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I haven’t disappeared.

Well, a little bit I have. This whole year, really, my whole 24th year, has been an ebb and flow of disappearance. Half-hearted disappearance. Temporary disappearance–a fog rolls in and you can’t see the trees, then it dissipates and they’re made visible once again. They were there all along, as I’ve been.

All fall and winter, I daydreamed of a small wooden cabin in some woods in the Blue Ridge Mountains where I would escape to for a month or two, alone, to write and breathe and Figure Stuff Out. And when I emerged (in my daydream) I would understand where I have been, and I would know where to go next, how to find my footing to get there.

But I didn’t get to escape to a little cabin in the woods, because I lost my health insurance and had rent to actively pay and credit card debt to actively pay off and once you’re back on the grinding Merry-Go-Round of a certain lifestyle (9-5’s, utility bills, car inspections, a 12-month signed lease) it is complicated to walk away. I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve had the thought, I just want to disappear. Not forever–just for a little while. To the mountains. To the sea. To the forest. I’ve never sought the wilderness so fervently in my life. It is all I think about these days. It seems to be the only thing that makes sense to me.

I’m not sure exactly when this shift happened. I’ve always loved nature, but I haven’t always felt such a visceral need for it. It wasn’t until recently, maybe in the past year or so, that I began to realize how disconnected I am from the natural world around me, and how marrow deep that fractures–through the world and into the self.

I walk down the sidewalk and admire the handful of florae I can name and the armfuls and armfuls that I can’t. I go to the river when I can, if the weather is okay on my once-weekly day off of work. Several months ago, I happened to have a whole weekend off, so I drove hours to the ocean two consecutive days in a row, by myself. I floated in the sea and stayed until the sun set and watched the peopled beach grow golden and quiet. Watched the moon rise, and the tide creep closer. Both days, I left feeling so full. So calm and grateful and mesmerized. Then California: jagged cliffs and voltaic night skies and endless ocean, collapsing, colossal beauty. And Oregon: deep green and bewitching.

I’m particularly drawn to the mountains. There should be a word in the English language for the feeling of craving the mountains. A certain mountain hunger. I go as often as time allows, to Humpback Rock usually, because at 1.5 hours, it is the closest. But it is not enough. I want to be so much closer, surrounded. Immersed. I find myself more and more often standing and sitting and staring at things that do not matter to me. A lot of screens. A lot of parking lot chaos. Things which–I DO GET IT–are somewhat unavoidable. But I challenge that they must be so all-consuming. Call me crazy. I want to spend days and nights and weekends learning from the landscape. Learning by touch. Learning how to heal others and myself with the world around us, within us, beyond us. This matters to me.

A year or so ago, a friend and I were walking through an open field in Amsterdam and I opened my palms to strum them along the tall wisps of grass that surrounded us. I said to my friend, I want to know the plants. I want to be able to identify them, call them by their names, and understand what they need and what they give.

She responded, Some people dedicate their whole lives to learning that.

I think about that conversation so often.

Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startingly set down, if we can’t learn why. -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek

I guess I’m not really saying anything concrete with all of this.
Just giving you a glimpse of spider silk while I construct my own intricate web.

 

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“…and I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” – Emily Dickinson 

(photo taken at Lake Gaston on my 20th birthday.)

20 years old felt like the beginning of burning out.

It felt like working 37 hours a week and taking 6 classes because free-time scared me. It felt like dropping out of a sorority and a boy ultimately choosing someone else. Like living on Hell Block in a small, dark loft-style room that couldn’t even fit my full-size bed–a space my friends lovingly deemed “Anne Frank’s Attic.” It felt like a lot of nights spent alone in my bed, eating nachos and drinking $2 red wine from Trader Joe’s, and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. It felt like wanting to drop out of college and deciding to apply to study abroad instead. It felt like using my friend-of-a-friend’s fake ID for many months, like holding my breath each time as the waiter or the cashier or the bouncer studied my ID, then studied me, then gave me my drinks. Like deep, dark panic attacks in which I would drive myself to Patient First, convinced that this time I was really dying. It felt like writing this question in my journal: How can I be so young and already so tired?

21 years old felt like the south of France.

