Weed and War: Getting away with smoking in the Army and why the military should lighten up

Definitely the worst part about joining the military was when I had to stop smoking weed.

I don’t really smoke anymore. It’s more of a casual thing. But I used to. A lot.

It was maybe the hardest part of enlisting in the Army, first because I had to pass a drug test, but secondly because I had to make a decision that changed the very essence of my 19-year-old self.

No weed? What kind of idiot would subject themselves to that kind of fascism? Me, apparently. My reasons for doing so are complicated and dumb. The truth is, I never quite gave up on Mary Jane in the military.  Continue reading

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Rubatosis

I have always enjoyed visiting new places and, more or less, living life by the seat of my pants, but I’m happy to to stop, breathe and take in the sights… for once.

I drove through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California last month, enroute to Washington after three years in Baton Rouge.

Sometimes when I’m driving, I can feel my heartbeat coming through my t shirt. It is soft and rhythmic. The feeling is unsettling. My own mortality is gently beating under a thin piece of cloth, wrapped in a couple layers of flesh, cruising across state lines at 80 mph as semi trucks and other death mobiles weave in and out of traffic for 3,000 miles.

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A few of my favorite things: ‘The Return’ of MST3K is an improvement, but nothing like the original

I’m still only in Saigon,” likely won’t be a phrase that we hear in the not-too-distant future. At least not when Jonah and the bots are making “Harry Potter,” “Parks & Recreation” and Facebook references.

I was laying on a mattress in the living room of my my grandparents’ old home in the country when I was first introduced to the absolute best show on earth: Mystery Science Theater. 3,000. Continue reading

Leia: The only death that hurts

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Among the many celebrity deaths that overwhelmed us in 2016, Carrie Fisher’s passing is the only one that truly hurt me.

Muhammad Ali and David Bowie’s deaths, while sad, didn’t throw me off. People die. Some people die sooner than others. And when you spend your years indulging in copious amounts of cocaine (such as Bowie) or having your skull hammered by world-renown heavy weights (such as Ali), it’s a wonder some of these people lived as long as they did.

My only remaining grandparent died in 2016 as well. Marion Kokoska died at the age of 95 alongside family members in Augusta, Maine. I was upset, but I could keep the lump in my throat at bay. I knew it was coming. So did my family.

Death and taxes,” as the saying goes.

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Patriarchs and equestrians

IMG_2334This summer I had the opportunity to follow a trail ride in Louisiana. Being a native-born Washingtonian who’s only lived in the South for a little more than a year, the experience was one of the most uniquely Southern things I’ve ever done.

I pitched this story to the editor of Country Roads Magazine earlier this fall and had my piece published, alongside the images of a local photographer who has also been documenting the trail riders, Jeremiah Ariaz. 

There is so much to say about the trail riders, especially from my own personal perspective, but alas, there is only so much room to write in a magazine. My piece details the history and culture of the trail ride, how it has modernized over time, and how it is, at its core, a family tradition.

Traveling in the dead of July in South Louisiana (easily 110 fahrenheit or higher), I rode in between convoy of horses, golf carts and pickups, taking photos and chatting up some of the riders. The thing that got me about the event was how paternal the tradition was. As I saw fathers, young and old, riding alongside their sons, I was reminded me of going to “fish camp” with my dad back in Washington state.

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So this is what the crossroads looks like

The blues and writing about the genre; filling the hole in my life; my early musical ambitions; revelations in Louisiana; acceptance and understanding

A personal break through for me as a journalist (I think) came after recently speaking with blues musician Chris Thomas King, the Louisiana native and so-called King of New Orleans Blues.

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Chris Thomas King

I’ve known of King since he starred in “O Brother Where Art Thou” as Tommy Johnson, an early blues musician from the Mississippi Delta. His eerie and reflective rendition of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” always intrigued me as a kid. When I was learning how to play the guitar, and when I was acquainting myself with the blues, I often did my best to imitate King’s sound. I never thought that one day I’d speak to the man.
Then again, I never thought I’d live in Louisiana, the heartland of the blues.

My interview with King comes at an interesting point in my life: I am 26; trying to establish myself as a writer; managing a newspaper in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana; displaced from my home state (Washington); in a committed relationship with someone for the first time; and yet I am still somehow lacking in some aspect. What it is, I can’t say.

I have a good life, but the things I once found fulfilling – even just a few years ago – seem forgotten to me. My “lust for life” seems like a forlorn quest, or just another unremarkable path to self-acceptance. Perhaps that’s not such a terrible ending, but I have a hard time imaging how I will ever reach that ending happily and at peace.

As a kid, the answer to happiness – or at least self-respect – was an easy one: music.

Since taking up the guitar at 12, I took the phrase “play till your fingers bleed” to heart. Although I never actually cut my fingers on the strings I damn sure tried. I loved my guitar. It was actually my dad’s guitar that he owned since he was about 19; an ember-colored Applause, similar in design to the Ovation guitars. I wasn’t very sentimental at the time, but I enjoyed the fact that my father was passing down the skill to his son with the very guitar that he learned on.

The guitar was huge for my size, but it was a point of pride for me. My friends’ parents bought them nylon-stringed guitars and cheap-o electric ones, but not me. I was determined to learn the hard way. As my friends quit after just a few months of playing, I stuck with it and I got better.

Music, and certainly the blues, taught me so many things about myself when I was growing up. My guitar was my therapist, my friend, and – as corny as it sounds – my first love. I could consult it when I was angry, lonely, happy, etc. I was constantly pushing myself to experiment with it.

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Inspiring cartoons

My dad got me into journalism. Growing up, there was always a newspaper on the kitchen table in the morning next to a half-empty mug of coffee and he was always buried into both. My mornings usually began with the sound of mom and dad crinkling the paper open and shut as they searched their favorite sections.

Before I really took an interest in journalism as a career, my dad used to show me the David Horsey comics in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (This was when the paper was still in print and I was still in high school.) Horsey’s comics were always so easy to understand, even for a high schooler with little knowledge of the world. They made me feel smart, engaged, but they also made me laugh.

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My Earth Day 2015 illustration.

I considered becoming a cartoonist in high school. I scribbled a lot in my teenage years. I drew a bunch of weird shit. My mom said it was cool, which was enough to keep my going. Even though the idea of professional illustration died in college, I still consider dabbling into it.

And so this week I made an illustration. In my letter from the Editor, which was about a Earth Day’s importance in Louisiana, I scribbled up a picture in AdobeIdeas of a truck driver tossing a piece of trash out of his car.

Perhaps this won’t win me any awards, but I really enjoyed creating it and I hope to continue.