The Broken Ankle Renaissance


In January, in Arizona, while living in a minivan and engaged in the most menial of labors in order to build funds for bigger and bolder ideas, I took a fall on a bouldering problem at the climbing gym and badly injured my ankle. The emergency room sent me away with essentially a dinosaur band-aid and a pair of crutches. Soon after, I drifted east to visit my family in Virginia and prepare for the summer’s journey: the old RV idea, outlined previously, for the purpose of making time and space for creative work. A slow recovery and continued inability to walk kept pushing plans back, and my visit home gradually became a more and more extended stay. Finally an MRI revealed a fractured talus and multiple torn ligaments. My orthopedist put me in a walking boot for another six weeks, but what neither the MRI, nor the X-rays, nor the CT scan showed was the cartilage that had been damaged in the impact and floated in the center of the joint. After three months of growing more and more impatient and anxious to get healed and hit the road, it became clear that I would require ankle surgery. Estimated post-surgical healing time was three to six months.

That night, I rapidly descended into intense despair. Restless and bitter, I spent several hours fervently engaged in the act of Feeling Sorry for Myself. Then I went outside and interrogated the sky. Why is this happening to me? I asked. “You have learned nothing,” said the moon. Then the strangest thing occurred. Suddenly, I caught a faint glimpse, and the pieces came into fleeting alignment; I could perceive how each distinct chapter of my life, stitched of tiny individual moments, was connected to every other chapter, and how my entire life was but a thread intertwined with all lives across geography and generation, all woven together into the great tapestry of humanity. And I realized that if the human story is made up of individual lives, and individual lives are made up of moments, then at each and every moment of our lives—with every word uttered, every heartbeat and every inhalation—we shape the very course of human history.

So I went inside and I did the only thing I could do, which was accept what life had given me. I thought of how deeply I once trusted the universe; for years I believed in a world that provides us with what we need, and now nothing had changed except me; where did this idea come from that my injury was a distraction from my journey rather than an essential part of it? It was quite a symbolic injury for a traveler, after all. I felt a growing sense of peace, followed by an overwhelming feeling of loss. Loss of what? I wondered, looking out my window. “You have learned nothing,” said the moon.

In the week before the surgery I made preparations. My parents welcomed me to stay for as long as necessary. I cleaned out my inboxes and handled other half-finished tasks. In a few whirlwind days I tackled the monumental project of my old bedroom, still cluttered with relics of my adolescence and essentially untouched since I first left home to go away to college. Excavating the room made it start to feel more like my own space and less like an archaeological dig site. In one corner I set up a shrine & meditation cushion. I cleared everything from my desk. I ordered a few books and reorganized my shelves. Amazingly, a job I had applied for months earlier—a work-from-home podcast transcription gig—reached out to ask if by any chance I would still be interested in a little bit of work. Finally, I stocked up on legal pads and Pilot 0.7mm black pens (and a well-traveled blue uni-ball), extra sets of guitar strings, etc., still not sure exactly what I was preparing for, but knowing it felt significant.

Two nights before the surgery, I spoke with Dr. No on the phone. I mentioned to her that about a month before the injury, still out in Arizona, I had tripped on some loose rocks while coming off the mountain one evening at dusk, and rolled my other ankle. I paused. “I can’t help wondering if there was some lesson I was supposed to learn the first time that I missed….” I could hear her smiling into the phone. “You want to be traveling.” “Right.” “And you can’t move.” “Right.” “Maybe you need to be okay with where you are.”

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The surgery took place on the morning of April 22nd. Everything went well; during the arthroscopic procedure, my doc discovered and repaired the damaged cartilage. Those first few recovery days were a blur of sleep and pain medication and spring coming through open windows, morning and light, stacks of books nearby. Instead of a Twilight marathon or whatever else people do these days when bedridden, I read. It began with an illustrated hardcover copy of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and the brilliant collected essays of W.H. Auden, and some of Alice Walker’s poems. And also, finally out of excuses, I began to write again.

