30 September 2012 § 3 Comments
I’ve long suffered the 127 Hours syndrome of leaving without telling anyone where I’m going, or that I’m going at all. Luckily, I’ve not yet had to cut my arm off to get myself out of a perilous situation (knock on wood, or something else, to deflect that reality). So. This is at once my practice for leaving a note when I bound off for a new adventure:
Today I’ll be off from Santa Fe, New Mexico, headed for Portland. There’s a car, a boat, and a girl waiting for my return. Should the road gods allow me safe passage, I’ll be there by the end of the week. It’ll be the longest one-shot hitchhiking trip I’ve ever done. The day is beautiful, and my backpack and I are ready to Go. The idea is to avoid interstates until necessary, explore more of the West, and figure out where I’m headed next, and why.
My attempt, however negligent, to attend Evergreen State College was a bust, for scheduling and financial reasons, so university will have to wait a while longer. I’ve applied for a writing fellowship with the Attic Institute in Portland. It starts on Monday, however, and no decision has been made yet. I’m full of trust that this pilgrimage to the pacific northwest will be exactly what it needs to be, in the fashion of Burning Man and good life, and that there I will find what I need to – either a place to Be for a while, to develop some skills that travel makes difficult to master (firespinning is my newest love), or a spark for a new place to Go.
The trip began well yesterday, as the train delivered me to a flurry of social activity when my intention was to sit with a beer and a pen and see what happened. Today, only the sun knows. See you out there.
22 September 2012 § Leave a comment
The saddest person I’ve ever met was Mrs. Wancheck, my sixth-grade teacher. She ate turkey sandwiches from Tupperware containers at her desk. Those of us in detention entertained ourselves at our own desks. Quiet, obedient, and sad for her, I would watch as her lips smacked, and a bit of mayonnaise would fall on her chin.
By age eleven I was convinced that eating alone would make anyone sad.
Mrs Wanchek spoke often of an ancient trip to Egypt she had taken with her husband. For nine weeks we studied hieroglyphics, Nile geography and agriculture, and had tests on which pharaoh was buried when and in which tomb. For a project, I researched the reasons for, and the process of, mummification. During my presentation, a girl in my class ran to the bathroom, and my teacher smiled.
I was glad to be the catalyst of both.
She spoke also of her toys; one, an RV she liked to take to Arizona and California during summer (her husband did the driving); the second, a Toyota truck, which sat in the school parking lot long after the final bell rang.
I wondered how anyone who was married could be as unhappy as she seemed to be over turkey sandwiches. In my world, unhappy couples divorced and moved to different towns, only then asking the kid which parent he wanted to live with.
Her son was grown up by the time I hit sixth grade. The lessons she taught him showed in the wrinkles in her lips, which closed mid-breath, as if every time her lips touched, she was saying “hup-“. She had glazed and jaded eyes, but they were not unkind. Having taught second grade for years, maybe decades, before her one-year venture into sixth, she was unprepared for the cruelty many of my classmates offered. They were most forthcoming when her curriculums overlapped.
After a lesson on latitude and longitude, for which every student was given a map (whether it was of Egypt, or our native New Mexico, I do not recall), she proceeded to direct us on how to properly fold a map. Step by step.
While most of us played with our paper accordions, my ally Michael, who in his pre-pubescence had a cowboy’s falsetto, chirped from the back of the class, “We know how to fold a map, Mrs. Wanchek.” He followed his comment with a snort and chuckle loud enough for his audience.
Realizing he was either right, or being a shithead, she took offense. He laughed openly, rebelling against the childish lesson of folding a map. “We’re too old for this, Mrs. Wancheck,” said Michael. “It’s a waste of time.”
“GO TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE! NOW!” Her voice carried out the door into the reverberant hall. Spittle dripped from her lips. The rest of us sat silent, dumbfounded. Not even a whisper between the gossiper girls.
“Why?” he asked, in open defiance. He hadn’t moved a muscle. She glared at him with the force of a train moving at five miles an hour. The tension rose and rose, and eventually, he eyes pushed him out of his desk and toward the door.
Michael left the room, still standing on the moral that she was “wasting our dang time,” and waved her off as he shut the door behind him. She didn’t finish the map-folding lesson; instead, we were told to place them – folded – on her desk.
