There is a problem with this blog.
It has become stale and unoriginal. How many more hitchhiking is great people are good food is free stories can I really churn out? Is any of this still interesting or poignant? Why do I even continue to write? Why do I continue to travel? None of this is novel and fascinating anymore.
Actually, I know why I continue to travel. It’s because I’m still learning and growing. Important things are happening, yet now they are mostly internal, while my external reality has become a bit worn out. This shift towards the mundane, this thing that is making me question the role of this blog, is actually having a strange effect on my experience of the road. This no longer feels like a fresh, experimental idea; I’m settling into spiritual nomadic transience as a lifestyle, and suddenly the experiences are becoming much deeper and more meaningful. The thing is, the focal point of these experiences is no longer outside myself (the beautiful human beings I’ve encountered, the free vegetables I found)–the focal point is within myself. Everything is much more personal and intimate. I’m absorbing lessons that perhaps cannot be conveyed, only felt.
So writing a blog about the rides I’m getting and the cities I’m reaching is kind of dishonest. What I’m really going through right now is impossible to explain or express. It’s subtle and not particularly glamorous, yet it’s the result, the summation, of my entire journey thus far. Things are finally beginning to sink in. When I try to find words, they come out as a cliche that makes you want to vomit. But in reality, my inner universe and outer life are finally coming into alignment, like a solar eclipse going on inside my soul.
For example: I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Living in the moment. What a boring thing to say. But in fact, suddenly it’s been coming in these vivid flashes of clarity, this idea I’ve heard 20,000 times suddenly sinks in momentarily, this thing I have already been taught by books, lovers, Zen, marijuana, music, Taoism, gardens, mountains and oceans: suddenly I am intensely mindful of a moment–I keep retracing “BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE” into my wrist whenever handwashing fades the words–and all past mistakes and triumphs vanish, all future worries and ambitions vanish, this moment is the infinitude of the universe, I’m at peace with everything that’s ever happened, I am a fragment of the universe through which the universe is conscious of itself, it’s not an intellectual thought but a deep sensation, the sensation lasts only 5 or 10 seconds at a time but when it passes I feel overwhelmed and spent and like I’m going to cry.
So I thought this was all just a problem with my blog. I wanted to ask you to help me use this space, which you have helped me make sacred, in a more effective way. “Help me tell this continuously unfolding story in a better way,” I wrote in my notes for this entry.
But then it started to hit me that this issue runs much deeper than my writing. In a recent phone call with Faith (a girl by that name) she cautioned me once again against the idea of viewing my life as a story. Am I really living honestly, accepting the difficult and messy reality of being human, or am I merely acting out a parable, trying to fit my boundless experiences into an artificial and preconceived narrative arc?
And now, not only am I struggling to be honest in my writing, honest and not misleading, by telling the full truth and not the microcosmic truth of a meal or a ride or a sunset, and not only am I striving to be honest with myself in the way that I’m living, but I also no longer know how to talk about myself when I meet new people. Which I do every day, invariably, and the conversation always turns to my life because they ask if I live in Boulder and I say no I’m just passing through. And then when I talk about myself I box myself into easily digestible categories like traveler and writer. I do this because it’s easier and I do this because it strokes my ego to see the look on peoples’ faces when I tell them I am a full time traveler and because I subconsciously lead them to ask me more questions and I get to pretend to be modest and brag about all the places I’ve been and the cool things I’ve done, tell my stories, and derive my self worth from these awesome things that have happened. But really it’s a lie. “Traveler” is such a small part of my identity, and traveling is such a small part of what I’m actually doing. What I’m actually doing is soul searching, trying to learn and grow and figure out who I am and what matters to me and where I fit in to this world. Travel just happens to be one way I prefer to live at this point in time, it’s the least offensive way I’ve found thus far to build an external life in some sort of accordance with my internal principles and needs.
