Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Rest of Us

"Go anywhere but home." -the ultimate philosophical reference, Dove Chocolate

Seven Falls Trail, Sabino Canyon, AZ

Key West, FL

There are several reasons why I'd consider being a travel writer. However, there is one implosive reason why I know that I can't, and it's the fact that I've been traveling for six months but haven't written, really, many posts about it. I've had readers request updates while I was abroad and I had intended to oblige; however, my hands were busy clutching plane and train tickets and keeping my jaw from hitting the ground at every moment.

Switzerland Trail, CO

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, CA

Jökulsárlon, Iceland

Lots of people wonder about me. It's fair; I am wonderful, and I try very hard to keep my life that way. Perhaps many of us began as wandering children. Children who are, for better or otherwise, displaced. Displaced children grow up to become women like me. And at the minute, I must admit that I feel a bit incomplete and empty...though, I may just be tired. And those feelings are rare and far between when I am off exploring. 

Antelope Island State Park, Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, UT

Brugge, Belgium

So at first glance, or even for several consecutive glances, it would seem that I've followed Dove's advice like my life depended on it. And in some ways, I think that it did.

One of my California friends who invited me into her life during my brief spell of homelessness recently challenged me to write down one significant event for every month of 2015. If anyone would have asked me to do this one year ago, I might have broken down. I had an alright 2014, but it was difficult to survive and it ended in a complete and shameful disintegration. Honestly, I had very little interest in seeing 2015; however, when I started to feel a bit better, I conjured up a creative way to make sure that I could do my best to stay alive for the lot of it, and I have.

Rendezvous Point, Teton Village, WY

Most of you know about these plans. They weren't secrets. And they involved seeing the world.

Biscayne National Park, FL

Notch Trail, Badlands National Park, SD

Boca Chita Key, FL

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

So, I did marvelous things. I explored Biscayne National Park, which is 95% underwater. Hiked around Devil's Tower and blew kisses to its basalt columns. Walked around the Yellowstone caldera, watched Old Faithful erupt, and survived a car breakdown in Montana. Found a hostel in Teton Village, and rode a tram up into the Teton peaks. Got stoned in Wyoming and hated it a lot. Camped on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. Got caught in an alpine rainstorm at Great Basin National Park, then headed underground to explore its caverns. Summited Half Dome at Yosemite National Park and then ate half of an enormous pizza. Lived in my car for 45 days. Worked for a criminal. Learned how to teach online. Learned how to climb. Returned to Badlands National Park for Astro Fest, and debuted at Joshua Tree National Park for Night Sky Fest. Climbed the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry of Brugge. Laughed on the inside while being shown the supposed blood of Christ in Belgium, because it actually just looks like a tampon. Ate mussels in Brussels. Made Irish s'mores with my Irish family. Got caught up in Irish Time, and missed my flight to Germany. Fell asleep with Syrian refugees in Frankfurt, and made friends with a guard who kept me safe until my train arrived. Met my baby nephew. Met my baby niece. Lived with my biological family and hung out with Max all the time. Saw all of my sisters. Saw the Mountain Goats live in London. Visited Buckingham Palace and Big Ben a week after the Paris attacks and nothing bad happened. Hiked on Icelandic glaciers and crawled through ice caves. Saw the Northern Lights dance in the Reykjavik skies. Soaked in Icelandic geothermal pools. Drove thousands of miles across the US. Wasn't afraid.

Woodville, MS

Clearwater, FL

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, WY

Sólheimajökull, Iceland
And for the most part, all of those things are things that I did by myself. More accurately, I solo traveled en route to visiting lots of my friends and family. But in between, I signed up for a lot of group excursions and was often one of very few who went alone. I never even think about that until I get there and meet the families and couples and friends who go together...and meanwhile, it's just me. It doesn't bother me though; I talk to them and everyone is friendly and wonderful. And I have so many people in my circle who would join me if they could...but it mostly ends up being just me. It wasn't at all lonely in the way that being homeless was lonely; instead it just makes me wish for, I suppose, a copilot. 

But now, here I am in Michigan watching the winter storm blow in and the snow accumulate. I'm home indefinitely, which absolutely nobody believes when I say so. But, I am for a minute. At least until my life begins to show some semblance of order, and until I can financially rebuild a little. I have plans for mini adventures, but ultimately, I don't know where my life is taking me and I can't make any long-term commitments until I do. I can't.

Those who are closest to me know that this is, in theory, phase two of my (hopefully) brief break from academia. Phase one involved maniacal traveling and trying a million different things, which based on the list above, I think I've done quite well. Phase two involves doctors, medication, and sitting still. An actual medical approach to the nervous breakdown for which I've attempted to self-medicate. Basically, a chance at healing disguised as a death sentence, because of its requirement that I stay put. 

I've already begun phase two. I've been medicated all month, which has allowed some beautiful days but it seems now that these particular pills are better at shortening my temper than leveling my dark days. It's hard to tell if I'm just exhausted from constant movement and just need several full days of sleep, but something is not right. Without reason, I am irritable, hot-headed, and angry more times than not, in addition to my baseline of traumatic stress that tends to make me feel frightened of being desired as well as feeling undesirable, simultaneously. 

Once again, I can take comfort in Einstein's branch of relativistic physics, which tells me that simultaneity isn't really a thing...but of course, observation triumphs over theory once again. And since my observables come from a chemically imbalanced observer, I'd never know the difference between reality and shadowy falsehoods, anyway.

