I realized something was wrong with the way I think when a woman at the Sabido vigil was nearly in tears, lamenting that she has been working too hard in her graduate school studies and has not been helping other people or spending enough time with Rosa, the Mexican national who had been living in sanctuary as an ICE fugitive at a Methodist church for 600 days.
She used to devote herself to helping others, she said, but apparently had lapsed in her ways.
I couldn’t understand why this young woman was so upset with herself. I typically don’t care about anyone but me. I don’t know if that is a side effect of being a reporter and feeling like I am not allowed to participate in the community that I am covering, or that journalism is the only form of community service I was allowed to perform. Or living alone and only thinking about making enough food for myself, providing for myself, playing video games when I want, rarely if ever thinking about calling a friend or being around other humans in my free time. I can do everything myself. Except be happy.
Eknath Easwaran says that’s the wrong way to live and I believe him. He writes:
I am told that people now want to be loners and live by themselves. If you ask why, they will say it is more convenient; they can do what they want, when they want, in the way they want. When they shuffle in the door from work, tired and edgy, they don’t need to concern themselves with squabbling children; they can kick off their shoes and drop their clothes anywhere. … All this is called freedom. I call it sterility and the surest road to making ourselves more separate and self-willed.
Ouch, man. That’s exactly how I live — in sterility — and it will take time to change that behavior and outlook on life. How can I unlearn my habit of being self-willed and understand that it is in giving that we receive, it is in loving that we are loved if I am always alone?
I’m reminded of a Desmond Tutu quote: “A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.”
When I stay in my apartment with video games and marijuana and darkness and isolation, I feel less and less humanlike, more robotic as I interface with screens all day.
A toxic thought crept into my mind when I was out for a walk a few weeks ago. My brain pondered the concept of making a friend. Of meeting a like minded man or woman and spending time together, maybe invite them over to my apartment to do… what? Hang out and watch TV? Talk? What do people do?
I immediately thought that that was the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. How weird that would be, to make a friend and spend time together. Then my brain told me that it was exceedingly weird to think that making a friend is exceedingly weird.
At least I’m checking those thoughts and recognizing that I need to change. That’s the first step in this process, I think.
My byline sat atop every story I wrote for the past two-and-a-half years but with each edition I slowly lost a part of myself.
The reporter was stealing my life. There was a monster inside of me, in my mind, always lurking above, below the surface. I was afraid that if I didn’t kill it, it would kill me first. [REDACTED] stopped being a reporter so I could live. By the way, who am I?
There was a day that [REDACTED] couldn’t go to work. He couldn’t be a reporter that day. He couldn’t stop thinking about suicide. He was trapped in his bed, filled with anxiety and depression and fear and guilt and so many emotions that ended in hopelessness. He didn’t want to go back to the newsroom that another called suffocating or that courthouse where poverty, mental illness, substance addiction and overwhelming sadness are always present. I imagined what it would be like for my Mom and Dad to travel to Colorado from Virginia and walk into the duplex where their son died. I told my Editor I couldn’t go to work that day.
[REDACTED] stopped caring about covering these fucking redneck assholes who can’t seem to understand the concept of returning a damn phone call. They all love their guns and spreading fear more than they care about living. There is a victim mentality, a sense of entitlement, in rural, white America.
This is our land. We’ve been here for four generations. If you don’t like how we do things, then leave.
Excuse me, sir, but the land itself has been here for many, many more generations. What even is a generation to nature? You do not own it. You have no claim. Your rights do not exist. You follow the law of man but you seem to have forgotten the laws of nature, my friend, and what about the Natives? Or the Anasazi? The ruins are right over there, but, I am sorry, you have been grazing and homesteading this land for the past four generations. I should step out of your way. Sorry. I don’t belong in the world you stole.
Hey, [REDACTED], stop thinking that way.
I want to get back to that feeling of standing in the kitchen of my childhood home knowing I would never step foot in that house again, as my Dad kicked me out and was going to sell it, and that I might go to Australia. A beam of energy surged through me — as I thought about the possibilities of life — from my feet to the crown of my head. I want to find that feeling, harness it. Untethered freedom.
That feeling of sitting in the dirt on the side of the rough, two-lane road beneath the Southern Alps with my thumb out, heading further south further south further south more south than I have ever been. Back then, I was on the spiritual path. I was trying to figure out who I am, but I lost all sense when I became a reporter in chains.
For the first time in two-and-a-half years, I feel like I am back on track. Me. Not [REDACTED].