So I was ready. Circulating through the cafes of Boulder Colorado, I was ready to stop making it about my story and stop slapping inadequate labels onto myself. I was ready to hit the road for the summer with no plan externally, but with deep intentions: practice not-doing, stop tring to “make” things happen and instead just get out of the way and let them come, let the unvierse work, because all the best things are unplanned anway. (As Maria once said to me, when you let go and stop making plans and just let yourself walk around a city and encounter random people and random moments, you’re part of this intricate human tapestry, it’s like the universe is saying Fucking Finally I Get To Unleash My Brilliance). I was ready to go with the flow, accept whatever happened, live with an open heart, with a creative spirit, and journey ever deeper into my experience of human life. Letting go. Stillness. Cultivating faith and trusting in myself and the world. Basically everthing I’ve been practicing, and relax into letting it wash over me, all this I’ve created in myself.
So I packed my bag, slung my guitar over my shoulder and hit the road out of Boulder in the general direction of west and north. I was picked up by a bunch of incredible people who took me through some incredible places that it literally breaks my heart not to share with you because they were so beautiful.
I somehow ended up way down in southern Colorado in the town of Crestone, possibly the spiritual hub of the country, and I met some people at a cafe and ended up at Jackie’s house with a collection of wise old people, me the only young one. I was hitchhiking to Montana, I thought, how did I get here? It was a mansion filled with energy crystals and books and incense and growing things, rooftop sage plains and sagebrushstroked mountains under kettlecorn storm clouds, she fed me and we sat out back on hammocks in sun eating grapes and brushing away red ants and I told them about my journey, seeking some guidance maybe because they were wise and peaceful, it’s such a long story I apologized, and they began to caution me against thinking too much about my life as a story.
The idea reappeared on its own.
In the evening John came over, gray hair and gray beard, slipping his glasses on and off as he looked at you or at his iPad, the only way to describe him is to say that you got the feeling that this man knew the secrets of life. He would pause with a glint in his eye before he said anything and nobody would interrupt him during those pauses. He’s been all over the world, and he showed me a video of his most recent expedition to the most remote of the Canary Islands to study the whistling language of an indigenous population. How is it that you get to do this stuff? I asked him. He looked me in the eyes. “I create it.” Later someone else arrived and asked me what made me come to Crestone. John replied, “he still thinks he wound up here by accident.”
I stayed the night and Jackie invited me to stay for longer but I left. I hitched through sun and rain, again west and north towards Yellowstone or Montana, camped out, woke up, hit the road on the outskirts of Gunnison, and tried to catch a ride out. Colorado has been easy, I thought, I’ll hitch far today, I’ll make it wherever I need to go, it’ll be great, I’m ready to make tracks.
Two and a half long slow hours ticked by with lots of cars but no ride. So I started walking into the desert canyon. I kept thumbing, but eventually gave up because it just wasn’t working, so I just kept walking. I don’t know how far I walked but it was at least a couple miles through that sun and heat. I stopped and thumbed when cars passed, but nobody stopped for me. I kept walking. Then, sweating and exhausted, I sat down in frustration.
Then everything hit me.
