I remember back in the early 2000s when I was living on the island of Kauai – this middle aged guy showed up on the island, wife and two young kids in tow. He was likable enough and hustled non-stop to make deals, set up new projects, and get money. Actually, he came across as a shyster…any conversation with him felt like an attempt to get you to do some work for him without pay – he was constantly setting up deals and partnerships where he enabled other people to do the work and then share their profit with him. Myself and all of my single guide friends – we laughed at this guy behind his back and avoided him at all costs – but it was almost impossible to avoid him – he was everywhere.
Back then, it was impossible for any of us to understand what he was doing. Now though, with a wife and child of my own – and a constant need to hustle so that we can continue to live here in this paradise that impossible rents have turned into a kind of hell – I get it. He was trying to find a way to let his children grow up in a wonderful place. He wanted his kids to have the chance to find happy lives and have happy memories of childhood in a wonderful and magical place.
I wonder what happened to that guy. I wonder what happened to his kids. I wonder what happened to all of my single guide friends. I can tell you what happened to me – I’m a middle aged guy with wife and kid in tow trying to find a way to let my daughter have happy childhood memories of growing up in paradise. I’m doing it while trying hard not to do what that guy did – coming across as a shyster or a person who is trying to profit from other people’s work.
But here I am…with perspective I didn’t have a decade ago.
I had a somewhat surreal online encounter with a stranger today. We disagreed and it quickly became personal. This person had the oddest desire to show that he was better than me – which, I suppose is normal in that situation – but it was the weird way he went about it that lingers in my head and made me feel really good about my life and who I am. First he tried to tell me that he was in better shape than me, more physically fit. It struck me as really bizarre – I guess he was basing it on a handful of public pictures I have on Facebook, which, honestly, aren’t all that flattering – but which are also pretty old – but that wasn’t the bizarre part – it was bizarre to see how much that seemed to mean to him. I mean, it’s great to be in good shape, and I suppose it is good if you can win physical competitions with other people – but is that really any way to measure your life? Is that the first thing you weigh when you look at your existence? For this guy it was – but then it went on – he bragged how he was better than me because he had more advanced degrees and owned more real estate and even threw girlfriends into the pot – which again – it’s great if you have an education, it’s great if you have some success in business, and it’s great if you date the kind of woman you are attracted to – but is that the actual measure of your life? As he was throwing all this stuff at me, I was exploiting weaknesses I saw him expose – I wasn’t being nice. I’m not a saint. And, worse – actually, I was enjoying it. It was fun. It was like a martial arts – find the weakness and then hit it. I know – I’m not a good person – a good person wouldn’t have enjoyed that so much – or have become as good at it as I’ve become – but that’s not what this is about. This is about the weirdness of being a human being that will live 60-80 years if you are lucky and measuring the meaning of that with degrees, deeds, sexual conquests, wealth, or power – that’s really fucking weird. I mean, is that all your life is? Just this paper trail mixed with ejaculated sperm? I’ve got great paper too – I have title to 2000 acres on the moon and I’m a hereditary Baron of Sealand – seriously, it’s legit, and it’s worth about the same as this guys advanced degrees and property deeds – turn both our bodies to ashes and the paper is worthless to us. There are things that are worthwhile, things that are a measure of this life we live, things that perhaps make us better or make this life more meaningful when we have gone from it. Love. How much love have you given? Smiles. How many smiles have you shared? Awareness. How many moments have you reveled in the wind blowing through leaves? Respect. Have you ever moved an ant, a fly, a spider, or another living thing out of harms way? Have you saved a life? Respected a life? Have you done something kind just because you could? Anyway, the exchange went on for a while and like I said, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed winning this exchange, but then I started feeling all these conflicting emotions – while this guy was calling me all kinds of offensive names and saying all kinds of ridiculous things in an attempt to make me feel bad about myself or whatever his motivation was (I think he may have been trying to get me to see he was better than me, but it was a bizarre way to go about it which didn’t work – quite the opposite) – while that was going on, I just started feeling very lucky. I’m so happy to be – to actually be – to not be trapped in fog so thick that I don’t know I’m even in fog. I stumble and life is challenging and things change minute to minute and day to day – but it is very nice to be awake – and it’s so weird that more people are not.
My 42nd year was more of a journey into me than a journey out to somewhere else. I started this year and end it sitting in the same seat in the same room in the same house. The furthest I’ve gone is San Francisco in the realm of the world, but I feel as if I’ve gone millions of miles in the realm of the self. This year, I learned more about love, compassion, forgiveness, compassion, anger, frustration, guilt, and work than I’ve learned in any year of my life. This year, I abandoned the mantra of Peter Pan and not only grew up but grew a mustache and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn I’ve grown a fraction of an inch – but while climbing a tree is certainly not beneath my dignity – I discovered that at this point in my life, there are a great many other things that are. Losing control, making an ass of myself, alienating friends and loved ones, or doing anything that is not in alignment with the best me I can be. And that, my friends, is the thing I wish that I could share with myself twenty years ago and every year since and which I hope that I can share with someone who is more willing and able to listen than I was.
