"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wild Purging

This holiday season has been filled with purging for me.  No, not of Christmas cookies - of belongings.

I had already planned to get rid of most of what I owned in June when I move west, but I have begun "purging: round one" as I slowly move out of my farmhouse and in with Oldman.  I'm keeping only what I absolutely need between now and June.  Everything else is either getting sold, given away, or tossed.

I was excited to get rid of excess . . AND I was quite surprised at all of the attachment I found when letting an object slip out of my hands for the last time.  I couldn't believe how hard it was for me to let some things go.  But when I began to look at all I owned in terms of what is valuable enough for me to put in the back of a truck and drive across the country, all of a sudden I was willing to let a lot more go.  Things I had kept around "just in case. . ." or "because maybe one day what if. . ." or for "oh remember when. . ." suddenly looked like unnecessary baggage weighing me down.

Things that have passed on from my possession, in some form or other:
  • The set of little, ceramic statues of a mariachi band from my honeymoon in Oaxaca, Mexico.  
  • All ten seasons of "Friends" on DVD.  
  • An old Hofbrau House beer stein from my dad's time in Germany.
  • The set of knitting needles I once thought I might learn how to use.
  • The shelf of my super-all-time-favorite fiction books (Poisonwood Bible, Ishmael, 100 Years of Solitude, Red Tent, Life of Pi, Anne of Green Gables, etc.)
  • Two baskets full of half-used shampoo, lotion, and other toiletries
  • All of my board games (Taboo, Scattergories, Balderdash, Trivial Pursuit, etc.)
  • Several pieces of past Halloween costumes (a pair of wooden, 7", platform heels with glitter, a rainbow mohawk wig, a grass skirt and coconut bra, etc.)
  • All of my eyeshadow (it's been literally years since I've put any on. . . I don't think I remember how)
  • My five and three pound dumbbells 
  • My GIANT book of astrology

In the end, it felt pretty great to take eight garbage bags to the dump, not including the three I took to the thrift shop, or all of things I gave away to friends and family.  However, I couldn't help but take this opportunity to ponder . . .

Why do we humans feel the need to surround ourselves with THINGS?  Other animals don't do that.  You don't see a bear setting up a little coffee table with books and a shelf with knick-knacks in her den.  You don't find a bird tucking souvenirs from all the flights she has ever taken into her nest to pull out later and reminisce.  And you certainly don't find ants hanging pictures and curtains up in their anthill.

Are my set of favorite paperback fiction books and my little statues from Mexico me?  Who am I without them?  Who was I before them?  Why have I kept them around?

I have been listening to The Grapes of Wrath on audiobook in the car lately.  I just got to the chapter when the Joad family is forced to take every last absolutely non-essential belonging into town and sell it, in preparation for their journey west, out of the dust bowl, during the Great Depression.

Tom Joad ponders some very similar topics in a beautiful, long paragraph that begins with "Who are we without our pasts?" and ends with the emphatic decision:  "Leave it.  Burn it."

I've taken your advice, Tom.  I'll see you soon out in the wide open west.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild New Orleans

All I have ever seen on TV or in movies about New Orleans is hurricanes.  Like all of us, I have seen endless images of destruction and devastation.  And I have wondered, why do people choose to continue living here?  Is it not obvious that the sea is trying to reclaim this city?  Perhaps people don't belong here at all, unless they are traveling through on a swamp boat or catching shrimp to take back to some more stable land.

And then I finally visited the place myself.

It was a 75 degree, sunny day when Oldman and I decided to venture into New Orleans.  We took his mom's car just as far as St. Charles Street, where we parked and took the trolley.  The sunbeams reached into our open windows and the breeze felt more like May than December.

Before hopping onto the trolley, we couldn't help but stop at a little, psychedelic creperie/hippie shop near Loyola University.  We ate fresh crepes stuffed with mozzarella cheese, spinach, bacon, and tomatoes, then bought way too much incense at the hippie shop next door.  Before leaving, Oldman noticed that the stucco wall had a few grips, and the climber part of his brain went a little wild.  That boy will try to climb anything.

The trolley ride took us down St. Charles Street, past telephone wires and trees draped with endless, faded beads from years of Mardi Gras, past elaborate houses with two and three stories of wrought iron porches, past little shacks selling po-boys, gumbo, and jambalaya.