And these realities and shadowy falsehoods are nesting grounds for the rest of us: the unattached needy, the ones who bask in love one moment and feel unlovable the next, the independent gypsies who secretly search for home, the wanderers who are afraid to stay put, but sometimes need to in order to get better. The anxiety and the sorrow mixed with the peace and the joy. 

Over the past couple months, I haven't felt like writing much, clearly. But, I picked today to write. Today was not a mentally healthy day. It was a lovely day filled with adventure and laughter on the outside, but it was not a healthy day inside my head. I'm not sure what kind of tone this post would have were I feeling better, but I suppose it doesn't matter. 

What matters is that, whether I like it or I don't, whether I feel like celebrating or I feel like crying, whether I'm wandering or staying, I'm still alive.

Half Dome Summit, Yosemite National Park, CA

Sunday, November 01, 2015

To Davis

The first time I heard a song by Halsey was in LA, appropriately enough. And since then, I've lived in her electronic bliss and lyrical genius; exercising my body to Gasoline and stretching my body to Colors. 

You can't wake up; this is not a dream
You're part of a machine
You are not a human being

Sometimes, Skrillex would get me going in the morning, and Sufjan Stevens would sing me to sleep in the evening.

Tuesday night at the bible study,
we lift our hands and pray over your body
but nothing ever happens

In between the songs, though, exists the uncomfortable silence during which I had to address what my realities were. This post isn't meant to be about those realities, though, and it isn't really even an update. Instead, it's a gentle nod towards those who helped to ensure my survival during my time in California. A love letter, if you will, to Davis.

There are few better places, in my limited experience, that are better suited to a transient life than Davis. Resources, public parks, and an atmosphere of acceptance...movies in the park and film festivals on the weekends, book discussions and clubs, farmers markets twice a week. Something for everyone, easy on the pockets and delightful for my observing eyes and wandering feet. 

But out of an entirely different necessity, I learned something else. I learned how to climb.

I feel closest to God when I'm in nature. My relationship with God grows when I grow my relationship with creation, and part of that, I'm realizing now, is fostering an awe and a love for myself as a valid member of that creation. When I started to learn how to climb, I was able to feel my body getting stronger and to use my body and my mind in ways I hadn't needed to before. That resulted in a deep appreciation for my body, and fostered some of that awe. And over the course of six weeks, I traded my state of vulnerability for a state of acceptance.

Even if this particular post falls largely on deaf ears, I'd like to go on record and say that every individual who climbs at Rocknasium in Davis is a wonderful person. So friendly, so encouraging, so outgoing, so adventurous, so easy-going, so accepting, so strong, so talented, and just so good at grilling pork. I miss you all, I love you all, and I'm more thankful for you than you'll ever know! I found my tribe there, and I found a safe space, and you all made the choice to welcome a vagabond into your lives. 

Every day, you watched me grow. At a snails pace, maybe, but growth nonetheless. Every day, your smile felt like home to me. Every day, you asked how I was and offered kind words of complimentary encouragement. You memorized my shoe size, you fed me, you taught me, you cheered for me. Every day, you saved me a little bit. And a heart like mine can't forget hearts like yours. 

In fact, I'm not too worried. Adventurers and wanderers like us? We have a way of finding each other. We'll see each other again.

So, until then, know that I'm thinking of you. I'm incredibly thankful for you and your energy, and I love you. I love you, Davis.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Complex Plane

When thinking about the universe mathematically, I've recently been told, it's unphysical and too great of a limitation to think only inside the realm of real numbers. 

But, we want to.

To me at first, it seems more unphysical to think of things like space and time evolving perpendicular to one another instead of in parallel; especially when we're hit with the glaring reality that those two enigmas are intimately connected. But if we introduce into our mathematical interpretation the set of imaginary numbers and an imaginary axis to our geometrical model of space and time, what we've actually done is given ourselves extra degrees of freedom that allow the universe to behave mathematically congruently to the ways by which we perceive it to evolve physically. And that's a complex plane with some complex implications.

But on days during which I'm feeling particularly batshit, it helps me out to think about how the universe has both real and imaginary parts.

I have such a hard time believing that I am a real person, or that my instabilities can manifest as a real illness; rather, a real hardship. If I have time to reflect on any crimes against my heart, I dismiss them as logical behavior towards a thing that is not actually a real person. And I let myself live this way, think this way. I'm not really here. I'm not really real. Nothing matters, really.

Obviously, I extend the illusion. I have very little grace for my periodic seasons of mental instability, although I expect them to come and go as they do. What if this is how everybody feels about everything, and I'm just too weak to deal with my life properly? What if it isn't real; just a specter I've invented from observation or idealization? Thankfully when I ask these questions, the level bit of my brain speaks up.

But it was real enough for you to leave school, which you love with your whole heart, masochistically or not. It was real enough to make everything feel like an attack. It was real enough for you to dissociate. It was real enough for you to lose time and memory. It was real enough for you to do things like crash your car and doubt your ability to not wander onto the railroad tracks when you knew a train was coming. It was real enough for you to feel strangled by t-shirt necklines and imprisoned by your own ribcage. If it were any more real, it would have taken your life. Is that "real" enough for you? 