But at midnight on my birthday, it felt like 5 shots in 5 minutes followed by singing ‘London Bridge’ by Fergie at karaoke. 2 weeks later when I moved, it felt like showing up in a country where I didn’t know anyone, intending on staying for 4 months and instead delaying my college graduation by a year so I could stay for 6 more. It felt like the freest I’d ever been, the freest I could ever possibly be. Like fresh baguettes and rosé in the sun at noon and crêpe after Nutella-oozing crêpe. To learn another language deems it deeply necessary to learn a new way of thinking that far surpasses grammar and dives deep into culture, deep into the foundations upon which we live our lives. 21 felt like taking a closer look at everything I’d ever known to be true. It felt like traveling to 15 countries on a shoestring budget, only eating street food and drinking whatever was the cheapest in that part of the world and sleeping on trains and in creaky hostel bunk beds. Not caring, because we were in Berin and Prague and Lisbon and we were young and the world was absolutely and unconditionally ours. It felt like learning how very many lives we live within this one that we have. They are all both temporary and eternal.

22 years old felt like coming home in every sense of the word.

It also felt like leaving home. It felt like the house I grew up in being sold and reinhabited while I was gone. It felt like 100 years of reverse culture shock, relearning things I can’t believe one year in another country had erased from my memory: the streets of my hometown, my cell phone number, how to drive. How big everything is here–people, cars, coffee cups. 22 felt like moving into an apartment with my artist friend, Miriam, and her orange cat, Argonaut, and beginning my 5th and final year of college. It felt like taking my first creative writing class ever, and sitting in a small room of people feeling like I finally connected to something, like I finally belonged somewhere. It felt like alchemy. Like drinking a lot of Rolling Rock and Devil’s Backbone and merlot and bloody marys, and eating a lot of vegetable omelets for breakfast and nacho mountains for dinner. It felt like wondering what the fuck I was going to do when college was over; half-heartedly applying for things and being rejected and applying for new things. It felt like a hazy health crisis that left it difficult to eat or think clearly all summer. It felt like too many doctor’s appointments, too many unanswerable questions. It felt like deciding to move to another country anyway.

23 years old felt like Amsterdam–

an intricate spiderweb of winding streets and crooked houses and tiny revolutions. It felt like trying to understand how Family functions. It felt like trying to somehow fit into the one I was working for and living with, that I could never truly be a part of. It felt like teaching two small humans–ages 6 and 8–an entire language. Like trying to learn an entire other language myself. It felt like compromise. Patience, understanding, trying and trying and trying and trying and trying. It felt like sometimes looking up flights home. Like bicycling everywhere, cooking dinner in Celsius, sitting on the ground of the central train station for hours listening to travelers stop and play the piano that said, “Play Me.” So many people did. Sometimes a crowd would form around the music and everyone would sing. It felt like witnessing many miracles the size of a human palm. It felt like volunteering some nights at a storytelling space that obliterated my heart and made me feel more human every single time I left. It felt like spending Christmas in England and the 4th of July in Greece. 10 days in Greece, which felt like a lifetime of its own, falling in love with 60 people from all over the planet. A time too perfect to believe. It felt like seeing the midnight sun in Iceland while alone in my hotel room. 23 felt like going to museums and movies and bookstores alone. It felt like the first step to trying to be my own friend.

24 years old feels slippery.

There are still 2 months of it. It has felt like a lot of things I don’t have words for or understanding of yet. It has felt like the end of the world several times: November, January, March. June. It has felt like cleaning out my mom’s storage unit, spreading all the drawings from my childhood on my dining room table. Saving a few. It has felt like writing classes and a job in an office and learning news ways to live in this city. It has felt like being honest. It has felt like many trips to the mountains, to the ocean, to the forests of Virginia, like cabins and camping and that tiny writer’s room an hour away. It has felt like meeting a lot of people that I didn’t know I needed to meet. It has felt serendipitous. It has felt like hiding and like staying. It has felt like not having a sip of alcohol for 84 days in a row. It has felt like spoonfuls of almond butter and cans of sparkling lemon water. Like handfuls of stones and wildflowers. Dreams of a big, black snake biting my left ankle. It has felt like I’ve had a chronic illness for 10 whole years now, because I have. Almost 11.

It feels like a lot has happened and that nothing has happened at all.

It feels bewildering and impossible and promising and intriguing.

It feels like I have no idea what I’m doing. But it also feels a lot like Thank You.

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I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.
We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.

— James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves