Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Freewrites Before Signing In

I. Roll The Credits
Dear Friends of Looking For America,

I trust you don't begrudge my silence these past couple months. Writing has been difficult. Partly because I have not had much time alone, partly because I've been sick of and burned out by it, partly because I am loath to call the end. Endless excuses, but here it goes...

The End.

There, that wasn't so hard.

I want to shout out "Thanks!" to a few people who acted as my support group and whose aid I sorely required:

Dad, for equipping me with intelligent gear I could rely on and a curiosity for all things nature, and Mom, for sending care packages and managing her fears for my safety so that I would not know the full extent of the worry I caused. Old Wise Shed Hobo, for the many kernels of wisdom he showered over me during our long conferences in The War Room, for being a mirror so that I could see what it was I really wanted to do, and for designing and overseeing the construction of my rickshaw, Tumbleweed.
Clayton Borzini (aka Map Wizard), for logging all the GPS coordinates I texted him into a map and thereby immortalizing the journey in colorful bubbles so long as the Internet shall live. Sydney Stead, for her patient stewardship of the blog so I could cycle between procrastination and scribbling madly then toss the resulting pages behind me, trusting that she would be there to post them calmly and faithfully to the blog; I am not yet an organized person.
There are innumerable people I wish to thank but I cannot list them all here. There are many whose names I don't even know, generous strangers who gave me food, water, money, their thoughts, prayers and time in the too brief moments before we were whisked away again by the pull of our lives. To the families and relatives and new friends who took me in and cared for me in whatever bedraggled, suboptimal condition I happened to be in, I do not know if I can accurately convey how grateful I am that you kept me safe across America except to say that I love you and wish you well across the distances between us. You changed my life. You've given me new eyes. I trust in the common goodness that resides in the hearts of people, strangers who need not remain strange. I see the facts of my own American life more clearly for having seen and experienced yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was fun! We made something cool and beautiful.

However the future turns out, just know that I am always thinking about you. No day passes without some moment, thought or dream flitting across my internal landscape and transporting me back to our time together. You are numerous and far away but you are never distant. I am out here wondering how your kids are growing up, if you got that job you were gunning for, how your search for adventure, love, survival, stability, relief, peace and wisdom is progressing. So, keep me informed. Due to mortal limitations, I worry I'll fail even as I strive for the ideal which is to be present in and aware of your life's movements. But, hell, this is the era of instant communication. Plus, we wrote a constellation across America (no big deal); if we all pitch in we can keep it bright and strong. I hope we all meet again. I will try.

Like a novice sculptor before uncarved stone, I am hesitant to begin the work of understanding what exactly the walk encompassed for fear of not doing it justice. This is something I have to get over.  In the meantime I am trying to get on with my life. I have a gig at a local highschool where I'll be speaking to some 250-300 seniors about poetry and the walk. After that, we'll see. I am trying to invent a new dream.

Happy New Year!


P.S. Below you'll find some of the thoughts I managed to eek out before they winked out again.

II. The Physical Facts (The Emotional Ones Remain Aloof)

I don't remember much about the day before New York. Most of the details have blurred so as to be nearly inconsequential but I have a few things to say. My last hours in New Jersey were spent walking at night, fading in and out of streetlamps as I sought my first sight of the last step. I stopped at 10:30 p.m. on stone steps and chewed the last of my food, staring out at the traffic. Cars were stopped on a hill and their tires spun on roads slick with rain. Only a few miles from camp at the Palisades park that runs along the Hudson, I tried to feel out what meaning this journey has had. No response. I wonder why I feel expectation to feel something other than what I do. 

I reached the park near midnight. It was sprinkling and I panned the woods with my headlamp for other hobos. Not a soul around. The tap-tapping of poles, the clanking of my gear, the rustling leaves, dull roar of traffic streaming across the George Washington bridge. Light pollution suffusing the low hanging clouds with a pale glow. And then I was on top of a ridge. I walked past the final line of trees and there before me was my epicenter, my mecca, my dream-city floating like a ghost on the opposite shore. As muted as it was by exhaustion and whatever else, a glimmer of excitement flashed through me. I wanted to savor the moment but the air was growing chill and rain was coming on. I set up my tent for the last time among trees closest to the view and huddled in my tent until sleep took me. 