And at the minute, I very much am grateful that I survived these dark times, but I'm not in a terribly celebratory mood. My life is unsustainable, and it has to be this way in order to avoid going into further amounts of debt, but it really can't go on like this. And I'm tired of being in situations, mental or physical, that are unsustainable. It's easy to pin it all on me, to make it my fault that I apparently refuse to entitle myself to sustainability. But the resources aren't there. They're not. They're fucking not. I drink too much coffee because I'm tired of tea and coffee is cheaper, anyway. It buys me time to use internet, which I use to work, so that I can get out of this mess that has been wonderful and terrible. And people are happy for me and proud of me and sometimes it makes no sense. I've said it before: this is not me being brave. You are not seeing a beautiful display of survival. You are seeing a pathetic display of the long-term results of periodic nervous breakdowns that will absolutely repeat themselves because the resources required to stop this are not accessible. You are seeing a person who does not believe she is a person. You are seeing a person who does not feel entitled to live anywhere besides her car, which doesn't even actually belong to her. You are seeing a fundamentally self-destructive human, who is very good at making her self-destruction look like survival, art. 

Some days it is an artistic survival. But maybe, it's just another breakdown. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Dented Denial

Y'all, some things bring me straight to my knees.

Sometimes they're overwhelmingly marvelous things, and sometimes they're marvelously overwhelming things, so to speak.

I'm surrounded by warriors every day. People who endlessly advocate for everyone else and are learning how to advocate for themselves. I'm learning how to do these things, too.

But right now, I'm kind of faced with the glaring reality that there's nothing I can do right now but to take a goddamn seat. Sit myself down and pick up Symone and move that energy, but otherwise, do nothing. 

The healing process is a process, and I've done the things. I've found the communities and I've found my voice and I've been angry and joyful and sorrowful and radiant and I've been in love with this process and I've almost been killed by this process...all the things. But, now what?

Having all of this time for the first time in my life has some major pros but also some pretty considerable cons. It means that I have time to think about the things that I keep repressing, sometimes subconsciously. Things such as the fact that I am still so nasty to myself...and I don't even realize it while I'm doing it.

But it's so easy, isn't it? So easy and logical to be the one who isn't entitled to the space she occupies. That makes sense, doesn't it? That's my default. The one who embraces the adversity she's given as a gift; I'm entitled to the burden but not to the release. When in the world did that kind of thinking begin? And why? And how do I make it stop?

Simple things. Simple, simple things like brushing it off when a stranger backs into my car because, until days later, I only noticed the dents that I had put there myself. I told him that I wasn't worried about it. I pointed at the dents that I recognized and owned, failing to see the one he left there because I legitimately didn't let myself look long enough to see it, or I never had eyes to see it in the first place. It was as if he and his back bumper were the driving force necessary to restore balance to the universe, like I was getting a little too comfortable and a little too lucky and I needed to be put back into place. You shouldn't be apologizing, sir...it was my fault for existing. I must have been in your space; rather I shouldn't have been taking up any space at all. In fact, I'm so grateful that it was only a gentle reminder this time...I'll stay out of the way next time. I'm not entitled to even the simplest justice.

But I am, though.

Except I don't act like it. I'm still the one who will drive around, masochistically wearing and owning dents that somebody else put there. And that metaphor is just a little too strong for me right now.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Tails: California

"Most people die at 25 and aren't buried until they are 75." -the ever virtuous Ben Franklin, champion of self-evaluation, logical reasoning, and doing his humanly best

I will turn 25 in one month from yesterday. But I don't think I'm going to die. I'm fairly certain of this, because I thought I was going to die last year. A year early, evidently. And since I've been blessed with more time than I've ever had (more on that in a minute) let's reflect on that.

A year ago, I spent my entire weekend reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a masterpiece with which I heavily resonated.

A year ago, I drove up to Michigan for a photo shoot, dissociated, and crashed my car with my sister inside.

A year ago, I kind of sort of went to grad school but I couldn't really be there. I hid in the Planetarium and I hid in Amanda's office and I hid behind the defense mechanisms I had perfected after a decade of use. Eventually, though, I couldn't hide the fact that I couldn't see straight. The neurological television noise blocking my vision made it impossible to walk down a hallway without feeling like I was disappearing into a black hole.

I'm no psychologist, but I think that's called a nervous breakdown.

I was sent away to Peru and I happily spent my 24th birthday there, not really believing that I was going to go back to Clemson. I didn't. I think y'all are pretty familiar with the rest of the story. 

But the point is, I thought I was going to die. I was pretty much already dead. And when you're half dead, it's easy enough to go the rest of the way but seemingly impossible to claw your way back out...and that just...sucks. There's no eloquent way to put it. It sucks and it's just the worst and then I start thinking about how much gravity it would take to bend my little piece of spacetime back onto itself, and what if it's all my fault and what if I fucked up and what did I possibly do to twist my life this badly, and what if I've already peaked?

But then, I flooded my life with friends and family and jobs, and I started to feel better so I sealed the deal by driving all the way to the west coast.

I still struggle, sometimes. I have bad anxiety days and the neurological noise comes back, and I don't feed myself and I cry because I'm afraid of how destructive I can be, and guilt is cheap and easy and logical. Sometimes I let myself be a thing instead of a person, because that makes more sense. Sometimes I let myself be the butt of the joke so that I can laugh with my perpetrators. Sometimes I fill my lungs with cinnamon and my ears with bullets from electronic assault weapons, and I keep breathing.

