Kaiko’o and the Point of it All
“The present, accurately seized, foretells the future.” V.S. Naipaul
Kaiko’o is a point in the Oahu, Hawaii neighborhood of Black Point. I have lived on and off here for over 20 years, and its beauty continues to be breathtaking. In Native Hawaiian, the word means “swirling waters” which is a fair description of life itself, and mine.
The double meaning is intended. A beautiful Point that inspires harmony and solitude, but also synchronicity of calmness and beauty. It is also a place to contemplate “the point.” The swirling waters of life are there somewhere, but, looking at the present, if I seize it accurately as V.S. Naipaul admonishes, it is unclear what it can foretell, if anything.
As I approach the lava-rock Point, the place where spirits depart, and wonder if there really is a realm of the gods (as the native Hawaiian say), in many ways, I am grateful for my life and its experiences. Having lived in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore, and Honolulu, and traveling to most countries in Europe and Asia, I feel a sense of both the privilege of these experiences, and emptiness at its sum.
I wrote and recorded an album years ago and its title is, “Folly and a Story” because my life added up to doing something spontaneous, usually ill-advised, typically silly to the point of stupid, and then left with nothing much more than a story to tell. The whole point of everything was the story — something to intrigue, entertain, and enliven conversation with friends, and an occasional seductive flirtation.
I am grateful for this life and could not have envisioned it over 40 years ago when I started my professional career. But there was always a monster lurking. I tried to be independent, extreme, hard-working to the point of exhaustion, and had an illusory sense of importance. I was blessed and cursed with a trusting sense and a belief that people are good and, if I follow the golden rule, the golden rule will be returned. That did not happen. I do not think it is part of human nature to be reciprocal. I think, unfortunately, human nature is closer to doing things, not out of any sense of right or wrong, but simply because you can. Many people choose to do good in insignificant things and are abominable when things are large and impactful.
I have had my freedom and flexibility taken away, and it destroyed the rest of my life. But it is still my singular mission to regain that sense of wonder about the world, independence to experience it, and desire to share experiences with my friends and loved ones.
As I stare at the white spray foam from waves crashing against the lava rock, each a beautiful unique burst of nature’s energy, I can be fortified with the vigilance that says, “what purpose is there in life other than to follow whatever unique mission you feel.” Because we all enter either the realm of darkness or the realm of the Gods, and the outcome is our singular choice.
I have had an innate sense of chronicling experiences, but that spark was not lit until recently. Having completed two books and over ninety articles these last two years, it seems that, in a drive to have a free soul, engaging in the act of creation is not only life-affirming but also an act of defiance. I am defiant about the terrible things done to me, and not apologetic for who I am or the life I have lived. I admit this is a tad subversive.
Subversion is coming to terms with reality. Facing vicious, even vulgar forces, potential corruption of fundamental beliefs and values, and their consequences can be transformative. Someone notorious is more likely simply to follow a dream more filled with enchantment and wonder. I have tried to fill my life with an imagination, mostly born from solitude, a snug refuge that has led to moments of privilege, contention, corruption, vindication, and abuse.
My first trip to China in the mid-1980s showed me how small the world was, and how much there was to learn. I did not think to chronicle so much as to experience, and in those experiences, create memory, and encouragement to both myself and friends to seek more. To turn life from youthful ambition into something with more substance. This was an enlightening and encouraging experience.
China has been a fascinating experience. I observed firsthand the small fishing village across from Hong Kong with a population of two hundred people turn into the thriving city of Shenzhen with ten million people. A miraculous, science-fiction-like transformation. There are similar transformative experiences China has offered. Unfortunately, some of the grand historical record has been replaced with sterile reflective-glass towers. But, the 3000-year-old culture still permeates everything, and street food is still a curious bewildering adventure, even in the shadows of an 80-story tower.
This was an evolution of identity, national, political, ethnic, personal, physical, and spiritual. It was developing a culture and a nation while I was developing as an individual trying to absorb and understand.
A dispassionate observer understands the foolishness of nationality. The world is not a series of large nations, but fractured nationalities, smaller tribes, specific identities and fears, groups, families, and individuals. Even now, one can identify a series of unique labels as an individual, family member, community, social and ethnic group, and, as a second thought, some sort of nationality. Nationality becomes superfluous — my experience has taught me it should.
The world is a big open place, and I get smaller with every experience. But it is also narrow-minded, full of disparagement, shallow thinking, and lack of tolerance. “The Heart of Darkness,” a favorite book of mine, is somehow abusive to Africans. This shallow thinking enrages me because the very point of the book, to me, is that Joseph Conrad was commenting that “The Horror” was modern civilization, sterile, bereft of spirit, energy, joy, and every spark that gives life its meaning. Upper-class London was The Horror, not Africa. Next, I suppose “Moby Dick” will be a politically incorrect whale-hunting travel book.
I come from a family where my handicapped sister demanded almost complete attention. To assert my own identity, I discovered that I had to assert individual skills, whether in academics, sports, or music. This gave me access to experiences, an education, a profession, and a certain set of qualifications that are highly valued in the Western professional world. My attempt at being an individual enabled me to excel in these areas and offered me a privileged life. But, solitude, an uncompromising need for personal flexibility, and an innate skepticism about the insidious intent of others kept me an individual who could visit many places, but not really connect anywhere.
Most people were pedantic, but dealing with pedantries and cliques, the treacherous, strong, shallow, and profound taught me to be an attentive listener and a watchful observer, and these honed valuable skills for managing hostile environments — whether in a board room, a camp, or a foreign Third World city.
