Vol. 1: Being Humpty Dumpty

March 23, 2017 | 22nd Place, Northwest District |Portland, OR 97210

I want to tell you so much. I don’t even know where to start. It’s always the hard part. Starting. Sometimes you just need to close you eyes and let your finger drop on some place, some topic, some starting point. Any.

They say the beginning is a very good place to start. Well, maybe only the Sound of Music says that. It’s too far back. I can’t start there. I’ll never get to now. And the really good stuff is happening now. Well, now-ish. But I’ll start seven years ago. And I’ll tell you tales of feeling broken and piecing myself back together again. Like Humpty-Dumpty. Tales of adventure and travel. Of exploration and introspection. I hope these stories give you a bit of glue, to piece yourself together again. Aren’t we all a little fragmented? Like a vase that fell off the table and the pieces shattered, were strewn about, across the floor, throughout millennia. It happens and sometimes we choose it. We choose to sweep away all those broken little parts of us which don’t fit into the ideal of who we want to be or who we think the world wants us to be. We sweep it off the edges. Pretending it never fit in the first place. An extra piece. Wasn’t supposed to be there. Without the broken little pieces, we feel perfect. We fulfill the terms of worldly acceptance. So what if parts of ourselves have to go in the process? So what if we disown ourselves and discard them across lifetimes? Collateral damage.

However, the discarding has deep implications.

I did that for a long time. Kept discarding parts of myself because it did not fit into the ideal. I kept doing it until there was no one left inside. Until I was all alone and was living a thin sliver who I was. I felt flat, one-dimensional. On the outside, I looked perfect. On the inside, I was dying in isolation. I was living in New York City, had a successful living in financial services, had a solid tribe of friends, but despite that all, I never felt whole. So I made changes. I quit the job, got rid of the apartment, put my life in storage and surrendered to a process of inner and outer exploration. I spent years traveling the world finding all those little pieces. In the corners of the world, on the margins of the map. I hid them well. Parts of me were tucked under rocks, under cool flowing water. Parts were stranded under age-old cobble stones, struggling to break free. In the desert sands. In dark alleys. In the hearts of strangers. In mountain tops. I had to go to each place, find myself and bring myself together again. I had to re-member myself.

These are the stories that follow. I won’t honor time. I’ll pick stories based on the ones that are jumping out of my heart first. Lots of stories of I. But perhaps you’ll see them as stories of We. Do we not have a shared experience of living on this planet? Do we not mirror each other? I believe that. So let’s begin, but not at the beginning, at 7 years ago.

March 22, 2010 | Orchard Street, Lower East side | New York, NY

“If you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, maybe it’s not the real thing. The sacred elicits both emotion and commotion.”
-Rough Guides, First Time Around the World

I’m scared shitless.

My guidebooks are stacked on the coffee table. Not in a neat stack, but with alternating edges, like a jagged cliff you are about to jump off. They tell of places I have yet to visit, places in which to fall and stand up again. Places in which to get lost and find yourself again. I push them aside, first things first. I unfurl the world map. I get chills every time I do it. Unbending sides slowly, navigating creases open, like one big satisfying stretch, it opens. Maps are meant to be open, continents stretching and reaching for each ocean. I lay it on the floor and walk the two steps to the end of it and then two steps back. It’s a big map. I place a foot on Brazil and then one on Egypt, tap dance over Africa and hop over to Asia. Is this really the path? Shit, can I really do this? I reach for a bottle of wine, a 2006 Stag’s Leap California Cab — the absolute best. It’s a special occasion — exactly 15 days from my departure date and am trying to chart my path for the next few months. I told myself that I would just make it up as I go, no need to plan too much, but as the time flies by, my need to control, my need to know, compels me to create a path. I am much more comfortable in the known than in the unknown. The last few weeks my mind has raged over this trip. Am I really doing this? Have I really left my job at American Express making lots of dough to do this? Am I really about to leave my family and some of the best friends I have ever know to go in search of…wait, what was I searching for again? Anxiety moves in, I know him all too well. I scan the room for my cigarettes — Parliament Lights. I always loved that recessed hard filter, it always felt satisfying when you shoved it into as ashtray. It stood tall, took your beating, never crumpled like other cigarette butts. I slide the good friend out from his teammates, place the hard edge between my lips and light it up. A deep slow drag, eyes closed, a strong billowy exhale. Cigarette — 1, Anxiety — 0.

I pour the wine into a glass, a clear excessively large goblet. I love large wine glasses, so much room in which to swill the redness, allowing it to coat the sides and then watching the red rivers run hastily back down. Then a knock, I hear it. I turn my head slowly and see my box of tricks — almost jumping, knocking from the inside. No not today, I think to myself. Not today. I turn away. Another knock and a mischievous smile runs across my face and I head to the kitchen, open the cabinet and take out my lucky plate. A rectangular black plate with a brown bamboo style edge. A birthday gift from a friend many years ago — “Sushi plates” she said, handing me a set of chopsticks and a soy sauce bowl. I smiled, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do with sushi plates at home. It’s not like I’m rolling my own sushi and I know I hate doing dishes, so there’s no way take-out sushi is coming out of it’s neat disposable dishes onto plates. But I smile and hug her for them. It’s the thought that counts, I think.

The plate slides onto the table. I glance up and see the world map laying there, waiting to be explored. I smile, all in due time my friend. I reach for my box of tricks, open it up, push aside my marijuana pipe and pick up the bag. Squeeze it between my fingers trying to feel how many lumps it has so I know how much I need to crush it. Hmm not too rocky, I think. I grab my lighter and start inflicting pressure on the small sand-like grains, they submit under the weight and break into powder. A few more crushes and I get excited. My favorite part. I open the bag and pour out a heap onto the sushi plate. A small snow-covered hill. Bet my friend never thought it would be used like this. I take out by Yushi Sushi frequent eater card — it’s my crushing, line-making card. Hilarious, can I honestly tell you that I have never ever ever noticed the irony that my coke-crushing card is a sushi card and my coke plate is a sushi plate until I am writing this. Fucking hilarious. How I never noticed that before is beyond me, but then, I had other things to occupy me when those both were around. I create one long line. The first one always has to be big, satisfying, eye-tearing, nose-tickling, fear-busting. I am fucking freaked out about this trip — yea commotion and emotion are both very much at play and I need a little strength. A humble dollar bill is ushered out of my wallet, folded open, rolled into a straw shape. I look at the map, wink at the guidebooks, take a sip of wine, a drag of a cigarette and that long snowy column of strength is snorted into my nostrils.

Cocaine — 1. Fear — 0.

I look at the map, at the world. I think to myself, don’t try to do this Sohail, just fucking do it. Jump, boldly, headfirst. The words are strong, I’m not there yet. I need the strength the drug provides. While everyone sees me as this happy, friendly, adventurous guy, really, on the inside, I see the show for what it is. A scared child, am I. scared to be known, scared to really open up and have people see me. So I give them the show, and they are satisfied with that fiction. I, however, am slowly dying in the cave I have created for myself. A dark room, with hard stone walls created by life-long wounds and built tall and strong by fear. Fear that who I am is not good enough. Not good enough to be loved. Not good enough for this world. So I put on the show; I have learned over the years what people love, what they admire and have worked to be that, fashioned a mask to be exactly that. And people, with their own shrouds, accept my mask, in an even trade for their own.

One more line and the map dance begins. So does this journey.