And in one month from yesterday, I will have kept breathing long enough to turn 25. I'll have reached my quarter century, and I'll have been more free than I've been in a long time.

I'm not sure if I'm losing my mind or severely pink-clouding or slowly starving to death, but being homeless is one of the coolest things I've ever done.


I get up at sunrise, and my time is completely my own. I'm learning to be resourceful and to rock climb. I'm learning to be by myself and to be an observer. I can read all of my books that I bought with the best of intentions, but never cracked open or finished because they weren't part of an assigned curriculum. The weather in Davis is perfection, and the Farmer's Market is magical. I know where I can sleep and where I can't. I know where to find water in this drought. I have a favorite tree with just enough shade for me. I have a front row seat to the sunset every night. I have 31 cents in my bank account and I'll probably go into the red next week, but I found a job and this wouldn't be the first time. I met somebody an hour ago and we'll go get a beer together later tonight. I am protected by the energy and prayers of my loves, energy on which I am dependent, but indirectly.

It feels better to be indirectly dependent rather than directly dependent. On one hand, I have absolutely none of my life together. The fact that I can be up in Davis at all and that I'm fed is due entirely to my Kar-bear, my long time friend and fierce advocate, recipient of a considerable amount of my love and steward of a piece of my heart, amazing human and beautiful warrior (because I really don't associate with anyone less, duh.) But now, by trial and error, I can manage my few resources in space that belongs to me and everybody at the same time. I'm not underneath someone else's roof, although I've been so thankful to be. Even as a gift, accepting someone else's shelter gives me anxiety because it's a gift that's difficult to accept when there's absolutely no chance of giving back or breaking even anytime soon. Out here, though, I can breathe. I spend most of my time outside, and I feel like I run this damn town. That's obviously a delusion, but it's wonderful to feel so powerful.

Every muscle in my body is sore, but it's a growing pain. I'm nose diving in so many ways, but I feel so much better. Things will be alright. Things are looking up. I'm alright to be on the street for a while, and I'll probably keep doing it until it starts to suck or it stops making sense or something horrible happens.

Until then, I feel like I'm finally allowed to be the gypsy that I am. And that's a necessary freedom, for a wandering gal like me.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Checking Privilege: Streets Edition

When I last left you, I was in Nevada. I had just survived an alpine rainstorm and the next morning, I crossed the Nevada desert into California. And a lot of things happened between then and now.

I could tell you so many things without loss of original depth, but right now, I don't think that I can. 

Major milestones and growth and accomplishments, and it was all incredibly emotional. And draining. I don't think I've ever been more physically (and otherwise) tired than I was at the end of our Half Dome hike, and for an ever so brief moment of clarity, everything popped into perspective. Like, I have this body that I don't really want on any given day, but it's amazing and it can do incredible things. I can literally pull myself up a mountain. I have two functional legs that carry me along. I have two inflatable lungs that skillfully sift through the air for any available oxygen. I have a rhythm and a beat, and if I listen to it, I'm told when to go and then when to rest.

Also, of course, Conservation of Energy and all that.

But I left Yosemite without any real certainty of where I was going.

Things remain to be pretty uncertain, but by the next day, I was offered a job opportunity in the Sacramento area. I was able to CouchSurf with an excellent human for a couple nights, but my closest friends lived 100 miles away and I had no place to stay in my new pocket of NorCal. So, I headed to SoCal for a couple weeks to spend time with some of my loves and to regroup.

I'm back in NorCal now, slightly worse for wear in some ways but better in others, hopeful to start my new job ASAP, and homeless.

Certainly not for lack of searching, but for lack of funding just like everything else. The way things turned out between Florida and California, with a replaced windshield and a replaced phone and a replaced car battery and more than enough grace but not enough dollars and cents, I'm out and I remain to be the one who is infinitely attempting to scrape by on delusional optimism and pink-clouding.

But Official Day One of homelessness is already pretty interesting. I'm sitting in a Starbucks with my car parked outside, and I slept there last night. I settled in with the sunset and I rose with the sunrise. Last night around 10ish, I noticed a bundle of white fabric shaped like a human outside of an abandoned building that was behind where I had parked, and realized that it was another homeless person. In that moment, I felt an odd sense of camaraderie and safety, like this was a safe place to crash, free from interruption by law enforcement or otherwise. When I woke up, it was just a raggedy pile of fabric again, its occupant had moved on.

I moved inside, and almost immediately, it became apparent that this Starbucks complex is a popular homeless destination because the bathrooms are locked and guarded and overseen, here. But then, I realized that apart from some of the others who stopped in for a bit of relief, I could be very easily granted access to the key. Because of my ability to (barely) afford an iced coffee, I can be afforded a rein over this entire establishment. In fact, nobody will even bat an eye at a clean-ish female nomad when I ask for something.

It's an odd realization to make, that I'm already better at being homeless than experienced homeless people. Certainly not based on skill, but based on privilege. Based on our grossly over-accepted social hierarchy, my skin color generally works in my favor. In this case, so does my gender. As a woman, people are far more likely to pity or ignore me than to fear or distrust me. Also, I have access to very nice things; I have a phone and a tablet and a MacbookPro. When I was in Peru a year ago, my ownership of a laptop like that had preposterously established me as one of the richest people my friends in Lima had ever seen, with only a few hundred dollars in my bank account. Even though I insisted that it had been a gift and it was discounted because it had been a store display laptop and that I had been so lucky and blessed to have it, it didn't matter; I had it. To them, I was already in a place of unattainable privilege.

