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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Imitating Fiction, Opened Eyes, and Other Things That May Come Up

I had a friend once, a guy named Will who didn't really know what was going on in his life. He knew two things, he liked to travel and he liked to take pictures. In fact, a lot of people said he was a lot like me - except that at the time I knew him, I had yet to gain an interest in photography. One of the things that Will liked to do most when he was in Cincinnati was to go downtown to the area around the courthouse (and on Main St and Over-the-Rhine) and take pictures of the people and the things that he saw. He especially liked going into alleys because he never knew quite what to expect. I haven't heard from Will in quite awhile, and I don't really know what he's up to these days. Of course, part of the reason might be that he is an invented person, a character in a book I wrote a few years ago (and what the hell, I may as well plug it here - http://theworldattheirfeet.blogspot.com/2005/03/part-1.html).

I went downtown with Natalia yesterday. We walked from Fountain Square up to the court house (she wanted to see a few places mentioned in said book) and then back down towards the river. We ended up at the Underground Railroad Museum, something that was talked about, but had not yet been started last time I was home. As we walked, I felt a bit like a tourist and I think I ended up taking 30 pictures in the two hours we were actually outside (too bloody hot to be out longer than that in the middle of the afternoon). A few of the pictures were taken around the courthouse area, in some of the alleys I had in mind when writing about Will. Then we went to a cafe that Will used to hang out in (he met and had a bit of a fling with a girl there).

As were sitting there, Natalia and I, the inverse nature of the day seemed a bit strange to me, the way in which the fiction had happened first, and then the reality. When I was writing that book, Will and his friends were a very real presence in my life - they picked and chose different paths for themselves in the context of the plot. Their emotions and problems could affect my feelings on any given day. The uncertainties they had about their futures, while being an echo of my own, became something tangible, and added to the uncertainties that I felt. To be taking pictures like Will, in a place that he was five or six years ago took me back to the things I was feeling at the time that I wrote the book (as well as the things I was seeing and doing in Eastern Europe) and it returned me to the times and places that Will's life borrowed from my own.
Those two strands tied themselves up and met at the present, in a coffee shop with Natalia sitting across from me, a new novel forming in my head, and a long trip coming. It got me wondering - if Will was based on me, how much has changed for me since I wrote that book? In the book Will and his two best friends have met for a homecoming reunion. It is a year after September 11. The three characters all harbor a belief that their lives should be something far different and far greater than what they are. The expected changes that 9/11 would bring have not come (in the sense of life having more meaning, more value, of the need to place a greater emphasis on personal relationships and the value of the moment). One of them is off to New York to pursue a writing career. One is in Cincinnati facing the prospect of a divorce. And Will is off to South Korea to find the girl who used to work in the coffee shop. While Will is not me, I have to wonder, less than a week after coming back from Taiwan, why, if I have the girl now, I must go off again, on one last solitary journey across a large expanse of the globe? To be honest, the way that fiction and reality are meeting, tied to a point and with two long dangling strings reaching to and dragging across the floor is a bit of a mindf$*k.

Changing focus a bit now. I met with a group of friends the other night. One of them was asking a number of questions about Taipei and about Cambodia and so on and so forth. He has read a lot of things on this page, and he was recounting some of his favorite bits, like us getting stuck on a boat in Cambodia. Then he brought up the idea of me getting kidnapped in Argentina. "It was funny," he said. "One day you said that Americans are always like 'How can you go to this or that place because its so dangerous, even when its not', and then the next day you are talking about getting kidnapped in Argentina. I was thinking come on Al, a bit of a disconnect here." (And please note use of Al - after writing a post some time ago about finding out I was an Al instead of an Alan, and how I really can't stand that name, it was decided by my friends here that it did not matter. I can't be anything but Al...As long as it is only here, I don't mind...)

Back to the subject at hand. The conversation about safety abroad came on the heels of me asking about safety in Cincinnati. Since I have been home there have already been about 5 shootings, and my parents and their friends have talked about a whole lot more that have occurred since the beginning of the year. Most of them are limited to one or two parts of town, though - and not in any of the main downtown districts or in our immediate suburban neighborhoods. What was remarked upon, though, was how - while I am dispelling notions of dangers abroad to US citizens, they are dispelling notions of danger in my hometown. It was, the insinuation was, a bit presumptuous of me to think that it was dangerous to be downtown (unless I was in aforementioned neighborhoods). Well, I agree. Kevin, thanks for pointing that out to me. To tack on a bit of conversation last night:

"Well, please be very careful in Malaysia. Any Muslim country you go to (mom)."
"I'm more worried about China. I've heard awful things about there. I keep asking him to be so careful there, because I know he likes to wonder into some strange places (Natalia)."
"You should stay out of Burma. That's just a place you do not want to be going (dad)."
"Well hell, you better be careful while you are in Cincinnati. You never know when a stray bullet might go flying by if you're in the wrong place (parent's friend Pete)."
"I guess it doesn't matter where you are, does it (Pete's wife Mary)."

No it doesn't. So, am I nervous at all about my coming trip. I suspect I will be as soon as I have things a bit more in order, yes. But with all the environmental problems, gangs, The Terrorists (The Terrorists, ah!), the cancer causing agents in food and drinks and etc etc etc and more, what the heck. Here, there, any which where is pretty much the same, don't you think?

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