In the coming days I slowly moved from bed to desk, still wobbly on the crutches. I was beginning to order books more frequently and write every morning with a vague sense of regularity. One might expect, during a period of convalescence that unfolds within the walls of a single room, for time to blur into a muddled mass of indistinguishable days. But in fact, time moved slowly, and the days emerged individually, each unique and distinct from one another. There was a morning of reading Paris Review interviews with writers I admire, and studying their various creative processes. Then there was Poland History & Poetry Day, kicked off spontaneously when the World Poetry Anthology fell open to a poem by Wislawa Szymborska entitled Hitler’s First Photograph. There was Childhood Memory Day, when I cracked the ancient notebooks I had unearthed during the excavation and discovered some surprisingly coherent threads that ran back farther than I realized. Then there were the two days of revision following the poem that woke me in the middle of the night and demanded I drag myself from bed to liberate it from my consciousness.

It was exciting to be immersed in creative work again, yet it all felt somehow more significant than simply a period of glorified efficiency. What was really happening? I realized it was the process itself, the full embrace of whatever each moment suggested, a total reversal of my old habit of making huge to-do lists and then appointing my future self the caretaker of a massive volume of bullshit. In addition to this unpredictable diversity of daily life, acting on creative impulses also sparked experiments with various writing styles—political & polemical, sonnets & science fiction—and promiscuity of reading habits—Annie Dillard to get me up in the morning, Billy Collins and Borges for breakfast, London after lunch, an Emerson essay in the evening, a Chekhov story before bed. But this spontaneous approach intermingled with the discipline of a daily meditation practice and intention to produce finished pieces of writing instead of merely scattered journaling. So, strangely enough, as I let go of the need to design and construct my own daily life, a fairly beautiful reconciliation of discipline and spontaneity arose organically.

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In early May I took stock of the summer’s adventure that was underway: creative work and endless reading, meditation and prayer, bits of transcription work to gradually build funds for a future purpose, the engagement of projects I had long envisioned, a deep look into my own past in search of the seeds of who I have become, a minor study of world literature and human history, etc. Despite how hard I had been trying to organize a life around getting my work done ever since leaving the road and moving to Boulder two years ago, I’d never quite managed to find a rhythm like this before. And it had all come just from letting go and doing whatever each individual moment asked of me. I realized that, despite this injury, and actually because of it, I had somehow stumbled into precisely the situation I’d been struggling for so long to build. This period of explosive creative production and deepening life practice I began to refer to as the Broken Ankle Renaissance.



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Part 3: Things Holding Me Back

Here’s a glimpse into my creative process these days: 1. Write a piece. 2. Let 6 months pass. 3. Post piece.

I left Boulder with a strong sense of direction and intention. Many stumbling blocks found their way in. This past winter became a time to turn inwards yet again, and I outlined the ways in which I wanted to use the cold months. But that which mattered most gave way too often to less important things. I will write more about this when I feel ready. Now it is March. I’ve been working harder these past few weeks to tie up my loose ends. The weather has been warm lately; springtime approaches, and there are still things left undone. Yet today, it is snowing: the last snowfall of winter. And today, I complete my last two unfinished tasks: a long, long overdue letter to a very dear friend, and finally sharing this blog.

The following is from six months ago. I would probably write this piece differently today, yet it remains relevant in its own way.

Part 3: Things Holding Me Back

I’ve learned that sometimes it does take time to create the realities we envision. Here are three things standing between me and the lifestyle imagined in the previous blog.

The first and most straightforward barrier is that I have neither an RV nor at the moment the money to buy one.

