I’ve been a lot of places in this country, not too many outside of it, but still, I’ve covered some ground. I’ve got five states left to check off my “to-do” list, and with a little planning, I could probably hit them all on a 10-day road trip. And I will do that someday, hopefully sooner than later. By the time I can cross off all 50, I guess I don’t have many excuses not to go abroad again – not that I don’t want to, simply that it takes time and is expensive, and of course there will always be a lot of traveling to do stateside for the duration of my time spent aboveground anyways. I have a good friend who has mostly been traveling for 7-8 years now. He worked as a contractor in the Middle East for quite some time, got paid well, and spent very little while stationed abroad, and since then, well, he’s taken advantage of his passport. He’s been on every continent, one multiple times, but he spends most of his time in SE Asia. I fear he’s getting to the point where his stacks of cash are dwindling and he’ll have to go back to working eventually, so I hope I’m able to take advantage of his worldliness and travel with him at least once. I’ve never been drawn to the touristic aspects of anywhere, so with him having spent so much time in so many places, traveling with him, in some ways, will kind of be like traveling with a local. Well, not a local, but at least someone who is comfortable and knows the customs and worthwhile nooks and crannies. He’s amassed a lot of friends around the world, done a number of exciting trips (e.g., 2-month motorcycle trip through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand), so it would be a cool bonding experience to have with him – or anyone, for that matter. I’ve grown far too comfortable stateside. For someone who claims to have an adventurous spirit, I need to be called on my B.S. Everything I do that might be considered adventurous is really just derivations of past outings, whatever they may be. I haven’t done anything truly exciting travel-wise in quite some time, at least not if I look at it critically. Sure, others might marvel at the frequency of my zipping across the country, whether by air or car, covering everything from NYC to Chicago to Portland to L.A. to Denver to New Orleans and many stops in between, but it’s become habitual for me at this point. I need to shake things up.
The irony of it, though, is that I actually hate to travel. As I’ve written in the past (retired) columns, I hate everything about flying, and driving is okay if you have the time, but that can be beyond boring, especially when done for long stretches and alone. Plus, being in a different environment, even when you can make the space your “own” just a little bit, is never quite like the comfort of home. And maybe that’s the problem: home is too comfortable. I admire nomads. I admire people who live in their vans, though that trend is overplayed these days. The kind of people that participate in #vanlife culture are mostly younger Millennials too wrapped up in their hipster fantasies, social justice warriors who don’t really get “it” and are crying for help in a weird, symbolic way. They’re also seeking comfort, the kind that has been provided by their overprotective parents, the kind that is getting worse for the next cohort, Generation Z, or iGen, or whatever they’re called these days.
Another downside of traveling is how much it screws up the environment. Sure, being worldly and appreciating other cultures and other people’s differences is important, but at what cost? We’re a wasteful species and one of our greatest trespasses is the use of fossil fuels – for convenience and comfort, mostly. Oh, and for symbolism. Look at all the things I own, all the places I’ve been, all the friends I’ve made, all the happiness I’ve accrued. Spare me. As if. Travel, when not truly necessary, is a luxury we cannot afford. But because we’re a me-first, always-self-justifying animal, we’ll continue to do so. That is, until the world throws in the towel and we all die. We won’t travel much then.
All of this is to say, I’m still looking; we all are. While I sweat through the heat and humidity of early Fall, I hear about the first snowstorms in the Northwest and wish I were there. But there’s a lot of space between here and there, and not much reasonable possibility that I’ll get “there” anytime soon, whatever “there” really is for me. I used to live on the Left Coast, and I recall telling one of my closest friends who lives out there about my string of failures, many of them taking place in spaces that otherwise should’ve been beautiful and memorable for me. But experience has a way of coloring everything for us, good, bad and ugly, and as I moped through a series of bad choices, bad luck, apathy, laziness, bad attitudes, internal conflict, and an otherwise always me-against-the-world demeanor, I somehow forgot to truly appreciate where I was – until I was gone.
I often dream of living off-the-grid (not truly off-the-grid; I need some modern conveniences like HVAC and internet, and close enough proximity to a grocery store, maybe a bar for some casual company and a little live music), disconnecting from society, thinking I’d somehow be better off. Yet, I get bored pretty easily, and I’m not exactly self-sufficient in many ways. Somehow, the only part of off-the-grid I’ve managed to procure for myself is social isolation at times, and that isn’t all its cracked up to be. For all the endless miles of highways, the mountain ranges, the waterlines, the prairies, and all the people that dot a lot of it, somehow I’ve figured out how to remove myself from the social tapestry. But to be honest, that happened a long time ago, and while at first it wasn’t comfortable or really at all what I wanted, as time went on, I let it seep in and define me. The waters of disconnection carved their own path in me, and here I am, thinking about maybe, just maybe, the next stop will be everything I want. But after all these years, I think I’ve figured out that just isn’t likely.
