"I was dressed in the clothes I'd been wearing since Portland. It was my hiking outfit and in it I felt a bit foreign, like someone I hadn't yet become."
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: Lost And Found On The Pacific Crest Trail
I've been suffering recently not so much from writers block, but posters block. I live a fairly isolated life and have never, up until the last several months, written a word with the intention of having somebody might read it. No one. Now it's happening. Not a nameless, faceless somebody, but a mom or dad, a patient, a friend. As much as I hope to never let go of the punk rock streak that has been part of me for almost 30 years, it's unnerving to know that I may very well have to look into the eyes of someone that has read what I put on this site. I'm also struggling with how much 'me' to include in all of this. If I thought the writing would be nothing more than a travel journal, marking miles hiked, towns I've visited, what I ate for dinner, etc, I wouldn't even bother. Somewhere someone is doing that much better than I ever will. What's been so difficult is that having an audience, no matter how small, has left me dulling the edges or flat out abandoning what I'd like to say. I know there's a balanced and healthy middle ground in here somewhere that I can, as my friend Molly says, be myself "but not too much of myself", but that feels a little bit dishonest and it's left me with a small pile of unpublished writing and a far too large gap between posts.
The fact is, I have a pretty foul mouth. I find humor in things that many would find upsetting and cringe worthy (including being molested). I still have a well of anger that I hope never completely dries up. I'm both arrogant and self hating, cruel and kind, loving and hateful. I still struggle to define myself as more than the pile of mistakes that I've always imagined I am. I'm both incredibly selfish and incredibly generous, strong willed and weak. I am every contradiction under the sun, and that's okay. One thing I promise, though, is that I will do my best to remind myself, every fucking day, that I have been given the gift of a second chance.
Here are a few bits and pieces of writing that I've shelved; mostly just thoughts or rough outlines, but here they are in all their splendid glory:
We all mourn our childhoods in one way or another, some because they were sublime, some because they were stripped from us, but some of us get the chance to revisit those memories or create new ones. It will be difficult for me to tell at times whether I'm walking backward or forward. I do have happy childhood memories and most of them took place in Vermont. To this day all it takes is the slightest chill in the air or the scent of burning leaves, and the goodness washes over me. There are never details. It's like viewing life through a fogged window pane, but the details don't matter. What matters is that it was not always monsters, not always panic and paranoia, or things that go bump in the night. What matters is the scent of fall filling the air, the leaves setting themselves afire for me, walking off some of my anger and broken heartedness, declawing some of my demons, and maybe, or maybe not, some of the details of my childhood life will come into focus. It's out of my hands and I'm not altogether sure it's that important. I know that in the literal sense I'll be walking north, walking toward Canada, walking toward the intimidating and breathtaking mountains of northern Vermont. Beyond that, I don't know what I'm walking toward. I could write a novel detailing what I hope to find while I'm away, but that's an arrogant folly that I'm doing my best to ignore.
It almost seems dishonest to have built a life around an event or events I don't even remember, as if the who, where, and when aren't enough. It seems the life I've lived, in all it's spectacular love and jarring failure, has been built upon a foundation of sand. What justification do I have for the hostility? What justification for the disintegration of my marriage? What justification for the failures in my life that read like a laundry list from a child abuse pamphlet? How can all of this be built upon day zero, a day I either can't or won't let myself remember? It's a gift to be spared the memories of the scarring events of my life, but it's another thing altogether to stare at those scars and not know every horrid little detail of their genesis. It feels like a piece of me is missing, a piece I both do and don't want back. What rational person feels a sense of guilt for being spared the minute details of his abuse? I do. It's as if I'm trying to balance my own scales of justice. On the one side I've piled every failure in my life, and on the opposite I've stacked up all that has been good. No matter how crowded with happiness, success, and love that positive side becomes, I still feel as if I need to suffer more and more deeply to even consider washing those failures away. In my mind the act wasn't painful enough. I need the memories as well, a road map, a yoke around my neck to tip the scales toward Canada. How else do I resolve the way I treated my ex-wife? How else do I justify the acts of violence? How else do I justify the what seemed like wasted potential? The truth is that there are no scales in life, no scorekeeper checking boxes in the misery and happiness columns for me. There is only me; judge, jury, and executioner, and I alone have the power to push the pain away. It's been the most difficult lesson I've ever learned, and I have gagged on it endlessly in this last year, but I will not be carrying my demons with me to Canada.
Will you be going by yourself? What group are you traveling with? Isn't it dangerous? Yes, in the literal sense I'm going by myself, but the reality is that I'm walking with an army of people that care for me deeply, a tribe of the sane and not so sane. There will be my CRAZY friends at Danbury Hospital adding up the days and the miles and cheering me on. There will be my mom and dad probably worrying whether I'm hungry, if I've seen bears, if they've mailed my drop boxes of food to the right towns, and if I'm ever coming back. There will be my brother Colin who I know shares the same unshakeable love for Vermont that I do wishing he was with me. There will be Ian, who got the logistics of this trip set and provided me the kick in the rear end to commit, wondering how much my pack weighs and how the hell I'll carry it through northern Vermont, There will be my patients who think this is one of the damn craziest ideas they've ever heard, worrying about bears and kidnappers. There will be Stacy at the Wilderness Running Company worried that I'll have enough dry socks and warm gloves. Really, I could go on forever. The answer to the question is hell no, I will not be alone. It's touching to me that while people have asked 'how', they've never asked 'why'. The why is the glue that holds the tribe together.
So that's what I have for now. Those that know me well know that I could fill this entire journal with biting sarcasm, self deprecation, and other bits of writing that are far more easy to digest than what I've included in this posting. There will be plenty of that, but writing like that is the easy way out. It's self protective, it's cheap, and it comes far too easy for me. Being a smart ass is as effortless as breathing. Self deprecation is as easy as breathing. It allows me to cut myself before you cut me and keeps you entertained while inside I know that I have the ability to be much more than a court jester. There will be plenty of humor, after all this isn't a walk to the gallows, it's Vermont in the fall, it's gorging myself on Pop Tarts and Trail Mix, soup and Stove Top stuffing. It's blisters and freezing rain. It's waking up to sunrises over violently etched mountains. It will be a pilgrimage and with each step I'll have arrived at exactly the place I need to be. Onward and upward my Peeps!!!