The second is an inner wall, and I keep calling it loneliness for lack of a better word. It’s not that I don’t have amazing friends, it’s not that I don’t know how to meet people, and I see now, after Boulder, that it’s not even that I suddenly lack a community again. It’s that I have nothing tying me to the world, no place I feel I really belong, no expectations placed on me by anybody else, nobody counting on me, nothing outside of myself to which I am responsible: my loneliness comes from the same source as my freedom. And with no curriculum, no assignments, and nobody expecting anything from me, it takes incredible willpower and discipline to continue sitting down at my desk every day for three years now, trying to grow as a writer, activist, human being, etc. With no job, no school, nobody to report to, nobody to keep me in line, no deadlines or feedback, I feel like I’m totally on my own in charting my course through the world. Is it really ok for me to just keep living this way?

After the lack of RV and this sense of isolation, the third barrier to creating the new reality is that a new longing has asserted itself in my heart: for the first time since the beginning of my journey, or perhaps since the beginning of this blog, I suddenly feel a powerful need to have something to show for myself before I can go on. Yes, lately I have been longing to have something to show for myself, something to distinguish myself from the dropouts and street kids and street corner bums. Something tangible to represent my entire journey, all the work I’ve done in so many damn realms. I desperately want to have something to show for myself. I used to not care about that. Now, for some reason, I do. But I’m not even sure what this means. I used to think that perhaps, if I could get some of my writing published, this need might be fulfilled. Now I’m not so sure. I’m realizing how difficult and impossible that is—yes, I’ll keep writing, but longing for publication to provide validation may be simply unrealistic. When I explore publishing outlets for essays or pieces, I grow so overwhelmed and disheartened by the vast number of voices out there, all seeking their own recognition, the vastness of the world’s talent and the sense that I am no longer cradled and nurtured by a connection to all those who create, but hardened into competition against them. I do not want to compete. I am not the best, and even if I were, I would not have arrived there by measuring myself against others. The publication search detracts from the actual artistic work. And if I succeed, my words inked on a page somewhere, so what? Yet still, this longing to have something to show for myself! Having been on my own for so long, living my own way, doing my own thing, setting my own schedule, crafting my own life, quite beautiful and exceedingly lonely, I do now finally long for some kind of validation. Maybe not, perhaps, to defend or establish a sense of self worth, but maybe simply as a way to enter into the larger conversation, to join the tradition, not to secure my place in the future of things but in the present—just to not be alone anymore, doing this all by myself. Anyway, I don’t even know if I’m good enough as a writer. So if it’s not writing that will help me fulfill this new longing, then what is it? What can I work for, what can I come up with to show for myself? I’ve been working on learning how to live and travel without money, how to live well and be a good human, I’ve thrown myself into political activism and creative pursuits. All of these endeavors have carved substantial depths within me, yet none of them has produced anything tangible. I need something beyond just who I am. Because what happens when I forget who I am? I need something more than just a skull full of memories, because what good are they? They’re beautiful. That’s it. That used to be enough. More than enough; all I could ask for. But not anymore. At least I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about anything anymore. Maybe one day I’ll be a good dad, become a professor, write books, make a meaningful contribution to an academic community. But I’m not ready for a family, I’m not ready to go back to school. I’m on the journey, and before the journey continues relentlessly, I need to create something of a platform; I need to demonstrate to myself and to the world that I am an artist and seeker on a personal, political, and creative mission, not just a wandering bum who likes to scribble in his spare time.

Yet is this a legitimate desire? I spoke on the phone recently to Dana about some of this, and she said some important things. “Why are you suddenly so self-conscious?” She asked. “Why do you care what people think about you now, and why do you care about measuring yourself with some kind of material socially recognized accomplishment?” And she was right. Why DO I care about that all of a sudden? She questioned me further. “What would accomplishing something even look like to you?” I described the longing to publish writing: to have a professional read my stuff and say, yes, you are good enough: this would feel like an affirmation of all the work I’ve done. Also, to hold it in my hands, have a tangible product of my three years of work. And finally, to share it—to take this lonely business of writing and to put those words out into the world and thus suddenly not be alone anymore. Dana tore this one down too. “Again, you need the external validation of some ‘professional’ in order to feel good about your own art and passion?” And as for others reading my words? Dana asked me, “And what about your blog? Don’t you have people all over the world reading it? Why isn’t that enough?” And I got quiet for a moment and didn’t know how to answer.