China and Britain are remarkably similar. On the surface, this seems absurd, but as an American, one of the things we understand is that we are loosely tied together. The English and the Chinese, as Henry James would say, are a tight fit in their place. I experienced this in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, London, and even in my family’s origins in Italy and Greece. I am an observer only and will never tightly fit into any of the societies where locals fit tightly.
Hawaii is different. One does not fit into society; one fits into the land. Native Hawaiians understand this and grasp the connection to the stars and the ocean and know their place connects to the universe. I found this increasingly profound as my years progressed. Native Hawaiians did not simply navigate by stars and ocean currents to find minuscule remote islands. They understood the interconnection of the universe and that, while the universe is a big insurmountable, and intimidating space, we are part of it. We are not separate from the environment and the universe but are connected to it — and can thrive within it.
This is the great insight. The point of the point at Kaiko’o.
I should have chronicled many places and experiences these past 40 years, but I chose to internalize them, hoping it would build to a better version of myself. This inward focus, I have come to understand, misses the fundamental point of our life experiences. One can sit in a chair and observe crashing waves, but that does not disconnect you from all of what we have seen and experienced.
It is these overlooked experiences and people, remote places, isolated and bewildering, whether the great poverty of India, the conflict here in the United States (I felt more like a foreigner in some of the United States than I have in foreign countries where he could not even speak the local language), stunning landscapes, as well as those blighted by pollution, sitting in darkness, dazzled by city lights, all while wondering about my place in it all. Thinking back to this lava rock point on Oahu. Realizing that isolation, bewilderment, interconnection, and harmony are simultaneous.
It is the quantum physics of simultaneous entanglement that joins all these forces, and this is my hard-learned understanding of life.
I have seen and experienced the worst things that men do — been cheated, lied about, abused, and even mentally tortured. I take heart knowing that it is simply part of the human condition, and not unique to me. There is no great humanity to which we should aspire because it simply does not exist. It is simultaneously irrational, honest, cruel, and generous. We cannot disengage ourselves from what we condemn.
Great freedom is seeing things as they are.
Kaiko’o enabled me for a moment to understand some of these simultaneous influences on my life. One that has involved enormous upsets and reverses, many different addresses, injury, wealth, and near bankruptcy. The usual slings and arrows that people endure, but I am privileged to have The Point to write about the point.
I have used discipline to my great advantage. Fortitude and endurance have been my friends, enabling me to experience and achieve many things. My dislike for convention and then my ability to disavow it led to amazing experiences, disasters, near-death, recovery, crippling loneliness, the loss of many loved ones, and the lingering pain of regret, more than any triumphant sense of accomplishment.
I was always proud that I could fend for myself and live by my wits. This is exhausting, almost paralyzing, completely maddening, and sometimes rewarding. However, those rewards are more typically unique interruptions than a consistent state. My choices are not brave, although more than any other trait, it is courage that I failed to display when it really mattered — which is the only point of courage.
It is easy to talk tough when the odds are stacked in your favor. When you are a lone voice, like Jon Snow with a single sword, poised against the charging horde, that is when courage needs to be fortified. More often, I dropped my sword and complained about it instead of standing up, regardless of the consequences.
Aristotle said to “tell the truth regardless of consequences,” as Plato recorded, that is the only way to be “a true man.” Regardless of your identity, man, woman, or whatever, Aristotle was right. I know because I have not done this, suffered the consequences, and learned this lesson. Scarred by these experiences, I admonish myself as the tide subsides at Kaiko’o, to remain courageous and speak the truth, consequences be damned. Since we will be part of the realm of darkness soon enough, why not go out with your sword and shield and no doubt about the truth of your convictions.
Good luck has covered most of my life. I have been lucky in the friends that I have made, lucky in the risks I have taken, lucky to have survived injustice, and lucky to finally recognize my place in the realm Kaiko’o reveals.
There is no meaning of life to contemplate because most of that contemplation causes us to become other people and places, sometimes real, usually imaginary, and life passes us by. We become almost nothing. The point is not to become anything. The point is to not pursue answers to questions we will never find, and all that misses the magic.
Wonder and imagination are still the magical elixirs for happiness.
“Live all you can” is a not reasonable mantra. It misses the point that there will always be difficult choices, loss, and work undone. Seizing every chance offered still means not choosing many others.
Life is regret. Choose your regrets.
Many of my choices were reckless, some colossal blunders, some excesses, and some actions of a greedy fool. All regrets and bad choices.
It is not redemption, revelation, or even the implacable hourglass of time slipping more quickly to the bottom. I had a privileged life and hope to have much more, but I understand that the point of life is that there is no point to life. Like many, after a while, my face in the mirror can be shocking, staring at a barely recognizable person.
Life was slower and permeated deeper. Things go too quickly, and life accelerates. But, more importantly, we stop absorbing and the point of life at the backend might be to think slowly and see the dazzling sea spray of The Point everywhere in life. Observe it and absorb it even more.
The lava rock and sharp coral are lapped by waves, the ocean currents have begun to undermine the sea walls, and the beach, with its exposed stones and the visible effects of time passing, is a reminder that we are not separate from the very system that is eroding and transforming this place — as nature transforms every other place.
But life’s dramatic and unexpected change keeps us vital and longing to see what will happen next. To experience, to travel, to be a loose-fitting component to a tightly fitted place. China, Britain, or anywhere where one can be a loose component and absorb the unique experiences of societies and cultures where we will never fit.
A magnificent blur in the distance, the sun is setting at Kaiko’o. While the sunset beckons, I am not finished. It is easy to give up sometimes, especially when one feels tired, abandoned, and, like many, the best is behind me. What is the point of continuing?
Like The Point, the point is to go on. One is never finished. The realm of the Gods will come fast enough.