Page views is all that matters here. Shock and awe. Death and disaster. Chaos. Staff cuts. Newsroom consolidation. Parent company sold. Publisher fired. Editor quits. HR rep quits. Reporter quit. Everyone quits. Downsize. Misery. Two papers. Two-and-a-half years. The train never stops so you better keep up.
Car crash on the bridge, fatal, run past cars parked on the highway. Take a picture, not knowing someone died in that classic yellow pickup. Call sheriff. Call fire chief. Call state patrol, fatal, he said. House fire, fatal, interview the man who just lost his partner, burned. Take a picture. Call sheriff. Call fire chief. She died and you interviewed a man who just lost everything except his dog.
Do you hear that siren? It’s snowing. Turn on your police scanner app. Dispatch just said what mile marker the semi vs. subaru crash is at so you better get your jacket and and grab your camera and start driving. Is was fatal, later, after a coma. I didn’t follow up.
Drive to three car crashes in one day and send your photos and info to the Editor on his day off, but he never takes a day off. Chaos. Protect yourself. Don’t get sued. Don’t get in a car crash. You should just stay in your house where it’s safe and you can smoke weed and perseverate about your stories.
It’s dark in the newsroom when you come back from the last crash and the Editor is sequestered in his office. I’m on two hours of overtime now, so I shouldn’t work anymore. I gave him everything but the story isn’t up. I can tell he is sad, maybe frustrated, definitely lonely, when I leave. He is alone with his newspaper. I felt guilty, leaving him there with the car crash and Facebook.
Now I’ve completely abandoned him. [REDACTED] had to do it so I could live. I’m sorry.
My first day as a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn Express by the National Park was unusual.
Me and Patrice — who commutes one hour from the reservation in Utah for a job that pays Colorado state minimum wage for five or six hours a day — were supposed to watch Cory, the veteran, clean the fuck out of a hotel room like she has done for 20 years, but Maintenance was going to turn off the water in an hour so we had to clean all the bathrooms first. I didn’t really get the whole picture of how to clean a room. It’s not rocket appliances, though.
I quit being a reporter on a Friday, had a job interview at the hotel on Saturday and started cleaning on Monday. I have worked in hotels and resorts before, in food and beverage, but they were all in Australia so now I constantly fight the urge to call everyone mate and say, “How ya goin?”
The work isn’t bad but it gets stressful when your cart wasn’t refilled the day before and Laundry hasn’t restocked the storage room. It’s not bad if you’re assigned to the first floor, but when you’re on the far side of the third floor and have to briskly walk across the entire hotel to find a queen firm pillow case and you’re supposed to clean a room in 25 minutes, the stress can build. Breathe.
Today, the first day of week two, went swimmingly. Everything was in its right place. Rooms not too messy. Satisfaction. Clock out and there is no monster lurking because I killed it. I’m still lonely though. It’s hard to meet people out here in this isolated town — especially if you never try. Change that, please.
I have now returned to the spiritual path and I already remember what I began to learn in New Zealand. I have time now for it and space in my mind, now that I’ve killed the monster.
They, the unnamed spirits, have already reminded me that if I ask for help, they are there. If I slow down, if I listen, if I am willing to accept spiritual knowledge, they will provide it. They provide happiness, affirmation that you and now are all you need.
Go for a walk, clear your mind, they will drift in.
I started reading a book called “Meditation,” by Eknath Easwaran. He told me to wake up early and don’t be rushed. He told me working constantly, eating unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes and giving your body little to no exercise is a recipe for a heart attack, which is something I am concerned might happen to the Editor.
Easwaran told me that the first stage of meditation is to realize that you are not the body. The second step is to realize you are not the mind. So what are you then? That’s the third step. Figuring that part out. I don’t know where it leads.
I am starting down a long path that I believe will help me control my mind, control my emotions, manage my stress, manage my depression so that [REDACTED] can someday be a reporter again. Journalism needs me, at least that’s what a reader told me once.
My therapist said today that he is excited for me. I am excited too. I don’t think I’m crazy.
I jumped off the train that never stops. Journalism is grueling, toilsome work with pay that doesn’t match the emotional damage and mental stress. You finish a story that took several days, hours and then all you hear is negativity. Nothing changes. Your story doesn’t matter. And tomorrow you have to find something new to write about that won’t matter.
You never hear from the print readers who genuinely appreciate your work. Reporters only hear the anger and hatred. They are forced to live in it.
[REDACTED] had to stop being a reporter so that I could live. The spirits have told me that [REDACTED] is a powerful creator, but I need to work on myself before he can save the world, save humanity from itself.