So: I need to make some money as quickly as I can, keep writing, and take a closer look at my present insecurities. But is my task now to try to fulfill this not entirely understood desire “to have something to show for myself,” whatever that really even means, or is my task to let go of the need to?

Thank you for being here with me.

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How to Break a 9 Month Silence (part 2): What Now

What now, after two years on the road and nine months in Boulder?  The journey continues in a new form.  I envision a blend of the two lifestyles, informed by the successes and failures of each, simultaneously making use of the lessons and addressing the unmet inner needs of both.  I am preparing to launch into a new chapter of exploration of self, humanity, and the world.  The idea is this: to live out of a cozy vehicle and to be on the road once more, slowly traveling from place to place nomadically, meeting new people and deeply connecting, supporting myself by playing music on the street or typing poems or human generosity or doing occasional odd jobs, and just living as deeply as I can.

Yes, I want to be on the road again.  But things will be different this time.  It’s not about traveling anymore.  Travel isn’t even what I want to do now—travel itself is not what I crave.  I do not long for the new scenery, the “freedom,” the sensation of movement even, not the lack of a job, not the visiting of new places.  What I long for is being in touch with the world around me, being tapped in to the energy of life and the power of intuition, living within the cycle of receiving and giving freely, of trust and generosity, of knowing how to tell when the rain is coming based on how the air smells, of eating simple just to nourish my body and being so grateful for the sustenance that I am sometimes moved to tears when it comes to me.  I miss all of that.  I miss the mentality of the road: spending time doing things for their own sake.  The freedom to live and act spontaneously.  It’s not that I don’t want to work—it’s just that I want to do the work that matters the most to me.  It’s not that my idea of freedom implies an absence of commitments or obligations—it’s that I only want to take on commitments and obligations that are truly worth taking on.  I miss living nomadically, in harmony with life through migration: the ability to seek environments that match the seasons of the soul.  I miss those moments that come with surprising frequency in which you sit back and realize that this moment is an answer to the question of WHO AM I, and you realize that that moment is the only way you ever want to live.  I miss the form of service I found in living on the road.  Every day I would hear people say “I wish I could do what you’re doing.”  I hope I have been a source of inspiration, and I know that I’ve deeply touched certain individuals to whom the universe guided me.  I hit the road tired of making compromises.  I learned that one always makes compromises.  Only, living in society helped me realize that while I was on the road, I compromised comfort in order to live out what I believed in.  Then, living within society, I largely compromised what I believe in for a few basic comforts.  I know what I need to do.  Yes: what I long for is not the road but the kind of person I become when I’m out there living that way.  The road is the best place I’ve found to be put in a position where I need to use everything I am capable of using, where I need to become everything I am capable of being.  I want to spend my time doing the things that matter to me, which means I don’t want to sell my time anymore, and the road is the best way I’ve found to do that.  What I will be doing is not “traveling.”  What I’m going to be doing is being, loving, writing, serving, working on myself, etc.  The road is just where I’ll happen to be living while I do those things.

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A year, let’s say.  Maybe more, maybe less, but let’s just say that because that’s a simple chunk of time.  During this time I would be working on myself through the process I’ve developed over the three years of this journey.  I would be building a new practice every month or so.  Each month it would be a new thing I’ve wanted to bring into my life.  It could be meditation, or having a better diet, praying in the mornings and evenings, transforming the “I’ll deal with it later” mindset that applies to the dirty laundry of my life, consciously standing up straighter, drinking tea instead of coffee, anything that I’ve been wanting to bring into my life, many things that I’ve tried and failed to build, but this time, I’d be addressing only one at a time instead of all at once in fits of manic discipline.  This would also be radical and different than ever before because though a few of these things would take up time in my day, most of them are not about adding tasks to my daily life—they’re about how I live my life.  Of course, I would also be steadily writing through all of this.  And if I were able to begin publishing some of my work and establishing myself as a writer, that could be the beginning of a professional foundation.  Ultimately, at the end of this time I could go back to school for writing, or for social work, political science, anthropology.  Or I could stumble upon a job somewhere doing good in the world.  I could take a long journey traveling internationally with all I’m working on.  Or this could be working really well and I could just keep doing it for as long as it feels right.  But one day I’ll write books about it all, I’ll be a professor in an academic community teaching writing or politics, I’ll have a family and a stable place to live and an established form of service.  Maybe at that point when I have a home and a career and children I’ll even sever my dreadlocks.  Or maybe I won’t do that.  They’ll be down to my knees.