If someone were to ask me what I’m looking for, I guess I’d say “happiness,” although I don’t believe that is something you can find. In fact, while I believe we’re all capable of moments of happiness, I sincerely believe that happiness, like any other state of being is ephemeral – that’s what being in a “state” of anything means, after all. A life of happiness isn’t out there for anyone, but a life that has more happiness than not, might be. If you’re lucky. If you know where to find it. But if after a few decades you’re still looking for it, perhaps it’s time to take a hint: the odds are against you now…
Now, I guess that sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it? Don’t take it the wrong way, this isn’t some call for help, this is just honesty. You might find a little honesty will do you some good as well – even if it’s just with yourself (though that’s the hardest kind). Taking stock in our lives is a good thing, a necessary thing. I’m nothing if not self-reflective, certainly self-critical as well. But I should be. The reflective component, well, that stirs up a lot of bad memories for me. Not because terrible things happened to me, but simply because I’m reminded of how much of an ass I’ve been all along, particularly to other people (to myself as well). Many of the people who’ve come in and out of my life (and many of them are still in it) have been treated poorly by me, largely because I’m selfish. And even though that is as glaringly obvious as anything could be, I still find it difficult to change. In fact, sometimes I wonder why I have any friends at all; I guess they’re just better people than me and give me the benefit of the doubt – repeatedly. But it also explains why I haven’t really made too many new ones, good ones, in the last 20 years or so. Don’t get me wrong, I make a few close friends at every stop, eventually, but in addition to the fact that I keep many of them at bay intentionally, well, something about my personality, my demeanor, just must repel folks. Somehow though, I’ve come to take great pride in that: stoic, unconcerned, unfazed, I see it as a badge of strength. It makes no sense, I know. I’m sure it’s just a defense mechanism. After all, we’re all just damaged creatures, trying our best to avoid getting more broken than we already are. The world is the bull and we’re the china shop. There isn’t enough Scotch tape and glue to hold us together, but we’ll keep trying, even if it comes at the expense of our happiness and sanity – and our comfort.
It’s a long way between here and there, wherever “there” may be. I think about a short road trip I took to see a lady friend who lives a state away; we split the difference, and the night together. We left early the next morning, and as I drove home before the sun came up, I wondered what the point was. Did I expect to find some momentary escape, a taste of happiness, just a respite from my daily grind? Or was I simply going through the motions, the way I do every day, regardless of where I am or what I need or want to do? I recall a recent flight for a short weekend getaway. It was expensive, and tiring, and I know I went to have fun, but I’m left wondering if I really did. What are these stories I tell myself? And when the endings are always the same and lacking in any sustaining, measurable impact on my life, why do I always rinse, only to repeat?
I imagine if I went abroad with my world-traveler friend that my eyes would be opened to beautiful and amazing experiences, but I don’t imagine that I’d truly be able to shake myself from myself. I’ve become a creature of habit – we all are, really – and that habit, that comfort, has corrupted me. Comfort isn’t always enjoyable, it’s more like complacency, a feeling of being resigned to your station in life. A prisoner could find comfort in the ritualistic aspect of what their life has become, regimented, pre-planned, predictable. That’s why so many return to prison; it’s just easier. I’ve become comfortable – accepting – of my situation, but that comfort slowly wears at me, the way an ocean slowly sands down the rough edges of a rock in its midst. Only I’m not becoming smoother, I’m becoming more jagged, jarring, reactive, hostile. It works the opposite way for me, apparently.
But yet, despite all that has come before now, there remains a glimmer of hope that between here and there, wherever “there” may be, that my comfort will shed its complacency, that my rough edges will wear down with time, that adventure and excitement will show itself in my life, renewed and within reach. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “I’m just not in a good place right now.” That rarely has anything to do with their physical geography – more likely it is their mental or emotional location. Life has its way of bearing down on us all, and often we don’t do ourselves any favors by how we choose to respond to it. It isn’t enough to be conscious – though that is quite important – we must also be forward-looking, thinking about what we’ve done and how it will affect what we hope to do, trying to be forgiving and accepting as we make our way forward. Like the great existentialists say, our lives are always our own, it is always our decision who we will be – that is, if we choose to make the decision. Too often, for many of us, we just let the world take its toll and we respond by caving in, only to remake ourselves as captors fighting against the chains that bind. What this does, amongst other things, is shuts us off to the world. Maybe if we give in, just a little bit, here and there, then we’ll find an easier path. Resistance on resistance yields tension. Surrender to the flow and maybe we’ll get sucked under, but where we come up, well, that might be where we want to be. Between here and there, wherever “there” may be, resides a life of great potential and opportunity, that is, only if we’re willing to accept it. For me, this means cracking the façade that I’ve so carefully built over time, intended to protect, but really only prevents me from truly embracing what’s out “there.”
Simulacrum of Myself