A couple of years later, I heard Mrs. Wanchek and her husband rolled their RV off a cliff in Arizona. I pictured the sixty-somethings in a twilight rainstorm, on a muddy road, trying to haul their happy vacation out of a red valley.
I never asked her if she loved to teach. It made sense that if she’d done it for as long as it showed in her weak smile, she must have loved it. I was sad at the news of her death for only a few minutes. It didn’t feel like long enough, but the tears just weren’t there. And neither were they for her anymore.
19 September 2012 § 2 Comments
I should be writing as usual but have no desire to. The road trip has paused in Salida, Colorado, for a couple of days of high mountain valley living in a small town in Denver’s backyard.
Heather met me in Asheville, and much of our Bounce has been in the presence of family and friends I’ve grown apart from.
I didn’t expect anything to be the same with these people – one is successful with his dog care business, another moved to Kansas from Alaska, where he spent his first and only 27 years, and my father left his third wife because he wants to take care of himself now. She’s all torn up, and wants to move away. A friend from my Costa Rica travels is re-adapting to U.S. life, even though she’s been back longer than she was gone. She’s having a hard time with it. She’s focused on school, distracting herself from dealing with having recently been raped.
Good for all of them. My loved ones’ lives reassure me that returning to what I know may be a terrible idea.
Why did I feel so obligated? So I could experience their pain, take on their stresses as I always have, even for only a few hours or days, try to sympathize, and avoid talking about what I’ve been up to?
Yeah, my life is great. I’ve made it that way, and no one wants to hear about it. Others’ lives aren’t so great; they don’t think they made them that way, and everyone should hear about them.
After we left DJ and his sister Danielle in Kansas City, Heather told me how gentle I’d been in describing my childhood friend. High school friend. Brother. We choose our families. Or, I’ve chosen mine. Sometimes my biological family has no connection to me. Among what I’ve created is empty space, wonderment (in the “I wonder where Sean is” sense, not the awestruck “Sean’s life is so great even though I know nothing about it – and he doesn’t talk to me, so that means he must be busy doing things like following his heart.”), and tenuous connections with people the world over.
In my backpack is a growing stack of journals that serve as my only form of recording those heart-chasing adventures and lovely nights spent gazing at the stars, or into a girl’s eyes. The books are beat up and subject to every meal eaten with my fingers, phone numbers written in smoother hands than mine, and self-hatred for telling downright fucking lies. I don’t read them anymore, but instead fill my pack with books written by other people, most of whom have a better sense of why they went where they did, and had the focus to complete an inspired thought.
I write half-poems without meter, rhyme or sense, and misquote people who tell of interactions that changed their lives. In the back of my mind, I think I’ll go back to my notebooks someday, smash those stories together, change a few names, add some punctuation and a few clever metaphors, and sell a novel to a hip publisher in New York or London. Enough people have told me that my writing is great, so maybe it’ll win the Booker Prize.
Whatever. Burn them, one and all.
Someday my travels will mean something more than a kitestring of experiences with which I tie lifetimes together (or will they?). When I’m old and still earning less money in a year than my mum’s monthly mortgage, someone will ask me what I’ve done with my life. “I’ve moved,” I’ll say. “And I’ve loved. Then I moved some more, and loved some more. Perhaps to my peril. Definitely to others’.”
Growth and Survival are fraternal twins whose names their parents still mistake for the other. I drift between them daily, shifting my language to suit them. I want to understand everything and everyone; from this desire I realize how thin my slice of life has been.
I understand only that I share some definitions of words with others, and that hearts break in similar pieces no matter what place we hail from.
Healing connects those siblings the way blood keeps my asshole brother in my heart despite his assholeness. But healing is just the beginning. It is what lifts us from the dark spots, gives us the ability to stand when before only dormant happiness kept us dreaming.
Asserting my existence is the most difficult task I’ve ever charged myself with, but soon it will not be enough. I must move. Walk. Run. Fly.
We’re all on our different paths. Sometimes we collide. Then we brush the dust off, ignore the scrapes, and just keep going.
Always some. Because some don’t survive the crash.
18 September 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ll take both, please – we’ll have a smoke, and I’ll keep the book in my pocket. The whole time, even when you ask if it’s my passport. This is not what the customs agents stamp, but it gets me places. Sometimes I lose it in the places it brings me, like discarding a plane ticket upon arrival. You can’t just throw away symbols like that. There’s so much guilt there. I feel it in my chest.