But for now, I’ll be living and growing on the road.  As the journey unfolds, I tend to think a lot about the idea of home being something that exists inside of us.  And I think in some ways, our home is just whoever we are; the person we return to each time we return to awareness.  The way I do everything, the way I live my life, is my home.  So in working on myself in the way I have begun to outline here, what I would really be doing is building a home within myself.  When I’m out there on the road, living and writing and seeking and growing, and I meet those people who inevitably want a one sentence answer to the what are you doing question, what I’ll say is that I’m building my home.

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How to Break a 9 Month Silence (part 1)

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.

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Experiments with Living

I’m not doing what I came here to do.  I still don’t have a real job, so I have no daily sense of community, no place where I am known and expected to be.  I still haven’t been writing (again—these blogs are from two months later).  My room is still only half set up.  I can’t even figure out how to make things stick on the walls.  Everything I put up falls down within hours.  The house isn’t set up; there’s no furniture in the living room and no artwork on the walls.  I haven’t started up the new things I wanted to bring into my life like climbing, exercise, meditation, etc.  The days are drifting by, and I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, which are getting later and later.  I’m just not excited to get up and be alive.  Especially as it gets colder.  The bed is a womb, so warm and soft and cozy, safe and comforting, how can I bring myself to leave that nest and emerge into the unfulfilled not-knowing of the day?  On the road it was so easy, a touch of sunrise and necessity had me wide awake, packed and moving, but now I just can’t find the motivation to get up.

I’m also having a really hard time listening to my heart.  Things are hard and unpleasant right now.  Is that a sign that what I’m doing is wrong?  I should not be living here, Boulder is not the right place, life inside is not the right thing?  The words aren’t coming, so should I give up writing?  Or are these things just barriers I need to push through?  And how can I know the difference—when does dissonance call for reevaluation and when does it call for perseverance?  I just have too many questions, as always, some of which feel essential, like they need to be addressed immediately, before anything else, or I can’t go on.  I tell you this, waking up and getting out of bed without being able to answer the question of “who am I and why am I here” takes an infinitely greater leap of faith than does hitchhiking across the country.

Why am I having such a hard time with this whole thing?  Why can’t I just love the process?  Why can’t I let go and embrace it all, accept whatever is happening to me?  Use this time and space for what I had intended?  Why can’t I write?  If I’m not traveling anymore, not living in this outwardly outrageous and fascinating way, then what am I even supposed to write about?  What role does writing now have in my life?  Too many questions.

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One evening I rip out a few pages from my notebook and make a massive bubble chart of my needs (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, creative, political, social).  Then I write down all the things I want to be doing with my time but haven’t been doing, and I connect those bubbles to the various needs they would fulfill.  It’s time for a change in my approach.  After two years of waking up, living spontaneously, and allowing the day to unfold, I am going to try creating a rigid and disciplined structure for my days.  I am going to try this as an experiment, because the old way isn’t working anymore.  I immediately feel averse to the idea, maybe because it’s the exact opposite of what I have been doing for so long, but maybe this is a part of the reason I came here, to experiment with different ways of living.  I’m concerned about losing the spontaneity and flow that I’d been cultivating before.  Yet I’m not doing anything with the freedom I have right now, it’s destroying and immobilizing me.

