Moments of clarity are still not answers, though I’ve been having them lately and I miss sharing them with you. Thank you, thank you, to everyone who has sent me messages, commented on this blog, emailed or called throughout the last nine months to ask about me or wonder why I haven’t been writing here. And my deepest apologies to those who have reached out to me with kind and generous words but still haven’t gotten a response back yet.
I’m in an autumn of the journey at the moment: a time of transition and change in preparation for the long hibernation that culminates in renewal. I’m on the east coast right now. I left Boulder at the end of the summer, and I want to share with you some things about what I’ve spent the last nine months doing. At the end of my time in Boulder I felt the need to deeply reflect upon the events and lessons of my time there, and I spent several weeks putting together some 45 pages of thoughts; this blog is mostly distilled from those reflections.
During my two years on the road I explored various themes: community and home, alternative lifestyles, creative ways of engaging the system, the craft of writing, how to be of service in the world, the cultivation of faith and purpose, taking risks and confronting fear, happiness, etc. Boulder was a radical alteration of lifestyle and presented the opportunity to pass these themes through the filter of a totally different external environment (society). As I looked at myself, the lens of a new lifestyle allowed me to tease out what was a product of the road and what was actually an element of Dave.
I worked in a restaurant and paid rent. It was the first time since hitting the road in 2010 that I spent the bulk of my time doing something I’d rather not do just to pay bills. On the road, much of my work involved writing, reflecting, and attempting to bring positive changes into my life. I attempted to continue that work in Boulder. I arrived with a hefty array of intentions: to write seriously, build community, form good habits and break bad ones, refine my self image, find my way to serve, address current unmet needs in my life, and so forth.
It was hard for a while. The first half of my time in Boulder was marked by consistent feelings of failure. I had tried to take on way too much, and I had no process by which to bring lasting changes into my life. I struggled to write as well; prior to my arrival in Boulder I had only really written about my own journey, and suddenly without travel, I didn’t know what to write about anymore. Thus without writing I instantly lost a major chunk of identity and purpose. Questions of home and community, discipline and purpose, some of the things that had helped push me away from the road, persisted even in this new environment. I learned that these deficiencies had little to do with the fact that I had been living as a traveler; in reality, many people my age struggle with these things, and building them takes hard work and patience, not just a radical alteration of lifestyle. Autumn gave way to winter and most of my unmet needs remained unmet. I spent most of my time at the restaurant, yet instead of catching beers with coworkers in the evenings I holed up in cafes and kept making new lists and setting new intentions and things kept not working. I couldn’t figure out whether I was trying too hard or not nearly hard enough.
About four months into my time in Boulder, I caught the flu. After a week in bed, I returned to my life, and I could see more clearly the life I was returning to: I had become my deepest fear and aversion: I was just working to pay rent in order to have a place to sleep between shifts at work. I fell into deep despair. This was when I completely stopped blogging and dropped the correspondence ball. I just couldn’t bear to talk about myself anymore. After recovering from the flu I began to rigorously explore why things hadn’t been working. As I reflected, I began to realize that in fact I had covered an immense amount of ground, but it was mostly in other areas than I had planned. I had simply come to Boulder with way too many expectations for myself, thinly disguised as intentions, and those expectations had clashed jarringly with the reality I was experiencing. I learned all over again that I needed to accept whatever was happening to me, and that I needed to be a little easier on myself.
Seven months in I picked up the pen again. The loss of writing and corresponding loss of identity and purpose weighed on me more than anything else and had thoroughly contributed to the acute despair that marked much of the winter. I had continued to write sporadically about whatever I could, by which process writing had been forcibly separated from travel. But should I write whenever inspiration strikes, often on the road but rarely here, or should I write with great regularity, sometimes forced, regardless of inspiration? In March I experimented with the discipline approach, and I forced myself to write something every day of the month no matter how uninspired I felt on that particular day. I began to explore new forms and styles, perspectives and voices, fiction and poetry, stream of consciousness and painstaking prose, and I began to deepen my understanding of the craft and my relationship to it. Ultimately, in Boulder the separation from travel initially caused my loss of identity as a writer and thus forced me to expand my relationship with writing from merely the personal narrative to something broader and more universal.
When spring arrived one of my two roommates moved out and a new one moved in, and the three of us new housemates took a spring break hitchhiking journey over the Rockies to Moab, Utah, which allowed me to briefly revisit the road for the first time since arriving in Boulder. Afterwards, back at the house, the three of us bonded tightly and a strong sense of space and community began to develop. I continued to explore my craft and to work on myself, and I began to realize that another reason for my earlier failures was simply taking on too much at once. I learned that serious personal work must be done slowly in small steps. I imposed loose discipline on my days and began to spend more of my time doing the things that mattered to me, and there was a brief period where things felt like they were almost working.
Soon after spring melted the last snows, things began to falter again. I had to leave my job at the restaurant as a result of growing tension with management. With the new warm weather I began to bicycle around town instead of drive, which deepened my intimacy with the city. I had no more job, so I was a full time writer, seeker, and friend. I met someone special and found myself with a significant other for basically the first time in over two years. I wrote daily, devoured good books, spent time with the people who were forming a community at my house. I realized gradually that though things had not unfolded at all as I’d thought they would, in a big way I actually had done in Boulder much of what I had set out to do.
Yet the successes had come about in an interesting way. I thought that moving to a place would automatically endow me with creative space, forms of service, community, etc. This was not the case. My breakthrough with writing came not from having a desk but from finally just committing myself to sitting down every single day. Development of community did not come from having familiar faces around. Community only began to develop when I made building relationships a priority in my life. Feelings of home came not from the walls or roof but from the moments when I brought my daily activities into harmony with my values and priorities. Service was fascinating too. The hypothesis that on the road, service is brief and generally not lasting because it comes in the form of short interactions that may be merely temporarily inspiring, and that service in society can be much deeper because it can be built over an extended of period of time—this idea did not prove to be necessarily true in my experience. In both environments there were opportunities for service that were unique to that environment but one was not fundamentally deeper or more meaningful than the other. All in all, the advances that I made in Boulder had little to do with my being there.
As my lease drew to a close, I began working on a summary and reflection of the past 9 months. And now, two months of work and some 45 pages later, I have created a list of a series of lessons that I learned during my time living in Boulder. These lessons include almost preposterously self evident things such as the following: what helps me grow as a writer is: writing. What prevents me from growing is: not writing. What makes me feel bad is doing things I don’t care about. What makes me feel good is being around people I love and spending my time doing things that matter to me. It is good to have knowledge of the vast quantity of work I have to do on myself, yet if I ever want to make lasting changes I need to take small steps. Two months and 45 pages have yielded lessons of this nature. Perhaps everything has always been much simpler than I’ve made it out to be.
Good things happened in Boulder. I made mistakes and learned from them, did things that made me uncomfortable, experienced joy and suffering, saw some beautiful sunsets and moonrises, and I walk away with some precious memories of good places and people and a clearer idea of who I am and what my purpose in this world might be. Yet the time was also rife with problems and unnecessary difficulties, miseries and compromises, and it was clearly something that was useful to have experienced but that I no longer desire to continue. Now the task is to look at what did and did not work in Boulder, consider the lessons of the time, and finally endeavor to craft a new chapter informed by the successes and failures of life both on the road and in Boulder.
Yes—this is the only way I can think to break this silence that has grown much longer than I intended. If you’d like a deeper glimpse into the quagmire of my creative process, here’s the whole 45 page document that became this blog piece. I’ll post again shortly with a part two to this breaking of silence, with some words on what I feel myself preparing for now.
As always, thank you for your consistent love and support.