Accepting The Good, Too.

You look great today, She said to me looking upward from the bed, her face peeking out from underneath the covers playfully hiding from the sun.

I feel like a mess, I said back suddenly aware of my unkempt beard and need to run a thousand miles and squat a million squats.

I read what you wrote and I love it, Someone wrote to me over Facebook messenger.

It’s not as good as it could be, I typed back alone in my studio apartment doing my best to block out my neighbor’s vocal warmups while I re-count my rejection letters hoping for Russian interference.

Your photography is great, He mentioned over coffee.

It’s no Steve McCurry, I scoff sprinkling Stevia into my acidic coffee house java that will almost definitely cause digestive problems later in the morning while comparing myself to Nat-Geo’s Insta-feed.

You seem like you’re in a good place, She offered in passing after the meeting enjoying a muffin I silently disapprove of.

Well my car was totaled and I’ve been out of work for almost a year, I mention back followed by one of those emotionless smiles that exist only on the lips, waiting for my ride to quit being so goddamn chatty.

Okay just stop, I tell myself. Let’s try something different today.

Let’s let it in.

The good.

When offered, don’t shun it away. When smiled at, don’t avoid it. When loved, don’t negate it. Don’t pretend like it’s all a lie. They deserve better than that.

Isn’t part of living a good life accepting the good when it comes? I passive-aggressively ask myself.

Okay, I profess with my hands up to myself in semi-faux surrender, I will give it my best today. I’ll let it in.

I will let all of it in.

Addicted to Myself.

Even though I know it, I can’t stop. I’m addicted to it: the image of myself. And even though the image itself is not static but fluid and evolving, I still dig my nails bloody and grind my teeth dull until it makes me sick.

One moment he is a writer somewhere in Westchester wearing an old charcoal cardigan, collecting baby dreads of lint, sitting at an old oak wood desk in the middle of the night tapping away at his typewriter smoking Marlboros and drinking Oban. The next he is a talented writer-slash-director careening down Topanga turns in APC jeans and a black Steve Alan dress shirt and vest helming an entire set of crewmembers and actors destined for top tier festivals and after-parties. And yet he is also a world traveler in cargo shorts and an old plaid short-sleeved button-down, a Nat-Geo freelance photographer living in small villages in South Africa and each photo he’d take would be laced with a thick cream of social justice. And yet still he is a farmer in thrift-store couture watching the sun come up over the mountains in Montana drinking coffee in the early morning standing over his crops and admiring the milky layer of fog between the ground and the horizon.

Someone asked me what I was doing here in California earlier today and I didn’t know how to answer him. I never do. How can I subscribe to one path or ideological destination if even my own ego won’t agree with itself? And how can I possibly make sense of that lack of clarity to anyone else? In my head I often compare myself with other, more “successful” creatives and I wonder if they have a similar fractured understanding of themselves or if they see one clear, concise image.

But maybe yet the question lies elsewhere. Maybe the question is can I transcend those images? Can I let it all go? Can I drop the need to fulfill my ego? To not worry about what you might think of me? Can I not impress you? Can I be imperfect? Can I be messy? Can I always just be “figuring it out?” Can I live without judgement on how I’m living? Can I take me as I am and know that is enough? Can I love that person beyond the constant striving and trying and aiming and goalsetting? Can I look him in the eyes and say, “it’s okay, you’re exactly where you need to be.”

I wonder. I certainly wonder.

Featured image by Joseph Marconi.

Fear.

In March of 2015 I decided to go camping alone in Joshua Tree. I’d just seen “Tracks” (2013) depicting the true story of Robyn Davidson and her solo “1,700-mile trek across the deserts of west Australia”[1] with four camels and her dog, Diggity. Earlier that year I crossed the United States from New York to California — I employed both a car and a friend’s company for the journey — and felt the need to get back on the road. “Tracks” gave me the motivation I needed plus I was in desperate need of some quiet, solitary beauty.

However, in the weeks leading up to the trip, I developed a great fear over the journey. I was heading into Joshua Tree’s backcountry alone for the first time and I had no idea what to expect. I’d camped alone only once before that — along the sandy beaches of the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina — and suddenly I felt completely out of my depth.

I imagined all kinds of things. My mind leapt into gear and found this a perfect opportunity to try and scare me out of going. I spent hours deep diving through horror stories on YouTube. I imagined a desert floor crawling with rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions all out to kill me and by the slim chance I didn’t get bit by something I’d surely get turned around somewhere and die of heat exposure and dehydration. They’d find my sun-dried lifeless body a half-mile from civilization and the Rangers would shake their heads, chuckle and say, “City folk.”

And so in preparation I learned how to use a compass[2], what foods to pack, and how much water to bring. I researched the animal life in the area and how to stay away from them. I took notes. I bought maps. I was prepared.

Still, the whole drive out there on I-10 my heart was pounding: Why was I even doing? Had I death wish? How had other people survived this ordeal? What would my movie be called? “18 Hours?” Would Danny Boyle direct it, too?

But then something strange happened.

Almost as soon as I’d entered the park and walked into the welcome center, all that fear I’d had simply vanished. My heart slowed and my vision and breathing returned to normal. I was overcome by the incomprehensible majestic beauty of the park all around me and I’d easily surrendered over to the experience of actually being there, fully present for whatever adventures actually awaited.

My mind likes to tell me life is a scary place when, most often, if I just put my feet on the ground, I can see how beautiful it all really is.

And, unfortunately, I never saw any rattlesnakes, tarantulas, or scorpions.

 

[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robyn_Davidson

[2] By “learned to use” I mean generally how to hold, sight mountains, and get vague directional readings.

Not Today.

Some days are wonderful.

Some days aren’t.

Some days I wake up and I feel the sun on me and I feel connected to something great, finally part of something beautiful. Other days I struggle to make sense of anything, watching helplessly as my mind slips off into oblivion.

I sat here all morning, running through ideas, trying so hard to write something great and well, I came up short.

Some days are just like that I guess.

Some days are just hard.

Let go, I’m telling myself.

But I really don’t want to. Inside I’m like a child throwing a temper tantrum.

Stop trying to make this moment great, a gentle voice says again, just let go and surrender to it. Allow it to be whatever it’s going to be.

Okay.

You win, God.

And so I’m letting go of today’s pages.

I’m going to go outside and smile instead.