And still, I’m not doing what I came here to do.  My days are filled with so many other things.  Looking for work.  Setting up the house.  Hanging with Boulder friends.  Drinking coffee.  Struggling to write.  But I chat with Aneliya one evening and she tells me that maybe my problem is that I have too many expectations.  The only reason I’m suffering right now is that I’m comparing the reality of my experiences here to my old expectations, and there is a conflict between the two.  And she’s right.  Things aren’t exactly wrong right now, there is nothing that’s not ok, I’m feeling fine most days, I’m just not fulfilling my own expectations.  I thought I’d let go of the idea of expectations a long time ago.  But as always, I came here loaded with them, only I disguised them from myself by calling them “intentions.”  There’s been no difference so far.  I’m trying to learn to let go.

Everything is being flipped upside down right now.  I’m being challenged and pushed in completely new ways, pushed to new things and new conclusions, many of which are completely opposite to what I thought was true a few months ago.  One example would be work.  I just spent two years avoiding work, refusing work, sympathizing with those trapped in hated jobs, writing essays on why work is bad and wrong and destructive, and right now all I want to do is work.  I want a job, I really do.  Not even because I will need money.  It’s because I want to be part of a community, I want to have other people relying on me for something on a regular basis; it would give me some structure, help me organize, since currently I am finding myself totally incapable of providing my own structure with my lists of neglected activities.

Though actually, come to think of it, I guess it’s amazing in a way that I was able to be so devoted to my arts, travel and writing, that I made my own structure for two years on the road.  Maybe freedom is not what we think it is.  Would people really WANT a break from their work?  Even people who say they hate their jobs?  What would people do if they had two years with no external help building routines?  Would they love the “freedom,” or would they go insane and have no idea what to do with themselves?  Maybe this 40-hour work week isn’t as horrible and devious as I’ve always thought.  Maybe it’s what people really want.  Maybe people want to spend most of their daytime hours engaged in any random activity that occupies their time.  I don’t know, but I’m ready to try it.  Trying to suspend my judgment, let go of my preconceptions a little bit, and let this all be.

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Travelin’ Kids & Work

I still hang with travelers and the homeless, but it’s different now.  I’m not one of them anymore.  I don’t look the part either.  When I walk through downtown I still glance into trashcans instinctively, and when I see to-go boxes of food I take them out and leave them on benches for people to find.  I feel guilty coming out of restaurants.  I always try to scrape together whatever extra food I can, stuff that most people would throw away but that I know will be appreciated.  I ask for extra chips or rolls or whatever and package them up to give away or to leave in places I know they’ll be found.

Yes, there is a guilt, definitely.  When I traveled and owned nothing but what I carried on my back, my relationship to privilege shifted in some way.  When I was younger I always felt queasy when I saw a beggar and didn’t give a dollar, and really I still felt bad even when I did give something.  Regardless of what I did about it, it just always seemed like there was something deeply wrong with the fact that some people are living large and others are sleeping in the dust.  Why I became an activist.  But while I was living on the road and sleeping outside, the inevitable guilt for living a life of privilege seemed, if not to fade away completely, at least to lose some of its sharp edges.  But now it’s all back.  I get to shower whenever I want, I have a warm place to sleep, I have enough money to go out for a meal and a beer, and every day I walk past people who have access to none of these luxuries.  It’s amazing how quickly the novelty of the change wore off, now it’s just routine and almost mundane, whereas so recently having a room in which to leave my stuff, sleep and write, seemed so outrageously amazing.  The guilt is something I will find a way to deal with, but it does leave me with a strong sense of responsibility to use this time for good.  To do something worthwhile in some way.  Which is part of the reason my lack of creative productivity is wearing on me right now.

