chaos on the road, and on being me.

8 August 2011 § Leave a comment

“We can not be what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
-Max dePree

Don’t ruin anyone’s life, someone told me recently. You’re a special soul, Sean, and not everyone can handle what you can offer them.

We ended our trip in paradise. Magic had followed us all the way to the driveway, and we made the mistake of thinking we could hide it once we arrived. Of course, her entire family, a clan composed mostly of wealthy and conservative Seventh-Day Adventists, seemed to think Heather was traveling from Alaska with a girl, and only her fiancé, sister and mystic mother knew otherwise. Naturally, assumptions flew around our gathered circle of heads on the perfectly-kept lawn like tweety birds squeaking in everyone’s ear. Smiles endured as the protective emotional walls she and I had been dismantling for more than a week.

Here’s a brick, we would say, and then drop some bit of self-revelatory information just connected. It was shameful sometimes, and other times a great relief to have finally told THAT story, the ones that once defined my character, and up until then had kept hidden in a heart-shaped box locked with chains and sorcery. You tell enough honest stories during marathon driving days, hopped up on oxycodones because the pits where your wisdom teeth once were are gaping chasms waiting for enough knowledge to heal again, and guess what happens? She’s going to have a pretty good idea of who you are. Sit with that idea, and grow into it.

Days earlier, somewhere near the Matanuska glacier, Southcentral Alaska: “…or we could could just pack up all of our stuff in your car, and drive down!” It was a ludicrous idea. To get there by her deadline, we’d have to leave tomorrow – or the next day, at the latest. How many people could I say goodbye to by then? And how many would understand my disappearance? It’s not like my tendency to suddenly drop off the face of the planet is my most endearing trait. But then, how many expected it?

It is what I do: disappear, hit the road, abscond to some place that is not home with a backpack and extended thumb. It began as an adventure, and when I told my plans to my friends, they’d call me crazy, and I’d smile. Time to up the ante, then.

My stories morphed into everything that I had to offer. I was no longer willing to sit down and wait for change: when I did so as an experiment (a full year at university), my lifeline dipped into the permafrost. My heart melted the ice on contact, then got stuck in the mud which, as happens during the crisp Alaska winter, froze over immediately. I had an imaginary audience and for the first time, I gave sincere consideration to what they thought of me. I acted accordingly and in my way, which was as if I didn’t care, but my thoughts remained with them instead of me. Nevertheless, I detached from everyone around me, and was addicted to ideas that I had already gone to great lengths to cauterised. Rarely went outside, where my lifeblood runs.

In many ways, I feel that bounding off on this trip without much notice was an escape into my own old patterns, like going back to a relationship that you know isn’t good for you, but it’s comfortable. Familiar. It meets the needs that you need met. I’m better here, on the road, not knowing where or if I’ll sleep tonight. I have an arbitrary destination, and the hope that I don’t spend too much money before I get there. Everything I care to own is in my car, the one thing that has stuck with me through my wanderings – other than my skateboard – both representative of my life as movement. And nothing excites me more than the instinct to turn down this dirt road at the far side of the valley. Who knows where it might go?

But what if all of this isn’t enough? What do I do with the clump of guilt I have for not calling DJ to tell him I was leaving? I recognize this guilt, too: it showed up last summer in Bristol Bay, where I was a sea and a half away from everything I loved and happier for it. I ignored it then because the thought that I could escape without consequence (from what and to what doesn’t matter – it’s about the Escape) made me think that I didn’t deserve that which I was escaping from, and that it would be better off without me anyway.

The problem is that escape must end somewhere. Even if I’m constantly running, I need a break now and then to recharge. To at least re-evaluate what exactly I’m running from. More productively, to figure out what I’m chasing.

Here’s a brick of my wall: I am momentary and unfocused because I am so afraid of the idea that I cannot save the world without showing any vulnerability, that I would rather not try. My goals outside of exploration of the unknown are to me unattainable – not because I don’t have the drive to be a great audio engineer, published novelist, or edgy journalist, but because I feel that focusing my energy would limit me in other ways. But by not focusing, I’m wasting my sight.

Picture a panorama of a great mountain range: the sky and clouds above the craggy peaks, the glaciers still forming the valleys between them. In front of them but still in the distance are the foothills – green, rolling hills full of forest and life. An emerald lake, calm in the midst of the trees, on the far side of which you sit. There’s a moose eating the leaves off a tree a few hundred yards away, and fish dart this way and that in the crystal water at your feet.

What I see there is the warm wind pushing up the cliffs of those mountains, hard and fast, meeting the cold air with vicious force that forms the mountains’ clouds that shroud the peaks in veils of thunderstorms and chaos. That is where I’d be, if I had my choice. My focus or attention on the things more down-to-earth seem arbitrary to me.

Another brick: I am often oblivious to the earthquakes I cause in other people because I don’t want credit for them. I don’t want the commitment of being the reason this person does or changes this or that. I tell myself that it is enough that they realize something they want to change and they do it. The double standard that I hold as love for those who have done the same for me is hypocritical, and surely worthy of criticism. Which makes me think that my shunning the spotlight – and I do this in many ways: ever notice in our conversations how interested I am in you? My subject-changing skills when the topic turns to me are astounding. And despite my deep-rooted wish to be on stage, I chose the behind-the-scenes work instead. The poetry on stage is the occasional triumph over my Self – is actually a want to not affect what happens around me on a small scale. Though to be perfectly honest, that is what I strive for daily, with every connection I make.

Perhaps this is why I travel. I don’t want to concentrate that energy on one person or one task. I want to know a little about everything, I want to know what else is possible. Whether I act on those possibilities, however, is another story. My moral code clashes with my deep fear of commitment, of being something others expect, of wishing for approval or praise. I’d rather they have less information to work with. The less they worry, the better.

I appreciate that some worry about me, because I know many people don’t have someone to do that for them. And I don’t know what to do with the fact that I don’t worry about them. I assume the world will be okay, and am often wrong. My selfish tendencies are not always virtuous, as Ayn Rand might have argued. I expect those that do worry about me to not out of self-love, but because I know them well enough to know that this is what they do. And I expect them to know that I don’t often return the favor. Which in turn forms my belief that I should probably stay out of relationships until I grow up a little. A lot.

We agreed to leave our feelings at the door of the empty café in that cool little town north of our destination. From here on, we act as stories untold, unconnected, unquaked. Unaware. It didn’t work because we’d chiseled away too many bricks. Tossed them out the window along the Alcan highway, smoothed their edges with open hearts and clarity, blew the smoke from our lungs into wilderness air. And that conservative family of good hearts and concern for the well-being of their granddaughter, sister, cousin, niece, daughter, and lover saw right through us, wondering when we’d be as honest with them as we’d been with each other.

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