Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bozeman Backpackers' Hostel (Part 2)

After settling up my debt for a two nights stay, I gathered my backpack and blanket from my car parked on the street out in front of the hostel.  The hostel was located on West Olive Street, a small side street two blocks off of Main Street and downtown Bozeman.  West Olive was lined on both sides with charming,  19th century wooden homes presiding over manicured lawns, oak trees, and flower beds.  The area exuded a genuine quaintness without crossing the line of pretentiousness. Indeed, it could have been a Hollywood movie set for Leave It To Beaver, except it did not feel forced; I got the feeling this was not a fa├žade.

I stood on the steps of the hostel and admired my surroundings.  Young mothers pushed strollers, coeds jogged by, and hipsters in skinny jeans with arms covered in tatooes rode by on immaculate Schwinn 10-speeds.  A neighborhood. I wondered if I had stumbled upon some modern day Norman Rockwell painting. My wonder was joined by appreciation. I appreciated the moment. The scenery. The everything of it all. How I got there; why I was there; the unknown of what I would do while there; where I would head next. The continuous novelty of each moment, unfolding into the next moment, brought about by travel to unknown lands. A perpetual feeling of arrival. Though the physical destination I arrived to was Bozeman, there was a deeper, psychological feeling of “getting there” in my mind. It was the “getting there” to a special place mentally. It was a continuation of the feeling of accomplishing a long desired goal:  pure and ubiquitous freedom.  The freedom I got from the road; from the travel.  Bozeman was here now. It’s streets opened up to me new paths for which I did not know what I would find if I traveled down them…they all opened up possibility. Holy possibilities.  With that and no expectations to guide me to a specific road, and no destination in mind, any road would do, and I knew I would welcome the experiences that awaited me.

But first…

I carried my belongings inside my new home away from home, up the narrow stairway, serenaded by the sound of the old boards as they creaked with every step. I was reminded of a dream, a time spent at someone’s grandmother’s house.  Was I dreaming?

Once I arrived at the landing, I peeked into each room; private rooms straight ahead and to the right, each with one small twin bed graced with a handmade afghan, the windows framed by faded white curtains covered in daisies. I hung a left into a slightly larger room, filled with 6 wooden bunk beds. I noticed the belongings of fellow travelers on two of the beds and was thankful the room was not packed with others. I took the bunk that Scott had previously recommended to me (“Yeah, I’d take the one closest t’door. I’ve slept on most’em and I think that’uns the best. And if you come in here piss drunk tonight or t’morrow, ya won’t hafta worry ‘bout wakin’ anyone up.”). Sound advice. Quite possible circumstances, indeed.

I grabbed fresh clothes from my bag and toiletries with one urgent goal in mind:  shower.  My last shower had taken place on Tuesday morning in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was early Friday evening.  Now, I enjoy showers; they are not irksome obligations, but refreshing, cleansing (both literally and figuratively speaking) times of solitude. So going four days without showering was obviously unprecedented. However, it was also liberating. It was another comfort I had surrendered, learned to go without, and found that I could survive.  But, when given the opportunity, I sprung for it as soon as I possibly could. I ignored the “Please Respect Fellow Hostelers & Keep Showers Under 10 Min.  Thnx, Mngmt.” sign on the door. I reveled in the steaming hot water. As I stood beneath the blasting water, I alternated between leaning my right shoulder against the cool, blue tile and hunching over, pressing the crown of my head against the tile in front of me. I listened seriously to the sounds of the water groaning its way up the pipes, hissing out of the nozzle, spraying on my head and body, trickling down to the tiled bottom, and gurgling as it circled down the drain.  An event I took part in daily with little notice now garnered my complete attention.  I became aware of how immersed I was in a typically banal experience, which consequently produced a smile, ear to ear, and a laugh. I leaned back, continued to laugh, and clapped my hands, which sent drops of water kamikazeing into all surrounding objects.

How deeply gratifying this standard convenience was in that moment revealed one of those old life lessons I had heard often as a kid and throughout my life:  you don’t fully appreciate something ‘til it’s gone. While old adages such as this may seem hokey and trite when given to you out of context, it is undeniably understood when experienced firsthand.  I thought about this. But, what makes this saying so often true? Why must we go without to appreciate something? Must we? Is it some yin and yang to the universe?

As I lathered soap and washed off the dirt that had accrued through four days of travel, hiking, and camping, I continued to ponder this. I ended up back at a conjecture I have arrived at before:  We are all afflicted by a disturbing disorder:  Western culture’s obsession with the ends and using time to accomplish tasks. Get things done and move onto the next task.   The present-mindedness problem again.  I realized how this event that I experience every day of my life had been done so with so little awareness, that I had essentially been sleepwalking through it. This extended to any habitual activity! My travels and the accompanying awareness it helped produce, had awakened me to my own life, or rather, my living; my existence, my Being. The unfurling actions of existing.  My vagabonding had helped me awaken out of my slumbered state and opened my eyes to the reality I was living in, not creating in fantasy in my mind. I scrubbed the soap into my red clay tinted skin, watched the water flow down my legs into a muddied puddle below me.  I thought of its origins:  South Dakota. I smiled.  The aroma of the soap filled the air, a noticeable change, excited my olfactory senses.  I grabbed the bottle and squirted more soap and rewashed, to ensure the dirt was removed, as well as to linger in this simple act that was so enjoyable.  As I scrubbed again, I reminded myself to continue to cultivate this awareness beyond this experience in order to live presently, and to cease my dormant ambulating in day to day activities.

