Like most people I know, when a number I don't recognize shows up on my phone's caller ID, I don't answer the call, but this one was apparently a foreign number, and my curiosity got the best of me.
"Dude. What goes on?"
"Brian, where the hell are you?"
Brian comes and goes with the wind, but when I spoke to him just before Christmas he was heading to Myanmar for three months of silent meditation, so I wasn't expecting to hear from him so soon. He's gone to this particular monastery before. The first time he went, a few years ago, he didn't stay for the full three months. I'm not privy to all the reasons he left, though he certainly lasted longer than I would have. I know he got scolded once after passing a line of women who were walking in the opposite direction when he turned his head to check out the ass of a particularly attractive German girl, but as far as I know, it had nothing to do with his departure. During an exit interview, one of the monks suggested that Brian shed his belongings -- his apartment, his truck, and whatever else he had that was grounding him to his American home. -- because "It is easier to stay when you have nothing pulling you back."
Brian took it to heart and over the following year disposed and dispensed of nearly everything he owned. When he returned to Myanmar a year or two later, he remained for the entire three months exploring inner space. When the three months were up -- having nothing to return to in New York -- he walked the earth for a year, spending most of his time in a small village in northern Thailand. We would Skype from time to time, me at home in Brooklyn with the sound of expressway traffic over my shoulder, and he on his porch, with the sound of ripe mangos dropping on his roof.
When he finally returned to America, he rented a house in upstate New York and found work as a handyman for a semi-retired software engineer. When he wasn't working, he was busy writing songs. When he'd written about ten or so, he teamed up with his friend, Sal, to record them. Sal is a Berklee College of Music graduate who plays a mean guitar and has a portable recording studio. He owns a house near the one Brian was renting, and Brian bartered his handyman skills for Sal's recording talents.
When he finished recording an album's worth of material, he designed a cover, burned a couple hundred CDs, and then handed them out to everyone he knew. He wasn't sure what else to do after that and, perhaps suffering a little post-project depression, decided on returning to Myanmar.
"What happened?" I asked, "I wasn't expecting to hear from you until April. Are you in Myanmar?"
"No, dude, I'm in Ireland."
Brian's family owns a small cottage in a quiet little town a couple of hours west of Dublin. Although life there is not quite the same as the life of a Burmese monk, it's close.
"I knew before I left that I was either going to become a monk, or it was going to be a short stay. But listen, I'm on a prepaid phone, and I don't have many minutes, so I'll explain it all later. I just wanted to check in and let you know where I was. We'll talk."
We've traded several emails since that phone call. He tells me he's writing more songs, working on his keyboard skills, and is going to start looking into gaining his Irish citizenship. "Must say, overall I love being here," he wrote, "Going to start the citizenship process. I gotta be able to make coin over here."
"I'm sure you can find work over there," I replied. "After all, Bono's property isn't going to landscape itself, you know."