Thursday, October 31, 2013

Second to Last Hurrah

I was planning to leave today, Halloween, when my friend Neil called me on Tuesday: He's in town. Naturally, I dropped everything because no one ever comes to Greenfield and drove up to Monterey so I could see him and two of his friends, Julia and Nick. When I found them, they'd already managed to find Plumes, the best coffee shop in Monterey, without any guidance. Once we'd lunched and coffee'd, I got them into the Monterey Bay Aquarium for free by taking advantage of my mom's volunteer swipe card and we roamed the corridors to gawk at the strange inhabitants of the sea. Luckily, the place wasn't packed to the gills (smirk) as it usually is. Wednesday afternoons don't seem to be very popular. Either that or everyone has jobs while the four of us recent college grads are completely bumming around life right now. Neil also drew me a jellyfish. As you can see, he's very... talented.

After a lovely couple hours in the dark of the aquarium, we caravaned down the 101 back to my house where we cooked dinner, drank beer, listened to music, sang songs, chatted, then stepped outside and bundled up in blankets to drink wine under the full map of stars. There is nothing like Reliz Canyon at night, especially when you have people to share it with. Sometimes we would talk or I'd completely own Neil with a perfectly customized insult, but other times we would fall into contemplating the massiveness before us. Later I strummed guitar and hummed them to sleep in the living room. Or I just annoyed the crap out of them.

The next morning, we had coffee and played Cuarenta, a card game I learned how to play in Ecuador. Nick and I lost every single game and were dubbed zapateros (shoemakers), an embarrassing namesake that deserves derisive mocking from the rest of your friends. Afterwards, Neil whipped us up a stunning breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes and veggies. We took our food outside again and ate under the sun. When our plates were clean, we observed the various birds and mammals that appeared before us, soaked up the panorama of mountains and trees until we were full in a different way.

Neil, Julia and Nick, thanks for your company.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Freewrites Before Signing Out

I am preparing to walk across America.

If I really stop to think about what I'm about to attempt, I know I will freeze. I can feel my fear clutching at me, a fear that can't be dispelled by advice, my books or the limited experience I have to draw on. It's as if I am preparing to jump into big water, drop off into darkness.

This is what I'm meant to do, I tell myself.
No, even that is too easy, saying I am invested with a mandate, charged with pre-determined purpose. What I am really doing is entrusting myself to myself. I've read what I've read, attached convictions to my name and now I'll see if I really believe them. If I am metal enough.

There are so many questions in me and I can't look away from them even as the allure of comfortable ignorance and the pain inherent in asking urge me to deny them. If I did that though, if I disengaged, repudiated all I've learned, it would be a renunciation of that possible world where ideas worth living by exist. It would go on being possible without me; I've given up the idea that I'm necessary to the process of anything fundamental. But in turning away, I would have to give up the idea that I could be a part of good. I would have to disavow any notion that I could be light.

On the surface of my mind I sense my indecision pacing incessantly. It won't be quieted. I can still change my mind, it says. But underneath, I hear a calm sea, one punctuated only by each wave of air I bring into my pink lungs. The din overhead is starting to sound reasonable, is still trying to convince me to abandon this fiction I've made. It has time to make its case, approximately two weeks if I can gather my shit "and you can drive a car through my head in five minutes, from one side of it to the other..."


Here, at my desk, sitting naked as I probably am, I'm asking myself: Why do I believe walking across America is important? More precisely, what are my beliefs, where do they come from, and can they be what's pulling me away to the empty spaces of desert and fields, roads and people? I'll try and separate out my theories and beliefs, with the intent of panning for glints of truth in them. I'm documenting them here not because I expect them to be correct but to be changed.

Knowing myself. 

"Knowing myself"; this is my most available phrase. It's the first reply that whistles through my head when I ask my brain and my heart why I want to walk across America. Everyone, including myself, says this will be about finding myself, learning "who I really am." But what are the details here? It seems like such a nebulous undertaking. Wouldn't I come to know myself in any context or experience? Why go through all this particular effort of this particular journey across this particular country?