With that, I reached forward, grabbed hold of the metallic knobs, and turned off the water, and listened contentedly as the last drips fell, bloop bloop bloop…bloop, with a momentary significance, and  I smiled.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Every Other ____

My life used to be cluttered with roles and obligations. Yet I was

Nowadays I am full of life with the role I chose, me, and empty
of obligations.

I used to be preoccupied with an occupation. It occupied
my time.

I don't have an occupation any longer. So I just occupy my time
for myself.

My life used to be cluttered with possessions and things I
didn't want.

So I gave them up. I feel more free without
those things.

I used to feel unhappy and lost in the cluttered life I passively

These days I feel happy and free in
the life I want.

The Day I Dropped Out

January 17, 2011 was the day I decided to quit my job.  More importantly, it was the day I decided that I would stop living my life indebted to obligations and fear and begin living it how I truly wanted.  Countless decisions led up to this day and this decision, but to pinpoint the exact day I made the decision, that was it. Martin Luther King day, in fact. I visited my college town with my girlfriend (at the time) over the long weekend. Any extra days off during that time usually meant a trip out of town to escape my job and unhappiness with life in Jacksonville. That weekend was no different and was spent in the usual escapist fashion: eating, drinking, and being (generally) merry with old friends. On Monday, we were supposed to leave by the early afternoon in order to make the five hour drive back into Jax at a reasonable hour, given we had work the following morning. As usual, I was in no rush to return and found ways to put off the departure. One such activity was to pop into the now-defunct Boarders bookstore and nonchalantly browse around, not so much looking to buy anything except a little more time away from "reality".

As I rummaged through the sale bin, I began leafing through the voluminous "The Book of Basketball" by Bill Simmons. The selection reflected my apathy towards my life circumstances; picking up a book about nothing of deep significance, just another thing to escape into and away from my impending obligations. To be fair, Simmons is my favorite sportswriter, and the book, from what I have read, and heard, is the definitive book on everything basketball. Nonetheless, after reading an excerpt detailing the ten most important basketball players of all-time, I put the book down and sauntered to the opposite side. My eyes drifted across the typical mass-consumed books with the bolded names of King, Voigt, Grisham.  My attention was seized by a book with the title VAGABONDING. I'd only heard the word referenced as a child, a faint memory at that. I overheard it as adults talked about a bum who had taken up residence in a woods just down the street.  The word still carried a negative connotation to that day. But my interest was piqued, so I reached for the book. As I did so, my girlfriend thrust a copy into my face, asking excitedly: "Have you seen this yet?!"  I snatched the book off the shelves, uncertain why I should be so excited. I took a look at the subtitle: "Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel".  I immediately dove in.

"...For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead — out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don't really need — we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called "lifestyle," travel becomes just another accessory — a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture. 
This deliberate way of walking through the world has always been intrinsic to the time-honored, quietly available travel tradition known as "vagabonding."

Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life — six weeks, four months, two years — to travel the world on your own terms.

But beyond travel, vagabonding is an outlook on life. Vagabonding is about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions. Vagabonding is about looking for adventure in normal life, and normal life within adventure. Vagabonding is an attitude — a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word.

Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It's just an uncommon way of looking at life — a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time — our only real commodity — and how we choose to use it.
This is a book about living that choice. "
My heart rate increased, my breath fell into quick bursts. My ennui and its accompanying lethargy relinquished its grip on me. A rush of thoughts mingled in a frenzy of inner dialogue.

"Yes! Yes! He's got it. This is how I feel. This is me! You have been evolving your entire life, building up for this moment. This serendipitous find is almost too perfect; this seems to be too close to that ridiculous thing people call 'fate'. Fuck it. Who cares what it is or how this happened?  It is here. It is now.  The time is now."

My logically-governed mind would typically take over to rationally evaluate the situation and give me a cool, even-keeled take on things, normally.  But, this time it could not temper the momentum.

"Yeah, it's true. All of your decisions and previous actions have led you to this exact moment. Whether or not there is anything mystically involved is probably not true, but is beside the point. You're here. Everything, just as before, hinges on your decisions now and the future consequences of them.  Your only question is what will you do with now?  How will you act now? What will you make of this moment?"

At that moment, the only action I knew was movement. I briskly glided toward the checkout counter, calling behind me.

"Let's go. Let's head back to Jax now. Do you mind driving?"

I had some reading to do. I devoured the book.  I highlighted, underlined, circled, wrote in the margins. I read passages aloud. In the midst of this awakening, for that's really the most accurate way to describe it, I made the decision and said it aloud.  "I'm quitting after the year is over and I am traveling. I'm doing this. This is me."