So I'll sit here in this Starbucks for a little while, simply looking like a normal college student. I think that's probably how I'll get through the next month: looking like a college student. Being resourceful. Learning how to do this. I don't know what I'm doing and I'm scared of this uncharted territory, but I suppose I've gotten by with less before.

We'll see what happens.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Clouds in the Alpine Tundra

A week ago, I left the Great Salt Lake and its brine shrimp and gnats and its colonies of orb-weaving spiders that I could clearly see from the road while driving by. I left Utah in exchange for Nevada. I switched from sub-$3.00 gas prices to something more expensive, albeit ethanol-free. I traded Mountain Time for Pacific Time over one rugged mountain range. 

I pointed myself towards Wheeler Peak and Great Basin National Park.

Details and general splendor and amazing cave geology aside, I didn't think about a lot of things. It was the first time I've slept over 10,000 feet in a tent. It was the first time I ever shifted my car into Low. It was the first time I ever tried to hike Wheeler Peak, from 10,000 to 13,000 feet in the middle of the afternoon. 

Looking back, I did several dumb things although I know better, so I won't self-shame and list them here. I was excited and up for the challenge on a sunny day, First Day in Nevada for me. I started off with my pack and a hoodie, ripped through the Riparian, and trudged on toward the tree line. 

The Alpine Tundra is where things started to get dicy.

The grade increased, and so did the wind. Crazy, wild wind that knocked me off of my footing a few times. Chilled to the bone, wind. Midwest blizzard sans snow, wind. And just to the west, a wall of rain approaching over the hills.

But I kept going. It was one of those hikes during which you think that the summit is near, but once you get over the hill, there are so many more to go. Higher, higher, and higher still. I hiked through the rockslide and over mosses and buttercups, said hello to pipits and charted my steps. My ancestor hikers had built little rock shelters to hide from the wind here and there, but as I neared the summit, the wind howled louder and the sky grew darker and the rain drew nearer. I knew I had to turn around.

I stopped at a peak just below the peak for a snack, then turned back. But by then, it had become clear that I had made a crucial mistake. Sleet was falling around me, wind picking up around me, gravity ready to take me, rocks ready to crumble beneath me. Nobody else around me. Nothing else taller than me. Nothing to protect me.

I kept saying to myself, "Get off the roof get off the roof get off the roof GET OFF THE ROOF" just like I were Mulan and had just lit those fireworks over the Emperor's palace. My goal was to reach tree line by the time the storm came.

I did not succeed.

Tilting my head in confusion, I wasn't sure that I was correctly processing what I had just seen. A ghost raced past me. No, not a ghost...a cloud. A great, swirling cloud passed right in front of me. Then another. And another. And then in one terrifying moment, the mountain disappeared. Clouds descended with enormously surprising speed. It was just like flying past clouds in an airplane, but instead of me being the one moving quickly, I was standing still in comparison to them. 

I hit the ground.

I couldn't see tree line. I couldn't see the hills below. I couldn't see the cliffs around, not too close, still there. But after cradling myself between rocks and hard places (literally) I realized that they were just clouds. I could probably make it if I watched where I placed my feet and stepped carefully.

I kept going. And let me tell you, I have never been so happy to see tree line in all my life.

Although the rain begins to condense and fall beneath tree line, I was happy to escape the fog. The slope flattened a bit and I walked the remaining few miles with ease and gratitude. Mother Nature doesn't have to be gracious, but sometimes she is anyway. It's the reason why she is the greatest teacher of all.

Approaching the Riparian again, I entered a grove of Aspen trees. They watched over me with their hundreds of knot hole eyes. I know that they're alive. I know that they have spirits. I wink back.

Then, I noticed that some of the Aspen trees looked strange. They were two-pronged from a strong trunk, one branch alive and healthy and golden brown, leaves dancing and waving at me as I passed. But the other branch was lifeless, leafless, charred, burned. The trees that looked like this were still alive, but parts of them were severely damaged.

Sometimes things happen to certain parts of you. Things that don't kill you, but leave you burned. 

The tree isn't going to get better. It will stay alive until it doesn't, but the part that was kissed by fire will always be burned. It's a chemical change. You cannot un-burn anything.

There are parts of me that I cannot un-burn. These parts require self acceptance and, for whatever reason, something resembling forgiveness. I do not have survivor's guilt, it's something else. Something that I'm not sure how to describe. Shame, probably. We'll call it shame. 

I knew that I identified with the Aspens and realized that I hold the burden of my damage, but even so, I was not ashamed then. I was proud. Despite the altitude, I didn't fatigue to the point of stopping. I listened. I listened to my shoes on the trail and I listened to the rhythm of my breaths; I respected those rhythms as my own personal cadence. I listened to nature, too. Perhaps not well enough, but in all of my listening, I heard no thunder and I turned back not a moment too soon. I listened to my soul rise with thankfulness. I fed my hungry body, I wrapped it up, and I let it rest.

In the morning, I spent some time underground in a calcite palace, and then I moved on.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Flighty Gal's Guide to Flying

It just occurred to me, suddenly, that not everybody is like me.

