Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.
As you read, please listen to this song if you are able to do so right now.
The winter sunrise is wedged apart by a flock of wild geese. I build a fire and brew coffee as the wood catches and orange flames dance, the only source of heat in this cabin. I step outside into the morning chill to share my mug with the pines, sunlight from a cloudy strip on the horizon whispering through their shivering needles. Today is a gray one. Gusts of wind toss dead leaves back and forth and the prayer flags are snapping. Bursts of rain or sleet come and go. Against the gray, the empty hummingbird feeder dangles in the wind.
This Gibran quote swirls through my mind as I tear through these notebooks. Do other people feel this much doubt? What am I doing out here? I’ve taken a leap of faith—I have no job and I’m no longer a student, not in an officially documented way at any rate, so in the eyes of society, I am doing “nothing.” It doesn’t matter how much energy each day I put into coaxing something beautiful from my guitar, developing my talent as a writer, searching my soul and questioning what I really want, looking within to understand more deeply who I am. This is the societal equivalent of “nothing.” But I have chosen to listen to my hunger for experience, my yearning to explore and expand and express. I am choosing to live in this ungrounded, uncertain way because my heart told me this was the right thing to do. A lot of people I meet tell me they wish they were doing something like what I’m doing. I don’t know where I will be a week from now because I choose to surrender to whatever it is that beautiful, serendipitous possibility presents me with. I’m putting all of my talking about not making plans and living in the moment into action. This way of living is the most conducive one I can imagine to squeezing the most out of this life. Yet daily I find myself riddled with doubt. Is there not a reason the beaten path is beaten? And right now this cabin is lonelier than my drive through Wyoming. This place that used to be a Creative Sanctuary, the place that fostered some of the most important creative work I’ve done, has now become a flammable box of memory. Hopelessness and despair and fear played a huge role in driving me from this place three months ago when I embarked to hitchhike across the country, and returning now, I feel as if I have picked up exactly where I left off. Rather than come back fresh, I feel like I’ve regressed and returned to the hurt that I thought I’d already begun to heal. As I drive through the streets here, I remember sitting in the library parking lot and listening to that one song, or heading down to the lake, or up to the vista point, all the places I tried to run when the walls of the cabin felt like they were closing in around me. There’s a small community of people here in Arnold, but I do not know the people here and they don’t know me. I feel as if I’ve cut myself off from love and companionship in my relentless pursuit of this vague notion of solitude. If I succeed—if I find what I am looking for, whatever that may be; if I somehow find my way and launch myself into something that society will ultimately recognize (for example, if I can publish the manuscript about Semester at Sea that I’ve spent months pouring my soul into) then people will say well, I knew he could do it. Yet if I fail, if I ultimately cannot make “my own way” work, if I eventually realize that I was wrong to take this leap of faith, or even not wrong to take it but that it ended up leading me nowhere, then people will say well, it’s about time he gave up that foolishness. Not that it really matters what other people think about me, but the way the world sees you eventually starts to influence the way you see yourself. I don’t need anybody to approve of what I’m doing, but it starts to get exhausting when I have to constantly reaffirm that no, I am not doing “nothing.” I’m not a deadbeat, lazy, unmotivated, or whatever else you think I am. I think one of my greatest fears is to do nothing with my time. And that is precisely why I am choosing to live this way, so it’s a little bit ironic that my lifestyle and appearance have caused me to be mistaken for homeless, a drug user, and God knows what else, countless times on this journey. Eventually it starts to make me wonder if I should be living a more normal life and maybe, say, get a job. An apartment. A dog. Maybe not a dog. But I feel this because I am cut off from the important things that I do not have now, like community, stability, tangible direction. Yet when I had those things, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more out there, that I was alienated from something critically important and beautiful. I know that I will leave this place within a few days, but I don’t know where I will go or what I will do.
Yet, there are moments of clarity amidst the not knowing. Driving behind Dana as she led me back to her house in Chicago last week, on the twisty roads through the forest, past the Christmas lights, the Baha’i temple, into her neighborhood. Threads kept me together as we moved to the basement and fluorescents gave way to candlelight and we pulled out notebooks, listening to this music, each of us alone lost in our individual thoughts yet together in this creative act of catharsis, spattering emotional expression on the page as deep as we let the candles pull us. Shimmering wax spilling into the glass votives; I could almost feel the separate identity of each individual flame. Riddled with doubts, fear, longing for an idea of “home” I no longer understand, yet that night it made sense. I have fought so hard to get to this rootless, ungrounded, solitary place. And now that I’m here, now that I got exactly what I asked for, it’s no longer what I want and I am afraid. Yet there was a reason I yearned for this so deeply. Rather than running back to normalcy, I need to be strong and see this through. I need to be patient. Moments of clarity are not answers, but that evening I felt connected to something ancient and timeless. Yes, my doubts are powerful. But my faith is stronger.
Thank you for reading.
P.S. – This is a place for honest writing, and this is a glimpse into what I’ve been feeling. However, I do recognize the support I have. It’s hard to feel alone when I post this blog on my facebook and it’s visited 75 times by the end of the first day.