We hopped off the trolley in the French Quarter, and found ourselves on Bourbon Street.  In short, it was gross.  Block after block of sleazy sex shops and people drunk in the middle of the day kind of made us want to turn around and go home.  Luckily, Bourbon Street was not indicative of New Orleans as a whole, and we soon found some more appealing neighborhoods.

We wandered into what must have been the art district, and marveled at colorful local art and sculptures.  We stopped to hear a tune from a street musician with a kazoo and steel string guitar.  On the next block, more street performers - a five piece string band caked with dirt and facial hair, playing their hearts out with their trusty hound dog by their side.

We wandered into a very high brow antique store and gaped at the intricately carved pool tables, carousel horses, and a library with dark, oak shelves filled to the brim with tattered tomes inches thick.  We took silly pictures and stuck out from the stuffy, rich folks who strutted from case to case.

We visited Cafe Du Monde for the obligatory coffee and beignets.  It was crowded and touristy, and the beignets were really just funnel cake in a different shape.  But while there, we met Nadine - a waitress whom we found crying out back.  Upon further inquiry, we discovered that she is here from South Africa, working on her summer break.  She was crying because she had $220 stolen from her, which is the equivalent of three months rent back home.  We reminded her of what a blessing it is to be reminded that all is temporary, and monetary possessions can slip through our fingers at any moment.  We talked for awhile, until she was laughing and wiping away her tears.  We left her with a reminder of her beauty, strength, and wholeness - with or without $220.

To take a breather from the city, we walked up the levee to the bank of the Mississippi.  We sat watching the shrimp boats and steamboats glide lazily down the wide river, and shivered at the cool breeze coming off the water.

Upon recommendation from two men in a vintage shop, we trekked several blocks for dinner at a place called Adolfo's.  The bottom floor was a dark dive bar that already had live music playing at 5pm.  Since the upstairs dining room didn't open for half an hour, we ordered a locally brewed IPA and sat down to listen to the jazz singer/songwriter and his drummer drawl out some tunes.  An old woman sat up front, cigarette hanging from one hand, tambourine in the other, eyes closed.  She sipped her drink (whisky, I think) and hit that tambourine against the table as she bobbed her head to the music.  Was she in the band?  Is everybody?

When we finally took our growling bellies upstairs for dinner, we found a tiny Italian/Creole restaurant with checkered tablecloths and candlelight.  A brusque Italian waiter with a thick accent told us the specials and brought us some of the most delicious garlic bread I have ever tasted.  Even my Chinese, non-bread-eating boyfriend asked for seconds.  We started with a crab and corn cannelloni - a house creation recommended by our waiter.  Then Oldman had crusted tilapia topped with crawfish and shrimp in a cream sauce that he said was the best fish he had ever eaten.  I had alfredo pasta brimming over the bowl with plump, pink, fresh shrimp.

The day had been so perfect.  We only wanted one more thing.  Live music.  But where to find it?  We stepped outside of our restaurant and our ears were immediately filled with jazz from every direction.  We looked at each other and laughed.  Letting our ears be our guide, we followed the music into a place across the street, where we found a raised stage draping with Christmas lights.  A tall guitarist with a swath of dramatic hair across his forehead crooned out jazz tunes, while an adorable girl with too-short bangs sat singing harmony and playing the washboard, and a short fella with a fedora and a white buttoned shirt with rolled-up sleeves played the upright bass in the back.  We stayed for six songs and one beer, bought their record, and left for the next destination.

Letting our ears be our guide again, we glided down the street into a club with hopping brass music spilling exuberantly out the open door onto the street.  As we walked tentatively inside, a waiter was just placing an additional table for two right up front; he smiled and motioned for us to sit down - best seat in the crowded house!  This band was bouncing with energy and included a clarinet, trumpet, bass sax, guitar, drums, and sousaphone.  We ordered two rum punches and drank until we were hopping in our seats to the music and our faces were warm and red.

Exhausted and completely blissed out, we tore ourselves away and began the long trek back to the trolley stop.  On our way, we ran into two, voluntarily homeless bohemians sitting in folding chairs with typewriters on their laps and signs that read "POETRY ON DEMAND."  I stopped and inquired.  The man, who had a red turtleneck, brown corduroy jacket, and a thick French accent said, "You give me a topic, and I write a poem for you.  If you like it, you pay whatever you like."