(cue audible gasp)

Not really. What I mean to say is, not everyone has once been on 9 airplanes over the span of 6 days, and not everyone has 7 international flights coming up, and not everyone maniacally drives cross-country several times a year, and not everybody is so unstable that these things actually sound appealing.

That said, I kind of adore these things about me, and plan to exploit the instabilities until they stabilize, eventually. And while exploiting them, I might as well help some of y'all (Stephanie and Hannah) figure out this whole airplanes and airports and flying thing. Sometimes it's complicated, but it doesn't have to be.

I've compiled a list of the things I've learned while flying. Enjoy.

1. If you don't have to check a bag, don't.

Seriously, don't. Pack light, or learn to pack efficiently. There are so many neat tools to help you accomplish this (cubes, air compressors, the roll method, etc.) Often times on domestic flights, having a checked bag means pretty hefty fees, and if it's not a long trip, there's really no need to bring so many large items. You're allowed a carry-on and a personal item on the plane, and carry-ons are certainly large enough to outfit your weekend in Miami. Also, having my stuff safely shoved either above my head or in front of my feet during the flight gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I don't have to guess whether my checked bag made it into the cargo holds on the right flight, or accidentally on a flight to Tokyo.

2. If you do check a bag, mark it.

Literally everybody on your flight has an Earth-toned roller bag that is exactly the same size as yours, but fear not. Bandanas (thanks, Mara), stickers, personalized tags, colorful duct tape...these are ways by which you can mark your territory (without peeing on anything) and avoid waiting for the baggage carousel to revolve several times before mistakenly picking up a bag that actually belongs to somebody else, and then probably getting tasered by TSA.

3. Check in online, and use your phone as a boarding pass.

This is an amazing time to be alive! You can check in online 24 hours in advance of your flight (most likely, your airline will send you an email) and you can even use a special bar code sent to your phone as a boarding pass. Forget standing in line to print one at the desk, or even at a kiosk. Forget trying to figure out how to scan your passport through the most awkward scanner in the world. Forget looking like a lost turtle in a sea of turtles who know what they're doing. Forget actually having to talk to people! We're independent! We've got this! Thanks, technology.

4. Keep your ID on you, and your shoes off.

Security is annoying. It's getting better and better, but post 9-11, it's still annoying. The more prepared you are, the faster it'll go. Depending on where you're traveling, you may be limited to a quart-sized bag (who even uses those) of maximum 3.4 fl oz liquid containers, so don't try to bring your industrial-sized jug of lotion, or even a water bottle. Have your ID and boarding pass ready to show TSA, have your baggie of liquid things ready, your laptop out of its case, your jacket off, and your shoes in your hands. It's ridiculous to try and hold all of these things with only two hands, but everyone is in the same situation. The comedy breeds camaraderie. Revel in it. But, if you're in front of me and wearing every piece of jewelry that you own, I hate you.

5. Learn to speed-read.

You'd think I wouldn't have to say this, but reading is important! There are signs everywhere directing you where to go, what gates are where, where the baggage carousels are, where the taxis are...so there should be no excuse to accidentally exit the terminal and then have to go through security all over again. Seriously, learn to selectively identify what it is that you're looking for, and follow that arrow. 

6. Keep your stuff with you.

Obviously. Bring it into your bathroom stall (and definitely use the bathroom before you board.) Shove it underneath your legs. Sleep on it. Just keep it with you.

7. Traveling alone is dope!

With the exception of having to keep your stuff with you at all times because there is nobody with whom you can leave it, traveling alone is top-notch. You have nobody to worry about except yourself. If you want to stop at the pub, you can stop at the pub. If you want to tune everybody out and listen to music, do that. Take care of yourself, and yourself alone. It's liberating and exciting. It forces us to be aware, to be good stewards of what we have, and to take responsibility for everything going on while everybody around us is running by on their way to somewhere. Take some time to observe. You are a participant in the great human experiment. Enjoy.

8. Pay attention to your boarding zone, seat number, and seat letter.

This is another easy one, but many people get confused. When in doubt, refer to your boarding pass.

9. Prepare for an emotional, existential crisis.

I don't know why this happens, but it almost always does. Maybe it's being in a confined space for hours on end, maybe it's being suspended between the troposphere and the stratosphere, maybe it's the change of perspective and the twisting of time zones...but I usually cry on airplanes. It's pretty awkward. But at the time, it seems founded. There are so many metaphors associated with flying, so feel free to pick yours. On long east-west flights, there are plenty of sunrises and sunsets to watch from mid-air, mountains and oceans and cities at night. Instagram if you must, but I usually just let my feelings run the show for a while. There's nothing else to do. Sorry, seat mates.

10. Bring your own headphones.

Airlines want to keep us quiet and content, so most of them have loaded tons of movies, TV shows, music albums, travel maps, and games onto our own personal screen in front of our faces. For longer flights, I recommend those super long movies that don't make sense to watch in any other setting. Out of another vein, I recommend watching sci-fi films like Gravity or Interstellar. Watching Gravity mid-air while flying from Lima to Atlanta one night was unbelievable. Choose your own adventure. Also, although bringing your laptop and "getting work done" sounds like a great idea, it isn't. Your laptop won't even fit on your drop-down tray. Your arms are not T-Rex arms, and you won't be comfortable typing with your laptop on your chest. Bring headphones, or a book, or your Kindle instead.

