A Straightforward Road to Complexity

The road ahead of us may seem long and dangerous, especially for a quiet American. It certainly seemed so when I set off on my first motorbike excursion across northern Vietnam. I’m here to convince you that yes, it may be long- and maybe even a bit dangerous- but, I hold this radical notion that anything can be done with a little optimistic nihilism and embracing the complexities life throws at us.

A man once told me that life can be as simple as you make it, that we humans try to make our lives more complex in order to reward ourselves for completing tasks that should be simple. This philosophy, I think, is wrong; we find satisfaction in solving puzzles, from colored cubes to paintings unpieced- indeed, we shouldn’t make our lives more complicated than they have to be, but why not appreciate, revel, and find elation in the complexity? Solving these puzzles is like piecing together a paper picture of your own life: it forms a complete picture, yes, but you may grab pieces from different boxes, ones that leave gaps, ones that overlap and occlude tiny details. The final picture may never be perfect, but its complexity, from the whole picture itself to every little piece you picked out, should be extolled as an accomplishment. This quiet American believes that.

scared to death

This is not the face of a confident motorbike driver.

I came across Graham Greene’s novel about love, death, that quiet American, and Vietnam during the French occupation, and if I believed in destiny, or a god to measure my good and evil against, this might be prime material.

Putting Fear and Grinding Gears to a Test

But as Greene had Fowler said, “I take my fear neat.” I’m developing a taste for it, and I can calmly sip it without grimacing. It’s a mad task, one that I have to write to remember. All the gory little details.

This is a man who’s grown comfortable as a stranger in a not-so-strange land

These are the chronicles, the annals, the observations and advice of just one quiet American man, who one year ago kicked alcohol and discovered some things about himself that changed his life forever. A diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder. The logical solution, in his mind, was to venture halfway around the world. And dammit, if that wasn’t one of the best decisions he ever made in his life.


He wasn’t running from his problems, but rather putting them to some sort of test. He wanted to throw a wrench into his already grinding mind, and see what might happen. This is the story of what’s happening to a rather quiet American in Vietnam.