The Secret Life of Mr. Buffalo

The Secret Life of Mr. Buffalo


“To see the world, things dangerous to come to,

to see behind walls, to draw closer,

to find each other and to feel.

That is the purpose of Life. “

            I saw the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, today. I was blown away by this movie. I had seen the 1947, Danny Kay version, and it doesn’t even compare to the Ben  Stiller version. I bought this movie (I live China, the less questions you ask about my pirate dvd collection the better), knowing that I would probably write about it. In fact the thing that encouraged me to buy the movie was a blog post by Tsh Oxenreider ( But, even though I knew the premise of the story, I wasn’t prepared for what it was.

            What it was, was every man’s story, in a way. I may be overgeneralizing because I relate to Walter and I know other men who do too, but let me explain. Walter loses his Dad at a young age and has to take on a role he isn’t ready for, as a result, he sets his life (the one he was meant to live) aside. He begins to take less and less risks because of those counting on him and eventually he lives only in his mind.

            I know there are a lot of guy out there, who will read this and say, “my dad isn’t dead, I can’t relate”. To you I say I understand (my Dad isn’t physically dead either), but most men have lost their dads in one way or another, for some it was physical death, for some it was divorce, abuse, abandonment, estrangement, what have you, our dads for some reason were distant or non-present. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, thank your lucky stars and call your dad and tell him you love him, because you are in a small and noble minority that most of us envied growing up.

            As far as playing roles we were never meant to play. No matter what he may say, a boy is not a man; there are things he isn’t yet prepared to handle. My Dad was an abusive guy, at age 15, hell broke loose in my family, there was a knock-down-drag-out fight between my parents, and my Dad nearly killed me. From that point on I took on the role of protector and tried to draw Dad’s fire whenever I could. That is not role a 15 year-old should take on, because it kills his soul, it makes him hard, angry, and bitter.

            A few years later, I got out of all that and went to college; around the same time, my parents got divorced. While I was free and clear, the absence of my Dad and I meant that my brother now took on the role of the man in the family, he was 11. I didn’t fully understand the toll this took on my brother until just recently. I won’t go into his story here, but I think he went through a lot of things he shouldn’t have had to just because he was forced to take on a role he wasn’t ready for.

            For me taking on the role I took on, led me to place of violence and anger. I got into JROTC  (which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing). I adopted image of being the toughest guy in the room, even if that meant appearing deranged and slightly homicidal at times. I forsook my true self in favor of a false that offered protection. I walked away from who I truly was. I abandoned the creative part of me, for fear that it made me look weak. Here and there in high school I let my creativity out, I was in a play and I wrote a column for the school newspaper (although, that column was an op/ed column and it usually was just a platform for my false macho bravado).

            By the time I got to college my path seemed clear, I had decided I was going to join the army because I believed I was only good for killing. Luckily, I had some real God moments and met some awesome people that pulled me back from the brink. Now, I rediscovering who I am, a lot like Walter eventually did in the movie.

            Rather we admit it or not, we all live a life of the mind to some degree or another. Our culture has become a spectator culture, why do when you can watch. Whether it is reality tv tabloids, professional sports (yes, pro sports. You are watching, not playing), or daydreaming. I personally am given to daydreaming, have been since I was a kid. Most people are given to some form of daydreaming, even it is just playing a game of “what if.

            We do this as a way of compensating for our lack of risks that we take, and we fail to take risks because we have pigeon holed ourselves into a role. The role seems safe, so we don’t break out of it and we resort our imagination as a way risking without risking.

            And that is why this movie is so moving, it shows us what happens when we risk. I have heard from people both men and women that this movie really inspired them, it inspired them because they’ve never risked and watching someone else risk make them believe that risks can pay off in big way.

            What I liked most is that Walter is an accessible character, I mean he’s not a secret agent, a soldier, an athlete, or trying free Scotland. He is an average guy. We are all Walter, and when we watch a movie like this, we realize that we too can have adventures and live a life worth living.

            I know risk isn’t easy, a year and a half ago, I moved back to China after being in the U.S. for a year. I thought that the Beijing move was all the risk I needed to take and that just in moving, I would be having an adventure. And while that is to some extent true, it is at the same time a lie. I have to risk everyday in order to live a living worth living. Most days I forget the truth of this. Most days, I sit in front of my computer and watch sitcoms instead of charging into the unknown and the uncomfortable. It’s hard to risk. It’s scary to risk, but somebody’s got to do it or we all just end up sitting on this rock waiting for oblivion.

            And so dear reader, go see this movie and then pack your bags and go risk. Godspeed.


You Don’t Know What You Got ’til it’s Gone

A few years ago, when I was teaching at Nanya Middle School in Changsha, I was asked to write an article for the school magazine summing up my time at the school. When the assignment came, I was a month out from finishing my contract and returning to the states. The article at best could be called melancholy, but most people thought I was depressed and hated living in China. I was at that point where I was ready to go back to what I thought was home. I was ready to be done with squat pots, rude people driving their scooters on the sidewalk (and honking at me as if I were in the wrong), and just generally being away from the familiar. At the same time, I wrote the article, which really stressed how hard it was to live away from what you’ve known, as a wake-up call to all my students who were talking about going overseas and romanticizing the experience of living in another country.

In reality, I had fallen in love with China, but I thought I wanted to go home. What I really wanted was to go back to the period in time I had left behind. What I learned was that that is impossible. The home I returned to was unrecognizable. My Mom had moved into my Grandma’s house (although my childhood home had been sold long before), so it was an adjustment in my living situation. I couldn’t find a job in Lincoln, the town where I had gone to college and where all my friends resided. Actually, I couldn’t find a job at all.

Everything was screwed up. Almost as soon as I got back to America, I wanted to be in China. I missed everything about living in Changsha. I missed doing a job that mattered. I missed being respected. I missed making more money than I could reasonably spend in a month (I didn’t make that much, I just had a low personal cost of living). 

So again I sought to go back to a place in time that I had left behind and, in manner of speaking, that failed too. I ended getting a job in Beijing, which I thought would be even better and more idyllic than Changsha.  Again I was more than disappointed, My job sucked, I was not respected, the people were more backward than they are in the south, and I wasn’t even given a decent wage.

Luckily, there are things in Beijing that make it worth while, I have a great group of friends, The Chinese food is spectacular (if bit bland for this Hunanese-Nebraskan), I am in the center of 5,000 years of history, and most importantly I living my dream.

But if anything all this has taught me the importance of being in the moment. That moment will never come again, savor it, love it, enjoy it, and treasure it. Those times are precious and important, but there is also a reason that they pass. They have to pass, so we can grow and change, that is the point of this journey. But we still mourn the ending of a chapter, and that is good and natural, as Adam Duritz once sang: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.