11. Everything is a phase change.

That is to say, the pressure and temperature up there can change at any moment; especially during takeoff and landing. For temperature changes, dress in layers. Most folks are okay during pressure changes, but if your ears are sensitive, chew some gum. Regardless, being in a pressurized, dry, air-controlled tube is only temporary. Even if your ears start to pop and you're freezing cold, you'll be okay once you land.

12. Follow the crowd.

This is one instance during which it's not a great idea to stand out as an individual. If you're closing in on an unfamiliar airport and you have no idea where customs/baggage/transportation is located, follow the crowd. You're all going to the same place, until you set foot outside of the airport. You'll all figure it out together. When in doubt (again) read signs, or ask TSA.

13. Relax!

Flying is awesome! You get to experience, first-hand, the miracle of human flight. Whether or not Wi-Fi is available, or your favorite season of The Office is loaded, or even if you don't get your coveted window seat, you're in an airplane. That's awesome. Chill out. You're in the capable hands of a professional who understands things like the Bernoulli Effect so that you don't have to, and you can travel great distances in short amounts of time. You don't have to drive. You just have to relax, and you'll be there in no time.

So, fear not. Flying is pretty incredible. Keep your important documents close, be aware of your schedule and your surroundings, and remember that getting there is part of the fun. Don't forget your toothbrush, and enjoy your flight!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This is Not a Brave Story

There is a quiet, patient voice inside of me, whispering.

"Write. Write. Write."


Yeah, I feel better than I felt seven months ago. Yeah, I get out of bed and I haven't needed to take my meds in a while and I never really drank to forget. I realized that I need to travel as an incentive to stay alive, so I travel.

And people are losing their minds over it.

I get it. Traveling is awesome. It stretches every horizon and strengthens every muscular bit of one's character. It widens networks and eyes. It's adventurous and sexy and bohemian and impressive and fun to talk about. Look at this wild-haired wanderer, flying past and leaving kisses everywhere she goes! Look how free she is! If only I had the time or the resources or the people or...I'd be just like her. She's so brave.

No, I'm not.

We live in the generation of the glorified wanderer, and it's legitimate; it's what some of us are. But, it isn't always as easy or free loving as it seems. There is a niche demographic for which travel is possible, and I skirt the edge of that demographic as grace allows. I'm usually financially stable enough to fill the tank, but not always. My dependence on others tends to skyrocket during these seasons, and although it's so necessary, it always surprises me. I left to be free, but I'm bound by my first-world necessities and fear of bears and my own ignorance. I'm really just couch surfing, depending on the grace of the owners of the couches. I steal a squirt of hot sauce here and another of conditioner there, realizing that I never picked those things up at the store, and I needed my windshield replaced or a new phone, cringing and nearly self-destructing every time I burn another $100 deductible. I do my thing from my borrowed couch, which is sometimes going to work or out on an adventure, but sometimes it's just catching up on Pretty Little Liars under a blanket. I'm the same as you.

Often, I'll brag that I'm "really damn good at this," but I'm not necessarily good by my own gumption. I'm good because I have a good network, and I hope that those in the network will keep their timeshares with me. On one hand, I'm incredibly grateful and I do what I can to contribute, but on the other hand, this is starting to feel selfish and a little ridiculous. I'm probably expected to grow up a little bit, but I don't know how to do that without wandering around first. So there's nothing to do but keep going, keep searching. It's not bravery. It's not commendable. It's amazing, and it's terrifying. I'm excited, and I'm frightened. Glorification makes no sense, here. It's actually pretty confusing to hear. Call me what I am: a seeker.

Now that I have lots of time to myself on the road, I have lots of time to regress as I progress. Maybe regress is the wrong word. Maybe, hopefully, it's just remembering instead of regressing. Because I spend a lot of time worrying that I've just gotten worse, weaker. Likely untrue, but a valid concern nonetheless. Because PTSD is incurable, it pops up every so often (every day) and says hello in several different languages. It tends to get louder when everything else in my life is in limbo. And to prevent falling backwards, I tend to worry about my next generation instead. And end up falling harder.

Never mind dating in rape culture, because I don't need anyone trying to stabilize me at the moment. It's not happening. Don't waste my time, or yours. But assuming I eventually figure that out (right) and end up with a kid (okay) and a home (what does that even mean) that I don't want to leave every week (now you've lost it) then will any of this go away?

Nope. The truth of the matter is, I'm preparing myself for the day my kid gets abused. It will happen. Statistically, it will happen. And I'm telling myself that when it does happen, I can say that I'm prepared. Don't worry. I've got this. When in reality, there's no way I've got this. 

Civil war: commence.

There is one half of me who remembers what it felt like to have my needs disregarded. There is a very damaged, very wounded part of me who remembers. And she never, ever wants to see another child as petrified and lonely and frozen under covers, palms sweaty, breathing quietly, sometimes screaming, sometimes feeling the ice creep through her veins...never wanting to fall asleep but so, so tired. She needed a safe, warm body next to her. She still does. She needed advocacy. She still does.

But then again, there is another half of me who remembers what I actually told myself when I was that child. Because I was busy thinking of anything besides myself, I thought of my unborn child then, too. I decided that should I end up with a daughter in a similar situation, I would leave her alone. I'd keep watch, but from a distance. I'd let her fight her way through, by herself. I'd let her save herself. I'd let her build that character and that independence and I'd let her find her victory.