This morning I came to a café to do some transcription work.  A couple of guys with packs and dogs were flying a sign by the exit of the parking lot, and after setting up in the coffee shop I walked over to them with a couple bottles of Gatorade and some cigarettes.  They thanked me and said that they’d been trying to manifest the Gatorade.  Now I am sitting inside about to work; I can still see them through the window.  Both of us are at work, them for a few hours of sitting and chilling and waiting and waving at people, me for a few hours of listening and typing and rewinding, and both of us will walk away later with enough money to continue supporting our own lifestyles.  Their work is maybe more honest than mine.  Their work openly involves receiving money from other people.  Mine also involves receiving money from other people, but through an elaborate system of justification, I will convince myself that the money is mine, that I deserve it, am entitled to it on my own because I have done “productive” work that is a “contribution to society.”  This is part of the reason why I might make $80 and they might make $10 and at the end of the day they will probably be more grateful for whatever is in their pockets than I will.

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Transition

The days plod along.  I still don’t feel settled at all.  Have I actually moved in?  I took everything out of my car and unpacked most of the boxes, I’ve hung clothes and bought toiletries, but I still feel like a stranger inside these walls I inhabit.  And as for work.  After that first week at that office I never went back, I couldn’t do it, I felt I needed instead to spend the time settling in and looking for a real job.  But I make contact with another guy in Boulder I used to do transcription work for—he is part of a market research company that gets hired by corporations like Coca Cola and Samsung and Chick-fil-A and holds focus groups around the country to help them design more effective propaganda campaigns.  The focus groups are recorded and he sends me the audio files, which I listen to and transcribe.  It’s incredibly tedious and actually pretty awful at times, but it pays well and I can work in coffee shops and it’s sort of interesting to see how people think about brands and marketing.  So it’s good in a sense, because it’s giving me the money to actually afford living here, but the flip side is that I am really not doing any of the things that I came here to do, at all, in any way.  So much else is coming up.  I haven’t written anything since arriving.  (I am now writing and posting these blogs two months later; all this that I’ve been describing happened during my month or two of silence in October and November.)  I’m not doing what I came to do; instead I’m doing chores and taking care of things.  I go to the hardware store to make a copy of a key.  I go to Home Depot for more paint samples and tape.  I go to the thrift stores for a hammer and nails.  Another thrift store for a mirror.  Then for silverware, etc.  Running errands is weird.  Working and running errands.  This is not why I came here.

Over the past weeks, I have been reflecting on why I did come here, how I wanted to use this period of time.  My intention was to craft this lifestyle in a deliberate way, trying to acknowledge all the different things that matter to me and find a way to incorporate them all into this new life.  Writing was supposed to be the centerpiece of it all, and I was also especially interested in the things that I couldn’t or didn’t do on the road, new things that I wanted to bring into my life like exercise, meditation, yoga, climbing, volunteer work.  I reread old notebooks to revisit past intentions and I outlined the ways I wanted to spend my time.  But I haven’t been doing any of it.

I really don’t know how to operate in this setting.  I hang a map on the wall and trace my journey in red pen.  The lines crisscross the entire damn thing over and over again and it’s amazing.  And my daily routine for the last two years has been more or less some variation of waking up, cleaning up in a bathroom somewhere, driving or hitchhiking to the next town, setting up shop in a café or on a corner with a guitar, busking or writing, meeting people and conversing, letting the day take me where it would, finding a spot to sleep, eating whatever food happened to come, sleeping when the sun fell and waking when it rose.  Now, I’m at a loss.  Feeding myself, for example, is difficult.  I’m so used to just allowing meals to come when they would, and now that it’s in my hands, I don’t know what to eat or how to prepare it.  I can build a mean fire and cook over it even through the rain, I know how to set up a portable stove in the wind, I can use the dashboard of a car as a microwave, I know how to chill drinks in a river, but in a kitchen with a stove, oven, refrigerator and sink, I’m lost.

I don’t know how to arrange my days.  I see the travelers in town and I envy them in a way, I miss so many things about it, I miss waking up and letting the day unfold, but that’s not what I want right now, there is so much I want to do, create, give, receive, so much I want from life and I just don’t know where to begin or how, how to get from here where I am now to where I want to be, I just don’t know.

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