To sneak up on a possible answer, I'll say that I think we all want to be a part of something. Be it a social movement, the emotion of religion, counterculture, counter-counterculture, a play, the army, or our own lurching motions towards self-discovery, belonging to a story bigger than ourselves is a connection we need. A story grants purpose, suggests we have a role to play. I don't know about anyone else, but I already find myself to be quite small. Just what exactly am I doing here? It doesn't seem like there could be just one answer for any person; language isn't flexible enough to say all that a person is. Life is this spectacular anomaly already, universally speaking. Maybe accepting that realization should be enough, that I should be satisfied with just existing. But, I can't help but think that if I can understand the context I live in and locate myself, I will be able to live and act conscientiously and with greater purpose than just surviving.

If you stand with me when I say we understand ourselves by understanding our context, find purpose through stories, and possess the ability to lead truly fulfilling lives, I'll ask you to wonder with me: Where are we standing, anyway? There's no way to know everything, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would have to say that we are not standing in a kind world. As our global societies inflate, exerting their influences over each other like lightless rope around the seas, they pull into themselves. We are being crowded closer than ever by our technology and the wild growth of our population. Our cultures and ethnicities are blending, reinventing. Social media, like this blog, gives everyone a voice and we use it loudly. Yet, in all the clamor, we ourselves are becoming more fragmentary. The dust of conflict rises between us. We create interference, cancel each other's voices out. As a result, we obscure our ties to each other, factionize our televisions with ads and speeches, and disorder entire environments with our presence. The world is getting more complicated and tight-fitting and in the rush to find our place in it before we get lost, we are forgetting to listen to the stories of everyone around us. We belong to each other's stories just as much as anything else. Our beautiful diversity, the sheer amount of our difference and variation in all things, is a challenge that requires that we learn about each other with renewed curiosity, and study every way humans can be, so we can know as many names for suffering as there are for love.

Friends, what I'm suggesting here is unity. I want to be a country.

III. Growth: When and How It Happens (To Be Continued)

I think another reason I'm walking is for inspiration. I don't find myself fascinating anymore. The world is much more interesting than I.

It seems as if growth has passed me over. Now, I'm actively seeking it, as though I were asking for a job, imperiously giving it the opportunity for a second glance at me.

IV. On Death and Dying

I was just now reminded of the fine distinction between death and dying as I batted a fly into the bathroom sink and turned the water on. My intention was only to exterminate it but as I stared after it down the drain, I realized that its dying was probably going to be prolonged and wet. Predictably enough though, it didn't taken me long to forget about the fly I'd just consigned to death and return to thinking about myself.

Thoughts of death and the dying it involves have started to come up more often these days, now that I'm soon starting what could be either the stupidest thing or the bravest thing I've ever done. How it will be seen all depends on whether or not I die. No doubt everyone's first reaction to news of my grisly roadside death will be to say "Called it."

Of course, not existing is the easy part. Not much work involved there; you just end. What we care about is how we die and how long it takes. In fact, it would be easier if I died first rather than having to live with the loss of someone I love. Suffering expands in life, whereas in death (as far as anyone knows) there is no dimension to its emptiness, only nothing. Come to think of it, no one I love has died. I'm stunned by this revelation because the news tells me people are dying left and right in front of our eyes, all around us, and I am fortunate enough to say that none of them are mine.

This isn't to say I want to die. Of course I don't. But I have to take the risk in order to understand what dangers I really face and what I risk myself. I need to see what's out there so I don't become cloistered by my fears of the unknown. I can't allow my imagination of what might be out there prevent me from beholding the world as it really is. Shrinking away from the pain I believe I will see is the opposite of what needs to be done. It seems like a foolish and young thought, that I might be able to solace real suffering with anything I write or say.