I wonder if I told this to myself out of necessity. Because now, it doesn't make me feel victorious. I know that I am strong and independent and I can survive because of this, but I remain devastated by the fact that my support system wasn't a support system. Years later, I remain devastated. Being strong enough to survive never soothed that betrayal. Now, home isn't a thing. Now, regardless of good character or how much I love them, men still aren't trustworthy. Now, people would rather point fingers than extend helping hands. Now, people would rather keep quiet than tell the truth. Now, I can't let a child grow up with those thoughts.

But, it's not really up to me. And at the moment, it doesn't have to be. As unstable as I am, I'm very pleased with the person I've turned out to be. I'll figure it out. I'll be fine. I'll have so much fun.

Some days, though, everything is too heavy and I don't want to anymore.

So I run.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: driving is my favorite thing in the known universe. My ability to drive is directly correlated to my ability to feel progress, and wonder, and raw, beautiful life. It's one of the reasons that I hated being on Xanax. Couldn't drive, couldn't escape.

I always need a way out.

Yesterday, I woke up in Austin with my toes underneath Jax, gave him a goodbye kiss, and pointed myself toward Colorado. I was pretty excited, but in no rush; I hadn't driven to CO by these roads before, and I didn't know what I'd see. 

I saw the city turn into suburbs, which turned into farmland, which turned into plains and prairies. Buttes and mesas randomly dotted the landscape, and I snapped pictures at 80 miles per hour. It was perfect. And I was glad that the signs reflected the things that I felt behind my eyes.

When I got to New Mexico, the clouds changed. I hadn't really been to NM before, except for Four Corners, due west of where I was driving through. I believe that I put one butt cheek on New Mexican land, and that was the extent of it. Turns out, one butt cheek was not enough. (It never is, is it?)

Upon entering New Mexico, the sign boasted a "Land of Enchantment." They weren't exaggerating. I was pretty enchanted.

I pressed on, and knew that something was about to happen. The land kept getting more and more restless, and so did I. Wide based hills, mesas, and (apparently) volcanoes (?!) popped up, and I wondered what had happened there to make it so.

Uplift is incredibly courageous. It is catastrophic and terrifying, but it's a slow blossom. I always feel so much better when I am surrounded by mountains and hills, like geological uplift is a metaphor for my life. It's what happens when things collide and everything doesn't vaporize. Some things vaporize. The things that have to vaporize will vaporize. And sometimes, that's really painful. 

It's painful, but it doesn't always have to mean that things don't work out for the better. There's beauty in uplift and erosion. There's growth that comes with change. And there's bravery that blooms, here. What's more terrifying than knocking heads with a tectonic plate? Not much, on this Earth. Fault lines prevail, and our planet will stabilize, and sometimes that stability requires us to push upward and nestle ourselves against each other until we fit together, weary heads in the crooks of comforting shoulders. We are conserved, in this equilibrium. We fit.

And then, like clockwork, I rounded the corner and there they were. An hour before sunset is exactly the time to cross from New Mexico into Colorado. It's the magic hour, when everything is on fire and shadows spike into the golden sky and snow kisses sunlight. 

There are things in this life that I cannot handle. The Rockies have always been one of them. The Rockies will never not make me want to cry unadulterated joy tears, or tug on my heart, or allow me to exercise my gift for extracting every ounce of wonder out of everything. And because of this, I don't want to handle them. They are not mine to handle; I was not raised with them, they did not rise for me. They are too big and too wide and too majestic to be held by one soul, so I share their energy and it makes me desperate.

It makes me weirdly desperate. My first reaction is denial, because there's no way that something in this world could be that beautiful. Then, deep gratitude. This is land that we've let evolve, and let alone. We're no match for it, and it towers over us like a protective father, so much like a god. Then, I kick myself for ever leaving the state of Colorado, because of the things that it does to me and the desperation it pulls from me.

It's an interesting self exploration, putting mountains in front of my face. I notice that I am the most desperate that I have ever been, in these situations. It's so strange; it almost feels as if I should be begging forgiveness for sins I have yet to commit, or clawing at the chance to stay just one moment longer, or to breathe the same air that the hills exhale...it brings me to my knees. It brings me straight to my knees. 

There I was, metaphorically on my knees as Venus herself looked gracefully down over the silhouettes, and I turned into a stuttering, blithering idiot. This is how you feel when you receive good news, or your life changes, or you see the Rockies at sunset. Add having been in the car for 13 hours by my lonesome, and I was pretty desperate to call somebody, just so somebody else knew that there is still beauty in the world. I called Amanda, my favorite person in the world, and left a lengthy, breathy, hurried, messy description of the purple clouds and the orange mesas and the fiery sky and the goldenrod on the prairie...because she needed to know. All of you need to know that there are good things in the world. Side note, you should all probably be thankful that you're not Amanda on the receiving end of my lunacy. Or, if you are Amanda, then hi, darling! I am ever, ever thankful for your heart and your grace and your willingness to do life with me, sometimes even from thousands of miles away. Also, expect more of the same in the weeks to come!

I expect to remain on my knees for the foreseeable future. Dragged through the mud and the grass and the sand and the ice, on my knees before this whole Universe and how perfect and gracious it is, in all its unlikelihood, for me to exist inside of it.