Success is only a journey whereupon each step – positive or negative – brings you closer to the best you that you can be. If you are taking steps which carry you away from the best of you – than you are failing but if you have the mindset and the will to turn even the worst of circumstances into steps bringing you closer to the best you – than you are succeeding. Sometimes – we must do the wrong things but when we do them for the right reason – it is okay. Much better than doing the right thing for the wrong reason. This life is a journey of discovery and if we close our eyes at the wrong moment – all discoveries end. I can’t begin to express how much within me has changed in this year and yet – now more than any time I can recall – I am more truly me and being myself than ever I was since those days of childhood before the innocence was lost. It’s a strange thing – most certainly I am not innocent but I am closer to that person I was than at any time since. There is something in me that was gone which now has re-opened within me. I am me and me I am.
I wish there was a way to explain all of this better – but there isn’t right now. I’m not sure what to attribute it to but in no small measure it is certainly connected with being a father, being a husband, and becoming a man. A person. A real human being.
I don’t want you to think I haven’t made big screw ups this year. Of course I have – but hopefully, I’ve been able to learn from each mistake. Hopefully those lessons have not passed me by as in the days of yore when my swelled ego and numbed torment blinded me to the positive that could be earned from negative experience – which by the way – is part of the secret. The negatives can be positives – lemons can be lemonade. Shit can be shinola or fertilizer. But enough – the year –
Reedsport. Here I’ve been – mostly. I opened a space in an antique mall and then leveraged it into a shop of my own. I have endeavored to learn the ins and outs of this business and mentors have come and offered me instruction when I needed it (Thank you). I have bought and sold and struggled and sweated and worried that it is not enough but managed to take care of my family, keep us fed, keep us housed, and even give us some luxuries and healthy necessities. I have tried to make us healthier and happier. We have chickens, we eat less processed crap, we take vitamins, and we get check ups and have healthy teeth. We laugh and play and sing and dance.
I managed to create two businesses – and both seem well suited to survive. I managed to begin learning to paint with oil on canvas. I drew more. I read – not as much as in years past – but some. I didn’t write as much as I would have liked but this is a thing for me to do in my 43rd year – I know this. I lost my temper, I lost my cool, I found myself angry and terrified at one point but I reined myself in and prevented more damage than I’d already caused. I solved problems. I dealt with crazy people. I worked to repair relationships I thought I had destroyed forever and because the people I love, love me in return. I loved and laughed and feared and cried this year all without going to another country and barely going to another state and mostly not even leaving this little 40 mile stretch of the Oregon Coast.
Externally, it was a year of micro-victories. Internally it was a year of micro-victories. Together they add up to now. I am here. I am doing all I can to protect and provide for my family. I am moving on the path towards the greatest me that I can conceive of. It has been a good year. And I am grateful.
And now, with 30 minutes left of being 42, I am going to bed and will sleep before the clock strikes me a year older. Good night and Happy New Year.
I have strong opinions and good ideas – I’m tired of keeping them to myself. I’m going to be sharing them from now on on twitter using the hashtag #vagothinks – I’m still a week out from completing my 99 day fast from Facebook – I may do another 99 day break from it after I check messages, check up on friends, etc.
Here are the first of my #vagothinks:
#vagothinks The USA should offer Syria to Turkey if they go in and kick ISIS out – just give it to the Turks.
#vagothinks the US economy is failing miserably for everyone who is not already middleclass or higher – I propose locialism as a solution…
@vagothinks locialism is a universal safety net including free medical, food, and housing assistance for anyone earning less than $40k/year
#vagothinks #locialism should be free and available for anyone who asks for it – no proof necessary – those who opt out get special benefits
#vagothinks taxes should be paid by employers before wages – flatly – every employee gets taxes withheld – not an employee=no taxes !
#vagothinks Trash trucks should have scales on them – every household gets charged by weight – less garbage=lower bill, more garbage=higher
#vagothinks No one (including corps) should be allowed to own more than two residences but no limit on commercial or industrial properties
#vagothinks There should be a children’s judicial system where children can safely appeal unfair treatment from adults with no consequences
#vagothinks a person’s record should only reflect judgments against them -everything else should be expunged – including credit data
#vagothinks The US government should wipe out student loans and make all Universities public and free of charge – funded by taxes, resources
#vagothinks the US government should use (and disclose) alternative funding for maintenance of parks, universities, schools, highways, etc
#vagothinks the sale of raw materials to other countries should be outlawed. The USA should export finished products only.