We asked our new friend, Antoine, to write us a poem about wild travel.  Here is what we got:

Wild Travel
we want our roots
to spread across borders
         into their minds
we will be friends
for a second
          for a week
if you care
we'll travel you
with our hopes and questions
we'll enter your home
and call it ours
and you won't mind
cause you know 
we love you

Falling asleep on Oldman's shoulder on the trolley ride home, I thought back to my question about why anyone would want to live in this city, and I smiled a knowing, sleepy smile.  This place is bursting at the seams with music and don't-give-a-damn life, and gorgeous days like this could make anyone forget about hurricanes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wild Newness

Fun fact about Oldman (my heretofore blog name for my boyfriend, because using real names on the internet weirds me out a bit.  He has the nickname of Oldman from a friend of his due to his ancient-feeling wiseness, and also because he can get cranky and jaded and complain about crazy young kids.): I am his first girlfriend.

What?  Yep.  You read that correctly.  I am Oldman's first relationship.   As you can imagine, this information was a red flag at first.  My over-thinking girl-brain ran through all the things that could be wrong with him.  I pictured bags of toenail clippings stored under his bed, strange habits of eating toothpaste or hoarding pet lizards, or membership to some kooky cult.  I quickly realized that none of those things were true.  I don't really have a good explanation.  I guess he's been quite shy in the past, and picky, and for whatever reason, it just never happened.  Whatever.  Who cares.

After my over-thinking girl-brain relaxed and I allowed myself to be in the present with him, it became quickly apparent what a PLUS this is!  No crazy exes to deal with (and if you know me, you know I've had more than my share for several lifetimes).  No falling in love with Oldman just to hear him say, "Actually I just realized I'm still in love with my ex-girlfriend/fiancee/whatever."  (Which is what I heard from the last three guys I dated before him.)  No relationship baggage whatsoever.

And he's not a 17 year-old who is just dating for the first time and making all of the necessary, sloppy mistakes.  He's a grown man with a life full of experience and wisdom, and 30 years of pent up chivalry just waiting to be unloaded on some lucky girl.  You better believe every door gets opened, every chair pulled out, and every heavy bag carried - and that's just skimming the surface of the way he tends to me.  (This is very new for a "strong, independent woman" like me - whatever that means.  Screw it.  I'm drinking it up.)

But the best part about this relationship thing being new for him is that it has become new for ME.  I think this may have been the only way that my jaded, run-through-the-wringer heart could have possibly looked at romance without a scowl.  It feels like I'm taking him to a city where I've been a hundred times before, and seeing all the sights with new eyes through his wonder.

I had no idea how many stories I had built up around relationships.  I had so many certitudes about what love was and was not, what being a boyfriend or a girlfriend was or was not, what being in a relationship meant or meant not.   (Certitude: a story that has been held for so long in one's mind that it has become unquestioned Truth.)  One by one, without even trying, he is blasting them away.

On our road trip down to Louisiana to visit his parents this week, I played some of my songs for him.  I have a few scratch recordings of songs I have written over the past several years, most of them inspired by some kind of pain in my life.  I guess I felt obligated to play them for him, and then to tell him the related stories of pain from my past.

As I was telling them, I could feel a knot growing in my throat.  My body was saying to me, "Stop.  Do you really need to tell these stories again?  Are they even true anymore?"  But I kept talking, spilling out all of my "And then this awful thing happened to me and blah blah blah."

I wanted to stop myself, but I couldn't.  It was like I was on autopilot.  I had convinced myself that he couldn't really know me without knowing these stories.  But that's like saying that the stories are me, and obviously they're not.  They just abstract words to describe past phenomenon.  And I see now how in the re-telling, I cause more pain to myself and to the listener.

He listened intently and patiently, saying nothing, holding my hand, rubbing my back, etc.  After a long period of silence after the stories were finished, he said, "I love who you are today.  Let's you and I take our long-held stories of past pain and not tell them anymore.  No more tragedy.  Let's write new stories together.  Let's start now."  Everything in my body relaxed, and the knot in my throat disappeared.

So I have been thinking about stories and certitudes, and how easy it is to allow them to define your life.  And I pose this question to you, dear readers: What stories are you dragging around behind you, convinced that they define who you are?  What old stories are limiting the boundaries of who you could be growing into today?  Perhaps it is time to stop writing tragedies.  Perhaps this holiday season, the best gift you could give to yourself is permission to be a new you, every day, and every day, and every day again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wild, Unexpected Love

Many of you faithful readers told me how much you enjoyed reading my mantox post.  I enjoyed writing it as well.  My mancation brought feelings of strength and wildness.  It helped me to remember who I am and taught me new things about myself.  It helped me to regain my dignity and find the gems in the messy past few years.

