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Wild Thoughts

21 Oct

After the disaster that was Fifty Shades, I rushed to the bookstore and prayed to the gods of the bargain shelf.  They gave me Cheryl Strayed’s gutty memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is powerful.  It’s sad.  It’s haunting.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about it.  Or how I feel about her.  But it’s touched me.

Cheryl is 26 when she begins her 1,100-mile hike through California and Oregon.  She says she’s at a “low and mixed up” point in her life; she’s better described as majorly f***ed up.  The death of her beloved mother – “the love of her life” – 4 years prior has destroyed her.  Having abandoned her bedside promise to finish college, she is waitressing… and shooting heroin into her ankles and having lots of indiscriminate sex (including with all 5 of the line cooks in the course of 1 month), which, coincidentally, leads to the end of her 7-year marriage and an abortion.  On top of it all, as if to prove the point, in the wake of her divorce she’s changed her name to “Strayed” in a cliched stab at self reinvention.

Cheryl starting on the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26.

To say the least, it’s gritty, and it feels real and it feels raw in a way that makes Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love seem downright silly.  This is not an indulgent book-advance-funded quest for enlightenment.  The ethos is pragmatic self-reliance.  God, she says, is “a ruthless bitch.”

Nothing at all extraordinary happens to Cheryl on her long hike.  She meets some interesting people and has some scary moments, which she conveys sharply and vividly; but in the end, they barely matter.  It’s the whole of it that’s compelling.

Her story is both deeply sad and strangely beautiful.  I guess that’s life.

Yesterday, I arrived in Singapore, and I bought a mini-bottle of Cab Sauv from 7-Eleven, and I snuck it into a movie theater to watch Taken 2.  And the thought invaded my head yet again: “what the dragonfruit am I doing here?”  I should be at home – taking hot showers – practicing law – building a life – going on dates — paying my student loans! – decorating an apartment.  Not halfway around the world, at the movies, alone, drinking bad wine from the bottle.

But Wild helped.

If Cheryl’s trip is about about piecing together a life that has come apart, then mine is about coming to terms with a life that has never really been put together.  It is about allowing myself, finally, to acknowledge my own brokenness.  To pick up the pieces and to feel, for once, the sharp edges.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that at the end of it all, when I find my way back to my Dad’s couch, the ending of my story is going to be the same as hers:

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

Cheryl completed her big hike in 1995; she published Wild earlier this year.  17 years later.  And that’s how it will be with my story.  Changed forever in ways that only time will reveal.

I Am Scared.

30 Aug

Me, New Zealand, December 2007. [I would not recommend.]

“You are so brave.  I could never do that.”  “Travel the world by yourself?  As a woman?  You must be fearless.”

Folks, that is baloney.  I am not fearless.  I am flipping terrified.  Let’s be clear about that from the start.

I’m afraid of so much.  Of what I know lies ahead.  Of what I can only imagine.  And of what I can’t even begin to imagine.

I thought it would make me feel better to list my fears.  Then they won’t seem so bad, right?  It didn’t work.  Here’s my short list:

  1. Fear of Failure (It’ll be too hard. I’ll come home early.)
  2. Loneliness (you know… the deep, gnawing, inexplicably powerful sort that gives way to quiet, muffled cries into a pillow at night)
  3. Dying (okay, this might be a larger life fear)
  4. Sickness (say, rabies)
  5. Getting Hurt in an Accident (statistically speaking, the biggest threat to my safety)
    • Plane Crash (long-standing fear)
    • Getting Eaten by a Crocodile (But seriously okay, this happens a lot in South/Southeast Asia and Australia.  This may be the single most terrifying thing I have ever read.  Don’t go in the water, even when guides and guidebooks say it’s okay.)
  6. Being the Victim of Crime (especially the violent kind)
  7. Suffering Serious Panic Attacks (or developing a mental illness of some other sort)
  8. Leaving My Family and Friends Behind (maybe they will miss me; what if something happens while I’m far away?; what if people forget about me?)
  9. Disillusionment
  10. Running Out of Money
  11. Everything Being Filthy and Dirty and Gross
  12. What Happens to My Life After the Big Trip?!  (How will the real world look after life as a bum?  Will I ever settle down?  What if this trip is but a way to run away from things I must inevitably confront?)