Hard to believe but it’s already been a year since I brought my family to the United States. I wasn’t sure we would make it but a year seems like a pretty good indicator that we are and will.
Of course, it’s been a struggle – but we’re making it. Major Ab Adversis – through struggle comes strength. My work with travel blogs has mostly carried us – by the time we were set up in a house and went through the expenses of moving, buying a car, paying utility deposits, and finding where to live – our savings was pretty well exhausted. Through a combination of picking, garage sales, eBay, and selling advertisements on travel blogs – we’ve made it. We’ve managed to pay all of our bills on time (or in the case of student loans, defer one more time) and somehow we navigated through Obamacare and got the three of us covered with health insurance.
We didn’t make it in California’s Bay Area – which was what my initial plan was. A weird combination of circumstances skewed that and put us in Sacramento for a few months while I tried to arrange interviews and land a start up job in travel and social media – unsuccessfully. Even when we considered staying in Sacramento, I found that since we’d been living outside of the USA and we were living on a self-employed income that landlords were unwilling to rent to us without paying an impossible deposit and first and last.
I knew we had to leave and go where the income I was certain I could earn, would pay for a decent place for us to live. We could have gotten a low income apartment in California but I’ve never wanted my family to live in that kind of situation – so I found a dying town on the Oregon coast where rents were dirt cheap and the quality of life was much higher. For the same amount a scummy California apartment would have cost us – I rented a 3 bedroom house with a big front and back yard and a leaky garage.
Reedsport is a dying town filled with geriatrics and people on disability. There is no industry here and more than 3/4 of the jobs that were here when we arrived have disappeared – but we’re making it. Our little family has a nice garden, a pleasant house, and a wonderful environment all around us including the Pacific Ocean, four major rivers, dozens of lakes, plenty of streams, and beautiful forests and sand dunes. Environmentally it’s heaven. Culturally – it’s not even on the map.
For the past few years, my main income stream has been advertising on my websites and doing SEO for small clients. Changes in Google policies and updates have been drying that stream up and the writing is definitely on the wall as to whether or not it will survive at all – so we have diversified – I’ve discovered that I can usually support us using eBay and we’ve begun experimenting with antique malls and the flea market. We are now vendors in two locations and have a permanent table at the flea market – only time will tell if that works for us or not.
I was planning on having a garage sale today, but the weather turned grey and rainy – so I ditched the plan. Maybe tomorrow – Oregon is like that. Twelve days of sunshine while you expect it to rain but when you count on sunshine the rain comes – if the garage weren’t so leaky, I would have the sale anyway, but we aren’t starving and the bills are paid – so it can wait.
We’ve tried a few other jobs. My wife worked at a hotel as a cleaner for a few months and that wasn’t good at all. The pay was almost as awful as the work and she was repeatedly solicited for sex by weirdos travelling through. I took my insurance license and tried my hand at selling life insurance but the company was such a crock of shit filled with liars and cheats that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror – and the money was a lie – at least here on the Oregon Coast – maybe it would be a good job in a big city somewhere or anywhere that people have more than the bare minimum they need to survive.
The highlight of our year here has been to reconnect with old friends and family. Being able to see my daughter and wife with my mom, my aunt, my uncle, my sister, my cousins, my brother, and my neices and nephews has been awesome. Seeing those relationships grow has been so good.
One would think that my wife would have learned crafts like knitting and sewing in her native Morocco but it turns out that instead, being in boring Reedsport has given her the time and impetus to learn many new crafts. I am hopeful she can turn her crafting and jewelry making into a business – again time will tell.
The hardest part of being here in the USA is that we just don’t have any money left over to travel or do the things we used to do – even when there is a surplus, we are living so month to month that we need to save it in case the car breaks down, the ebay biz fails, or the antique mall spots don’t earn enough to cover their rent. All of that means that there is very little time for relaxation or enjoyment and almost no money for it – it’s taken a toll on our health and on our marriage – but what can we do? It’s not different for most Americans – although when we watch the $100k fifth wheels and RVs towing dune buggies and motorbikes start to roll through our town, it’s hard not to wonder where they get all this disposable income….
But what the hell – maybe they’ll stop and buy some antiques and collectibles from us tomorrow…
I didn’t used to be Vago Damitio – and truth to tell – I’m probably not any more. It’s strange, but that’s the way it goes.
Vago was an invention I created. True story, back in about 2003 I’d written a book called Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagobond. The book was interesting because there wasn’t really anything else like it and I lucked out and made a cover for it that resonated with a lot of people.
The book never did very well. Agents and publishers turned me down over and over. They always gave the same reason roughly “It’s interesting and well written, but there’s no market for it. You’ve written a guide book for homeless people and they don’t buy books.” The other part of the book was a collection of stories heavily focused on being generally fucked up on drugs or booze. My heroes of the time Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Bukowski shine through pretty clearly. Too clearly.