When you’re a kid, no one ever teaches you how to deal with the loss of your own ideas. When inspiration hits at inconvenient times, in bed, or any time no pen lives in your pocket, you stop thinking about the idea and instead dwell on that you have nothing with which to record it. This stumps the idea in its tracks. Falters the line. Rejects the lightning strike of creativity, inconsiderate that it may move on to someone else who will appreciate it more.
What I’m saying is not that you should keep a pen and book with you at all times (though it is a good idea), but it is good, when you have a thought, to let it come and fill you. Nurture it, get to know it, start a fire. Ideas are pests; they buzz from one head to the next, cross-pollinating experience, talent, and ingenuity. They must be slapped when they land; if they are still alive when you come to, they deserve respect.
Many writers and artists keep notebooks nearby. Their books, by standard Moleskine, are bound strong enough in volume to smack the root-thick heads of creatives when necessary. Some think they must write every day to stay sharp. For those who dull easily, this is true. The arrogant remainder of them foster guilt around not writing every day, or at worst, only keep a book with them to look smart, or solely for girls’ phone numbers; both reasons’ origin is the same need.
I am a recovered guilt addict.
(deep bow, vulnerable look)
It has seemed better at times to hold on to the practices of others to remain ‘ahead’ of them. But the game of art is no competition; even from the same idea, we phrase conclusions distinct from each other. Think of a writing prompt, and how every perspective is original. Our talents and experiences source from different places – some mine their brains every day, while others do better to work their alchemy internally, patient for richer fruit.
I am of the latter group, dubbed the Procrastinators, and I don’t need my guilt. If an idea moves on, good riddance; another one will come along. Until it does, I’ll sit and have a smoke.
17 September 2012 § 1 Comment
The blank screen scares me. I hope that I can show up for it, bearing gifts of truth and beauty.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way:
This has been the most intense, wildest summer of my life. I have arrived to the world, finally, as the person I’ve always wanted to be – incomplete, questioning, rarely certain of myself, always in movement, and hyper-aware of the potential dripping out of my ears. I’ve said before that I’ve been in a rapid state of evolution – when that struck me, it seemed egotistical, arrogant, superior. More often than those things, it is uncomfortable and alienating. Where first came the choice to let go of nouns (people, places, concepts, attachments, associations, former truths, etc.) that do not serve me, now I arrive daily at decisions that, were I to want a ‘normal’, easy life, I would never want to make.
I chose this style of life, and feared that I would be found to be a fraud. I feel now that this life has chosen me, and I have the choice to be at my best, and be open to as many opportunities for growth as I can be. Anything less would do a disservice to everyone in my life. I have disserviced them enough.
An old adage about the Burn goes: everything that happens at Burning Man is exactly what is supposed to. Every step, every piece of art, every swallow, every dance. They Are, and they lead to the next step. I learned there what buttons I could push to provoke certain reactions from those I love. Opportunities appeared like shoehorns for fingertips – they facilitated the pushing of edges and concentrated the execution because they know there’s just so much more to learn.
This is what happens when you speak your deepest truth in its rawest form.
This is what happens when you take responsibility for consciously lying to get what you wanted.
This is what happens when you hold nothing back from your eye gazing.
This is what happens when you embark on a journey with an unmarked map.
This is what happens when your love is as boundless as mine.
It was practice for life, in the safest conditions of culture possible. On a blank canvas of desert where 50,000 people are not simply attendees or civilians, but participants and contributors, we paint life to its extremes, welcome it, and let it go – sometimes, all at once. The pretty lights and millions of hours of music, love, pain, and death are palpable still, in the regions of my heart that wish to be integrated out here, in the default world. I am no evangelist – I am a translator of senses, and I only hope to deliver these ideas to you gracefully.
The hardest thing about Burning Man is not the 70 mph wind that kick up white-out dust storms, it is not the loneliness felt by those who journey there solo, or the bad acid trips experienced in the periphery – it is taking those observations, struggles, and understandings, and applying them to Life Out Here, and knowing that we are welcome home in our hearts always, because that’s where the burn happens, sparking and arcing and flowing like magma.