lights and loud retirees in louder shirts telling us were it all went wrong. I felt safe. People laughed a lot less but were more confident, happy but empty. We spent a few days in Hawaii and besides visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial we swam most of the time. We swam in crowds, ate in crowds, shopped in crowds, walked in crowds, and back at the motel we had a fight like we wanted the people in the next room to hear us. On the last night as the motel slept, I sat on the balcony downing beers looking out over the city lights and felt absolutely nothing. I was calm again, and alone.
We lived through the same seasons but this time around it felt different. I never had those feelings anymore and I probably never will, not if I’m always far away from those far away places.  I don’t think they exist now anyway, not anymore.
One Of Hundreds.

The Cat

I had been to the office numerous times before. So much so in fact, they buzzed me in if I simply looked up at the security camera. The office was not your typical New York Construction Management affair of beige cubicles surrounded by early nineties motivational posters. This company was cutting edge. The girl on the front desk was neither dumb nor beautiful. The few cubicles that lay behind her were waist high and large as a church door. The ceiling was further from me than the other side of the room. Giant pieces of art clung to the cold bare exposed walls, static as they were incomprehensible. An oil painting of a piece of wood, a watercolor of a carpenter’s tool box and a badly charcoaled drawing of a welder’s glove.

One always grabbed my attention every time I entered. A three foot by four foot heavily framed photograph of a ship stuck on a sand dune after the tide had long since gone out. The irony of which I’m sure seemed to be lost on the funky cube dwellers in a similar situation – that is, if the boat represented their dreams and the receding ocean represented all time and happiness. It was all lost on me, not because its meaning was beyond me but that it simply had none. I love art, I love how it’s an underused vector of feelings, I love how it takes you places and I love how it exposes people for who they really are.

The art in this office was simply, sterile shite.

I was greeted by Mr. Peterson, a tall thin man in his fifties. Minimally polite he reminded me of an old sea captain without the tales. A man who had travelled the globe and saw nothing. He spoke with a serious tone regarding the most mundane of issues.  

– Colin, good to see you. Let’s walk to the back room and go over the drawings shall we?

Wow, what gravitas, this must be important. It wasn’t. It never is, I’ve worked at this long enough.

We were to discuss a new building we were constructing together in the west village, issues with the neighbors and permit delays. Just once during a meeting I wish we could discuss something truly unique or unusual. Like how the people in the neighboring building were aliens and required a wide berth…or something, I don’t know, something exciting.

– They call themselves Aqualdaburgs, they exist partially in this dimension and feed on the skin of the living. The government has settled them at this address as it’s right above the fifth polar tri-spike into tomorrow. There will be a delivery every Tuesday between 11am and 2pm of human skin from a local hospital. Do not make eye contact with the driver. There’s an agreement in place but if any of your laborers fail to turn up for work call us immediately and cover yourself in milk. Curl up into the fetal position, close your eyes and breath through your nose until we get there.       

Unfortunately it’s more like Lego for grownups.

I explained that my boss was parking the car and would be along shortly. He reacted as if I told him my boss was out on the street taking a dump and would be up as soon as he could wipe his arse on the next passing child. He left me alone as I waited for my bosses fresh arsed arrival.

I passed the time watching the office cat make its rounds through the over sized cubicles past various employees collecting affection. I had seen it do this before and had also noticed previously that there was something, well, off about the cat. It was a clumsy little fucker. It was bright white, over weight and very old. It tripped over itself, banged it’s head on the printer, and stared off into space before totally miss-timing an easy leap from one desk to another. Graceful this cat was not but the staff loved it. Judging by the atmosphere in the place it was probably the only living creature anyone loved. This was the type of trendy workplace that a cat like this could only exist as some type of ironic non-cat.

– Yeah it’s our office cat but it doesn’t act like one. It likes to flop around like a dog but that’s cool. Whatever, we don’t judge it.

Perhaps the person buying the art also bought the cat. That made sense.

Their minimal hospitality towards me may have fuelled this animosity I had towards the cat. They loved it, regardless of its inability to be a simple agile cat.

It was loved.

I was being tolerated.

It is a cat.

I am a human being.

My boss arrived and the meeting began. As soon as Mr. Peterson sat down the cat was rubbing against his legs. Minutes later it hopped up onto the desk and was stalking the blueprints tripping over pencils and giving us each a thousand yard stare.

What the fuck is wrong with this cat?

My mind drifted from my job to the look I was receiving from this feline fuckwit. It surely knew me from all the other times I visited the office.

Why is this cat bugging me so much?

Mr. Peterson rubbed its back as it stared at me like a spoilt child. Why was it staring at me, or at something near me? No it was staring at me. Wait, maybe something behind me. It was staring near me? That’s when after all these visits I suddenly realised what it was about this particular cat that unsettled me. Before my mind could tell my mouth to not say it, my ears heard it.

– Mr. Peterson, do you know that your cat is cross-eyed?

The meeting stopped. Silence. My boss glared at me. Mr. Peterson’s droning eased to a freeze. He slowly looked at the cat and then back to me. Without a hint of emotion and with that pointlessly traveled gravitas he stated matter-of-fact.

– No it is not.

And then continued with the meeting as if nothing happened. My boss threw me a few more bewildered looks. I focused as best as I could on my notebook and scribbled away with notes but my mind drifted again.

Why did I say that?

Scribble, scribble.

That cat is cross-eyed!

Scribble, scribble.

Why would he deny the fact that his cat is cross-eyed? They could get it fixed. These guys are loaded!

Before I knew it the meeting was over. We shook hands and Mr. Peterson retired to the back office while the cat meandered in that general direction, sorta, kinda. It was hard to tell where it was going half the time to be honest.

Outside my boss cornered me. He knew me too well but asked the question anyway.

– Why did you tell Mr. Peterson that his cat was cross-eyed?

All I could think was the truth.

– Because it was.

– You don’t have to say the first thing that comes into your head you know.

– I didn’t mention the art work, I mean what’s up with that crap?

– He collects that crap. He also pays our fucking bills so keep a fucking lid on it in future.

I was in the wrong, I knew it.

– He has money, he could at least get his cat fixed. That’s all I’m saying.

I meant it, the image of that cat bumping around the art strewn office filled my belly up with stones. Who gives a flying fuck about your shitty art? Fix your cat.

He shook his head in disbelief and put it behind him.

– Go back to the office and work on those items Mr. Peterson wanted done by the end of the day.

I cut through the crowds to Union Square and got the L train back to the office. My mind was blank from the meeting. That boat, that fucking boat on the sand dune. I pulled out the notebook and opened it to assess the work I had to start. To my horror was the day’s date and three pages filled with various pictures of spirals, boats and of the cat.


How do I fix this?

There’s something ugly in those woods.

Road To Albany
It had been raining on our road trip the whole day. The long straight roads that cut through the empty spaces of south western Australia made us feel like we were stuck on an infinite loop. We had been warned that the weather that time of year could be unpredictable. It was. In a break from the downpour we parked the car and hiked into a wood to stretch our legs. The dark overcast sky hung low above our heads and it became increasingly uninviting the deeper we ventured into it. We eventually stumbled upon this unearthly creation: A deformed human face crossed with an octopus in tree form. What a find, all the way out here, alone!  It started raining. 

Welcome food, I mean friends.

We returned to the car and continued on our infinite road trip to Albany in silence.