The longer I was single, the longer I wanted to be single.  I became intoxicated with being the owner of my life.  I had no one to answer to, no one to interfere with my agenda, no one to need anything from me.  I got quite used to be being un-vulnerable.  I was hyper-focused on moving west at the end of this school year.  I had no time for dating or even thinking about men.  I made it quite clear to the universe that there will be no falling in love while I am still on the East Coast.  Nothing was going to get in the way of my plan.

Then I met Johnny.  And the universe laughed.

I climbed with him at the rock-climbing gym, matched somewhat at random by a belay partner-finding website of which we are both a part.  Now mind you, I have climbed with several random people in the past year, mostly men, many attractive.  I have not paid any of them any mind other than to keep me safely on the climbing wall.  But Johnny was different.  He told me that he had taken a transformative road trip out west earlier this year, and so was planning to move west now and follow a life of adventure. Whoa.  Get outta my head.

We became friends on Facebook after that night, exchanged travel photos and stories, and shared inspirations over the internet.  The next time we climbed together, we shut down the climbing gym talking.  Then we went to get tea at a diner, and shut down the diner.  We talked for five hours until 3:30am.  This was not looking good for my mancation my friends.  Not looking good at all.

BUT!  He was leaving for Utah in a week, so there was no danger.  Right?  Right?  I opened myself up to him.  I allowed myself to become vulnerable in a way that I haven't done in a long, long time.  I did this because I thought he was leaving.  I thought it would be safe; I could fulfill a small need to be intimately connected with someone without having the pain and inevitable heartache of a relationship.  One week of long talks and long walks and then I'd send him off into the sunset with a custom-made mix CD.  A modern day tragic romance.  It would be perfect.

Then I left for PA over Thanksgiving, and when I got back, he was still here.  He was not leaving.  And it had a lot to do with me.  Shit.  Fear was my first response.  I felt my throat tightening and my shoulders rising up in tension.  I can't do this again.  Relationships mean sacrificing part of myself.  They mean pain and disappointment and never-ending compromise.  It's not worth it.  Why didn't he leave?!  He was supposed to leave!  I have plans!  I have it all figured out!  There's no room for a man!  Right?  Right?

He listened to these fears.  He heard them, acknowledged them, and then he blew them up like so many dandelions on a windy day.  He scattered them with one breath.  All of my carefully-constructed reasons and defenses that had taken 15 years and a dozen relationships to build up simply imploded.  No ceremony.  No drama.  Those stories of fear simply had no place to live anymore.

I have been spending my days and nights (which are all blending into one at this point) floating around in a serotonin haze.  Everything is fresh.  There is an newness where I was sure all was dead.  I feel like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, when she walks through the town to bouncy music and everyone sings and greets her.  I feel like Snow White when she walks through the forest and all the animals follow her.  I feel like Cindarella when she enters the ballroom and everything else falls away as she sees the prince.  I am stilly, stupid, corny, ridiculous in love (if you can't tell from my completely embarrassing and uncharacteristic princess metaphors).

I have written and rewritten this post many times.  I have deleted many versions of this story and am still not satisfied with the way it is written.  There seems to be no way to adequately write things like this.  There is no clever quip I can use to explain how this feels.  Also, there is a bit of hesitation in writing about love.  Why?  I have no hesitation writing about my glorious singlehood.  Why not my glorious love?

In the end, I decided to publish it for a few reasons.  This blog is about a journey to wildness.  I write about living wildly and uncaged here in the hopes of inspiring others to find that wild part in themselves; to step outside of the daily comforts of cars and offices and shopping malls and push their limits.  I would be hypocritical if I didn't admit that opening up to love again is my limit.  I can climb to the top of a mountain or hang from a precarious rock face without batting an eye (ok, maybe batting an eye a bit), but jumping into love and giving another person permission to know me in this way - well, you might as well throw me out into the middle of the ocean and leave me to the sharks.

I write this because I want to declare that I am choosing courage, and extend a hand for you to do the same.  I am choosing to live in a world where all things can become new, and love is always enough.