I used to play music with some friends and I wanted to sing. I have a good voice and at the time, I was deeply enamored with Jim Morrison and they gave a line that the polite publishers probably could have “You sound like Jim Morrison, but you sound too much like Jim Morrison.” The publishers could have said “We see your influences too clearly”
I self published and the book sold hundreds of copies – which wasn’t bad for 2003. I paid my bar bill by selling copies to drunk patrons at my favorite Bellingham, Washing ton bar, Le Chat Noir or as we called it The Shitty Kitty. The bartender there, who was actually named Random started calling me “The Vagabond” and then once or twice he said “Hey Vago” – I liked it and it stuck with me. Nobody else used it. I wanted to use it but I remembered seeing the Seinfeld where George Costanza tries to give himself a nickname – I’ve always been particularly sensitive to comparisons to George Costanza – I used to wear glasses, I’m 5 and a half feet tall, and I tend towards baby faced. Yeah, avoid Costanza comparisons like the plague because I was a serious dumbshit drunk with a short man complex trying to prove he was cool to the world – which I should have understood from George Costanza – is totally pointless.
To be honest, I never minded my given name very much – Christopher, shortened to Chris by most people, but it bothered me that it was a name shared by so many. It was a name that was easily forgotten. People used to forget my name frequently. I was always offended by that.
Fast forward to 2008. Nobody had called me Vago since Random. I was living in Hawaii and then as almost always – everyone called me Chris. I had a blog called ChrisDamitio.com – it was doing surprisingly well – not with money, mind you (never my strong point) but with readers, engagement, and traffic. I’d been through a really painful breakup over the previous year and I was on the verge of graduating from University. A whole slew of inferiority complexes had led me to pursue a University degree and to want to travel all over the world and be a backpacker. I was set on proving that I was as good or good enough or equal to or something – in any event I wanted to prove something and the girl I’d been involved with had said something about how when our relationship ended she thought I would just forget about her and reinvent myself – I couldn’t do the one so I decided to do the other and to leave everyone who had ever known me behind.
When I left Hawaii – I would tell everyone my name was Vago the world traveling anthropologist from Hawaii and then I would become Vago the world traveling anthropologist from Hawaii. And that’s what I did. It started on the plane from Hawaii, went across the USA by train, stayed on couches and in hostels, and then crossed the Atlantic to Spain. By the time I went to Morocco, I was comfortable introducing myself as Vago. I started a blog called VAGObond.com and I sold ChrisDamitio.com for $1200 and registered VagoDamitio.com.
To everyone I met, I was Vago. I asked friends and family to call me Vago. Some did, some refused, and some were resentful – I’ve never understood that – why should anyone care? Everyone new I met, knew me as Vago. Vago the world traveling anthropologist from Hawaii, Vago the travel blogger, Vago the traveller, Vago of the mad drunk adventures.
Of course, paperwork never cooperates. I’m still Christopher David Damitio to my mom, on my passport, and to the government. My wife calls me Vago. Friends from Hawaii and before call me Chris except for those extraordinary souls who made the effort to change their perception, and those I’ve met since leaving Hawaii (including my wife) call me Vago.
And there’s the rub – I’m not sure how to reconcile my two identities. I’m not sure I have to, actually, but I feel like Vago is quietly slipping into his grave. Vago was a construct of a guy who had something to prove, a guy who was desperately trying to get over a painful relationship, a guy who felt like he wanted to be someone else. That’s just not me anymore.
I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I’m a husband, a dad, a guy who has written several books and traveled to a lot of places. I’ve failed at making a bunch of money or having a big impact on the world and —here it is — I don’t care. I don’t care what the internet thinks of me. I don’t care what the world thinks of me. I care about the people I love and I imagine that means they think good things about me.
Here’s something funny – people never forget the name Vago but they sometimes mispronounce it Vargo – but you know what – I could care less if anyone forgets my name now. So, while Vago slips quietly into the night – and I try to figure out who the heck I am and what lights me up these days – feel free to call me whatever you like. For those who wonder, Christopher is what I prefer but you can call me Chris, Vago, Vargo, Damitio, Ugen, The, or whatever you want. I don’t care.
By the way, as you’ll notice when you read his books or blog – Vago is a bit of an asshole. That’s what I was trying for. I’m not sure why I wanted that – but now I don’t care to be that person. So, I’m not. Now, I’m just me. No pretense, no act, no intent to offend.
So now you know.
On a happy note, I contacted the guy who bought ChrisDamitio.com in 2013 and bought it back for $350 – all the traffic and community was gone, but maybe they’ll come back – we’ll see.