I spent the remainder of the drive in hushed excitement, plotting and planning my real escape from the real world, not just some temporary weekend dream. I began complete and radical change in my lifestyle. I began formulating a way to live life in accordance with my ideals and beliefs. I had had enough of compromising in order to live someone else's life. I chose to drop out of the Rat Race. I stopped my pursuit of the American Dream.  I chose instead to embark on constructing a life made up of my dreams: to live to read, write, think, and travel. I have not relented or looked back since.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Once and Future Carpenter"

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky
And when the black cloak drags upon the ground
I'll be ready to surrender, and remember
Well we're all in this together
If I live the life I'm given, I wont be scared to die

Untitled 51

These days (cue the Black Keys) I feel at peace. Initially I was going to use "content" to describe the overall state of my mood, but I do not think I am content. I am after things, endeavors. However, I am at peace with the reality of Now and being engaged in the quest for specific endeavors to come. I appreciate the conditions I am currently experiencing. The inevitable swoons come and go; the ennui of being stationary, feeling dissatisfied from time to time; frustration from not flitting from place to place like a bumblebee going from flower to flower to take in the sweet stuff. But my orientation to the affective downswings is open. I embrace these experiences. I reflect to maintain awareness of my moods and what influences them; I critically analyze in introspection to understand these conditions of myself; I accept the conditions of the self; I accept the conditions of my Being for what they are: fleeting, nonstatic conditions influenced by context that will come and go, so long as I open up to the experiencing of them without pushing them away or grasping to hold onto something else, something more desirable. It is a nonchalant letting go. Realizing and accepting the conditions of my reality allows me to be malleable myself, forming with the river of reality's flow, not being a stubborn stone which refuses to accept the constant change and grounding myself in vain. To attempt to remain in a place, a state of mind, is a futile act, just as the stone will slowly be broken down by the river's consistently moving current, so too will I be broken down in any attempt to maintain a controlling hold onto my life. Instead I must act in accordance with the River, which simply flows with no pretension of staying put, no desire for the comfort of stability.

Only our culturally shaped perception can lead us to believe in changeless forms and a static nature of reality. With the cultural lens on, we see a false reality, a non-reality. A static vision of reality and of ourselves, that there is something fixed and permanent about each of "us", as well as our surroundings, is put on the pedestal of truth, not for its inherent correctness, but because we place it there. We conspire cooperatively to disguise the the true nature of existence. Collective insanity looks no different than collective sanity.

Existence is fragile. It is perpetual change. It is movement. It is movement towards our own demise, our death. Moods are temporary. Conditions are fleeting. Conditions we enjoy (happy ones) as well as that we do not (sadness, frustration, etc.). We foolishly seek to lay hold of only the experiences we desire; we attempt to fill our life solely with that elusive concept of happiness. Our desires control us and the way we engage with our realities. We attempt to have experience grounded in something more reassuring than constant change. We try to get our lives together, piece by piece, into a state that fits our desires. As if life can be piece-mealed together! But this is like grasping for the river and thinking you can catch it, though as soon as you extend your open palms, fingers outstretched to snatch the river, the water has already moved and continues to move on downstream.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Untitled 45

What is this life?

Modestly (Mouse) Speaking

Alright, already we'll all float on.
Alright, already we'll all float on.
Alright, don't worry even if things end up a bit too heavy.
We'll all float on...alright. Already we'll all float on.
Alright, already we'll all float on, ok.
Don't worry we'll all float on.
Even if things get heavy, we'll all float on.

Untitled 38

Sunday brunch with coffee, black, and mimosas on the lanai discussing the avocado, papaya, orange, and grapefruit trees (swaying in the breeze with no regard to the human quibbling). Does the male papaya tree somehow intuitively know we are discussing his fate? To chop down, leave, or attempt a dangerous transplant (unlikely to succeed according to some in the midst). Let it be, says I, though that only seems to be me. Talk of plant competition, debating the merits of one tree over the other, some political candidates we have here.

I don't know if it's indifference or the Buddhist influence in my perspective, or maybe a mystical, inexplicable influence of the Beatles from years listening to the song on a friend's Dad's jukebox on lazy afternoons following freshmen and sophomore years of high school drinking cokes and eating Little Debbie snacks while talking of nothing and about no one (something and some one all the same), but I echo my refrain, Let It Be, Let It Be.

This is the expression of life unfolding unwittingly from moment to moment with no pretense and no consciousness of some higher purpose or any purpose, for that matter. The beauty of the basic unimportant moments of the day. The conversations that will be washed away as time oozes on. We grow older. We live on. We don't hold onto these moments. Though these moments are the moments of life.

"What are you studying?" someone inquires.

"I'm not. I'm writing." I respond.

"About what? About spending time with your grandmother, grandfather, and brother?"


"Well, that oughta be interesting."

"It's not. But that's why it is."

What was I writing about? Oh, yes. Trees and nothing. All the same.