I’m so attached to my story because that’s where I’ve been placing my identity. Do I even know who I am without my story? It’s all been about creating this story hasn’t it, and I identify with it because it’s a beautiful story, it’s a wonderful, deliberate, creative, intimate story, but I am not my story, and in identifying with it, meaning, in deriving my identity from it, I AM STILL ALLOWING MY PAST TO DEFINE WHO I AM, Am I really supposed to give it up? How do I even do that? And then there is the search, I just heard a quote about meditation that suggested you try for just two or three minutes each day to give up the search, and I tried and it was so hard; in this incessant seeking, this never ending search, I’M STILL LETTING THOUGHTS OF THE FUTURE CONTROL MY LIFE: I thought what I was doing was so profound, I’ve worked so hard to escape the shackles of my past and to transcend worries about the future, yet as I cling to my story and my search, the past and the future, that’s still where I live, I don’t even know what it actually MEANS to be truly present, what it means for my identity, what it means for this moment. And what about expression of self, where does that all come in, what do I DO with the most beautiful and powerful moments I experience? Do I just let them come and go and forget them, or do I write them down in a journal to collect dust and never be remembered, do I share the story with whoever I happen to eat dinner with that night or whoever I next talk to on the phone and consider it released now that it has been shared and we will both forget it? I came up with this blog to answer that question but after writing for two years I wonder, at what point does art help us understand and digest and enhance life, and at what point does it become a lens through which we experience life at a distance, prevent us from fully experiencing it, does the artist sacrifice her own experience of living in order to help others deepen their lives? Everything I write is a lie anyway. Every time we open our mouths we lie, even when we try our best to tell the truths. Should the arc of my writing be determined by the arc of my experience, a doomed attempt at honest representation, or do I search for a way to take a small piece of my world and somehow shade and texture it and exaggerate it in order to tell a deeper more effective story about a fragment that in reality was small but to me was essential, do I write more blatant lies if they might convey something closer to the truth? And if that IS my task as a writer, if that’s what it means–for writing to be not just an act but a craft, then is this also how I am to make sense of the world? Or is this exactly what leads me to interpret my life as a story, exactly what takes me away from the truths of the experiences? So maybe I shouldn’t do this anymore. Yet if I’m not sharing and creating a story,what does it even mean to be a writer? How do I write, what do I say? I told Faith I was ready to let go of the story and just be, I said the same thing in Crestone where I realized the story is too vast now and so holds me back when I try to explain or share it, writing the blog kept me traveling at first so I would have things to write about, new stories to tell, and if I’m not doing this to create a story, do I even have a reason to keep traveling now after doing it for two years? Should I stop? How do I REALLY listen to my heart? Do I travel because I still want to or am I just trying to persevere and not give up, but really just clinging to an old idea that is honestly no longer relevant to me? All the people in my life I’ve been talking to and learning from, what would they tell me, Faith and Drea and Kemy and Megan and Dr. No, Aaron and Alli and Jackie and Michael and John, Jack Kerouac and Abdi Assadi and George Orwell and CS Lewis and Rumi and Lao Tzu, Sarah Cantor and Maria and Marie, Emily and Kate and Amber, Shak and Lauren and Leigh, Liz and Lana; Lori told me my writing has been about trying to change others, convince them of things, make them see the world the way I see it, and this all needs to be more about me, and she’s right, Janna helped me realize that this has been all about me, me me me, I do these things so I can have that weathered look in my eye knowing there is one more thing I’ve done that sets me apart from people, and I need to stop being selfish and start making this journey about doing good for others, and she’s right, and HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO MAKE SENSE OF A DIRECT CONTRADICTION LIKE THAT, and if the story is not my identity, if travel is not, if writing is not, if activism is not, if none of these things that I do are my IDENTITY, then what the hell is, Who am I? This quesion I’ve asked so many times, over and over again, strange that a two year journey would culminate in that exact same question all over again, and if I’m not looking for anything, if I’m supposed to be trying to drop the search too, then what the hell do I keep going on for? If it’s not about the story, or the search, then what would that even mean for this moment, right now, on this highway in the grasslands out of Gunnison? How do I even interact with this moment if not to turn this experience into yet another story? I don’t know what to do this just doesn’t make any sense I just don’t understand. I do not understand.
So I cried.
I cried because I think my mind is normally so powerful but this time I couldn’t break any of it down or force it to make sense. I cried because the further I go the farther I am from answers and the questions keep getting harder and harder. I cried because my body and soul needed to and I could easily have held back the tears but letting go is about surrender. I cried because though things were hard I was actually getting exactly what I wanted. I cried because I didn’t know how to keep moving forward and I was too aware of the symbolism of having this breakdown after walking two miles through a desert because I couldn’t catch a ride. I cried because I don’t know why.
When my heart cried itself out, I knew exactly where I was: stranded in the desert both inside and out, and I knew it was impossible to go back, and I knew that the only way on was one footstep at a time. So, tears dripping from my mustache, I stood up and trudged on. My eyes were to the ground but a minute later I looked up. I hadn’t had my thumb out but a red minivan was pulled over. It was a woman named Jen. She gave me a ride 400 miles to Salt Lake City.