I know this will be hard.  I pray for courage, for strength, and for confidence.  And I commit to memory this little gem of a mantra from the science fiction classic Dune (which the protagonist successfully uses when being chased by building-sized sand worms and other such things):

“Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.”  -Frank Herbert, Dune

The Great Dream Killer

14 Aug

Me in Venice, Italy in 2008.

“Most dreams die because the dreamers can’t take the requisite and always terrifying step into the unknown. The best laid plans and sincerest intentions are no protection against the stomach-lurching sensation when you let go of the lifeline.”  –Cila Warncke

And so it is, fear of the unknown is the great dream killer, way above shortage of money and excess of responsibility.

My trip, as this blog unhelpfully reminds me, is but 22 days away.  I find myself staring into the deep chasm of the unknown.  And I’m scared.  I hope I have to drawn upon some “core of courage developed, pearl-wise, through the years.”

But, after all, I’m not working with that many years.  Sometimes you have to just go.  Confidence comes later.

My Grandparents Are in Nat Geo!

15 Jul

My grandparents in a June 2012 spread in National Geographic. The caption: “Newlyweds Alaina and Justin Crowder pose with a couple who paused while strolling on Kill Devil Hills beach to wish the youngsters good luck.”

In this life, there are many people who have helped and inspired me, in ways big and small.  Perhaps one of the most formative of those people is my Grandad, who passed away a year ago.  A lifelong reader of National Geographic, last month he finally made it in there himself.

My Grandad married my grandmother at age 18, days before enlisting to fight as a B-24 navigator in World War II.  All in all, he flew 22 Allied combat missions, with a pilot who didn’t have a driver’s license.

They were part of The Greatest Generation: a pack of Americans who grew up in the Great Depression and, when called, with little education and little personally in the offing, went abroad to fight on foreign lands because, quite simply, it was the right thing to do.  And then came home and built this country into a superpower.

For the son of a trolley car driver, my Grandad lived a life that exceeded all expectations: Colonel in the Air Force, prolific world traveler (visiting over 100 countries!), rock-solid marriage of 67 years.  [And who, along the way, raised 5 boys, the middle of which is my father.]

I came to really know him in my early 20s, and my Grandad was one of the first people to believe in me.  He thought I was a neat person and, at that point in my life, it meant a lot.  He taught me that life is what you make it.  But the big full color lesson was: Time is life’s currency.  When you think back on your life, you’re going to think back on how you spent your time.

Which makes you think — what if life is not measured by making, building, collecting?  What if you already have every minute you’re ever going to have?  What if life is not about saving pennies and dollars, but about spending minutes and hours?

If I learned about life from my Grandad, then I also learned about death.  It really is the great equalizer, and you can’t die the way you live.  If life is a grand adventure, then death is the last stop: home.  When your stop comes — when you arrive home again after a long journey — you pick up your knapsack, you tip your cap, you take a deep breath, and you step out.  Even if your life has been a struggle — and isn’t that what it is, a beautiful struggle? — death is about acceptance.  A sigh of relief, a pleasant smell in the air, a familiar rustle in the wind.  It’s about coming home.

One of the Moments that Started It All

9 Jul

Driving into Akaroa, New Zealand in December 2007, with my beloved cousin, in our 1984 Nissan Bluebird.  Young, naive, unaffected in a way I’ll never again be.  For the first real time: captured by wonder, stricken with awe.  Wind in my face, dizzied by the unbroken view.  Thinking simply, I wasn’t living until now.

Click on me!

Be Different

5 Jul

See the whistle around my neck? It was for getting everyone’s attention, when I needed it.

[I[t almost always serves you to do things a bit differently than most.  You gain uncommon expertise, find a path more tailored to who you are, taste something truly unique, and set yourself apart for the rest of your life.

-Colleen Kinder, Delaying the Real World

Travelspiration

4 Jul