I rose early the next day. I packed up my tent and left the park. I was actually going to meet up with David Stewart, a guy I met in Virginia when I was walking the AT, and he traveled from his home in New Jersey to join me for the last few miles. We met at a McDonald's near the GW bridge and had some breakfast before setting out. It was good to see David. It says a great deal about the depth of his character that he would come all the way out to accompany me after only meeting me for a brief 10 minutes several weeks ago. He's a jovial and talkative guy and he made good walking company as I took my first steps in New York. 

It was 9 miles to Times Square from the bridge. Looking up, I realized that the skyscrapers I thought were so beautiful last night were actually just apartment complexes, not Manhattan. So much for my faux-romantic feelings. David and I talked about whatever came to mind as we walked. The buildings grew and grew. Then we were there.

The walk ended precisely at 12:30 p.m. on November 1st in Times Square. My mom and dad were waiting, along with Shelley and Steve who happened to be visiting from D.C. Ella and Taylor, two of my best friends from college who currently live in Brooklyn, and Julia Cosgrove who--you may recall--walked with me in Texas, arrived shortly after I did. Vertigo-inducing monoliths cut up the Manhattan sky and funneled wind down streets navigated by tens of thousands. Enormous television screens advertised the latest products and faces. It should have been disorienting but I felt little in the way of surprise or astonishment. Everyone and everything was how it was and that was okay with me. And that was the end, I suppose.

III. Feeling The End

Even two weeks later I am still not sure what the heck is going on in my head, assuming anything is.

It was good to see friends and family, there is no question of that. It is hard to rival the warmth and happiness of reuniting with so many favorite people at once and cooking dinner with them. I felt contentment, some relief that I could rest for a spell. But as for "The Big Finish," I've found myself often describing it as "supremely normal." It was a graduation ceremony of sorts, a ritual that marks the passage of a specific time in your life more than it incites feeling. It was nothing like the orgasmic, near-religious, emotional sundering I had promised myself.

Why did I expect there to be an emotional climax? Where did this idea come from? During the last  days of the walk I thought a lot about another walker and his story. Andrew Forhstaehfl wrote the radio essay I listened to that re-inspired my desire to walk to New York. I had been working a job in Oregon bottling wine after graduation and my less-than-exciting context had me eager for the slightest whiff of adventure. And what most distinctly moved me was his description of his final 10 days where he was crying every day and at the end he walked into the Pacific ocean in one big hurrah. I wanted to experience that. I have to admit there were several times where I found myself coming across a particularly beautiful vista and thinking "Huh, this would be a good time to cry" which is so, so stupid! how obligated I felt towards having a very specific ending, of which none of the particulars matched up with the ending I can rightfully call my own.

Maybe I lived out a very human tendency to impose Time upon something as freewheeling as adventure. I see it most plainly on the dates with which I bookended the walk: Nov. 1st, 2013 - Nov. 1st, 2014. In fact, I could have finished several days earlier but I (un)consciously slowed down my pace for the symmetry. My odd desire to demarcate a specific moment and set it up as "important" seems funny and slightly embarrassing now.

A more generous interpretation could be I arrived long before New York; everything important took place in the middle. If that's the case, then it really is about the journey more so than the end. You hear that old adage often enough but maybe it takes completing an actual journey to learn it.

As I walked I would sometimes come up with "quests" I would carry out when I reached New York. One of them was to visit a karaoke bar and sing "With or Without You." I don't know why this was. But I didn't sing, and I think it's because I didn't feel how I'd hoped. There had been no trumpets, no super-elation. I didn't feel special at all and I think it's because I could see how all this walking was one step on the way to being the person I wish to be, how this was one moment in my life among all the other moments of other lives vibrating all around me and why should mine be any more important? In the silence of my ego, I could hear.
IV. Growth: When and How It Happens (To Be Continued)

It has been a year since I left home. A year of walking. One year. Walking.
No matter how I break it down I can't force myself to experience the impact those words should contain. Part of me wonders if I still haven't realized the walk is over. But by now it is December. I am recently 23. All of my 22nd year was spent traveling, burning up the road and filling my eyes.

Either something happened or nothing happened. If something has taken root, I am documenting the fresh beginning of that something, be it a realization, an epiphany or simply growth. If not, well...surely that can't be. We are animals of growth. I think it more likely growth proceeds at an imperceptible rate and on a scale beyond my perception. As I said, the exact moment of my last step didn't feel like a turning point. After all, I still have legs to walk with. But maybe the walk as a whole, when seen against my life's timeline--the whole of which hasn't happened yet--will prove to be an important year.