When I was learning to drive, my Dad would tell me that people are stupid. People are stupid, he would say, they might pull out or slow down or turn off. People are stupid and you shouldn’t trust them.
He was talking to me, a teenager, about how to drive, but I knew that he meant it about people in general. I thought people are stupid for a while and then I lived and traveled and met people from from the World and I thought maybe people aren’t stupid. I thought my Dad was wrong. He felt superior, maybe. And then I came back to my own country and I’m not so sure anymore.
I went shopping in a Walmart in Utah this morning and just looking at people I wondered about their lives, about what goes on in their heads. What do they think about when they pick out the milk and the meat and the sodas and the processed foods. What do they think about when they put on those clothes or put their hair up in that way or put that makeup on their eyes. I wondered why they would have so many children and why they all just stand in front of my cart until I say excuse me after 30 seconds, just waiting. I wonder if they know what it’s like to just be alone and think. Do they just live?
I wonder about people when I write stories for the newspaper and I read the comments from people in this isolated valley and I wonder why people think these things. I wonder how people can be so stupid. Why do they hate people who are different when their God tells them to love. They water their lawns in the desert and they drink sodas and eat meat and they farm dairy and they drive big, loud trucks and they have a boat, a trailer, a camper, a four-wheeler. They fly Confederate flags and pray.
All these things I am morally opposed to. The Hydrologist told me there isn’t going to be snow in Utah by 2080 if humans continue emitting carbon. That’s where the water comes from out west, from the snow up in the mountains. Like a bank. They won’t be able to keep their lawns green and they won’t have water to grow crops to feed their dairy cows. Why don’t they think about this. It will be 2080 in a few days. Why doesn’t anyone care?
They have lived here for generations, in this isolated valley, like their grandparents and parents and they always hear the same thing. Life here is one big tradition. But I am an outsider and I have been to the upside down. I have seen the Truth and I have seen what we are. We are wrong and we are killing ourselves and we consume consume consume without thinking. I don’t think they have seen that. They think their god tells them that everything is for them and they are the Israelites. Everybody thinks they are the Israelites. But there are no Israelites. Somebody just made it up to make you feel special.
I dropped acid with my sister at our cousin’s wedding with our whole family in the hotel, below, and I was compelled by the forces there to do yoga in the hotel room. I saw it. When I did yoga I was able to see it. Everything. I saw us. We are all in the twisting, shifting, malleable nether and we are all floating through, in, out, up, down, around. Across. We are moving in it. I saw everyone. I saw my Mom. She had so many dark hands and arms pulling her down. My brother was holding hands with his wife and they were floating on, in peace. That’s how I saw them. But my Mom, she had so many dark pulses around her. It was her Mother, her Sisters, telling her she is a coon ass. Her husband telling her who to be. Her children sucking the life out of her. They made her. We all made her. I understood, just then, that you can’t judge anyone for anything. We are all a product of moments, relationships, struggle. We didn’t live the life they lived. How would they know any better.
None of us are ourselves. We are a reflection, a mirror. I have lived for 27 years and six months and I am here, now, thinking these thoughts because of every insignificant decision and random event. I went to a therapist in Virginia when I returned from it all and she told me I should do what I want to do. Dance in the rain, she told me. Dance in the rain. If she didn’t tell me to dance I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t write for the newspaper and see the stupid comments or go to the Walmart in Utah and see the people. I don’t know why they wear those clothes or why they put that makeup on their eyes because I am not them. I wasn’t born where they were born. I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents telling me to move the cattle, to get up early and milk the cows. I grew up with sidewalks and property taxes and well-funded schools. I grew up with a Dad who told me people are stupid.
But we change. We see things, experience things that change us. If I didn’t work on that dairy farm in New Zealand with Digger and steal the baby cows I wouldn’t be vegan. I would still be lost and ignorant. Before the farm, before I was me, I slammed the cabinets in the home where I grew up and my Stepmother kicked me out. So I went to the other side and saw everything and I would never have gone there or be here if I didn’t slam the cabinets. Maybe people aren’t stupid. Maybe they just never slammed the cabinets.
I left New Zealand 27 days ago and now I’m staying in the spare bedroom at my Mom’s house in Virginia.
I made a desk from two saw horses and a door I found in her garage and I’m reading through my journals. I thought I was going to be able to write something from all of this. I wanted to write a book or a series of short stories but this is hard. There is too much. I can’t process this. My brain is weak and I can’t get the big picture. I want to smoke weed to help guide me, but I need to pass a pre-employment drug screen so I can get a menial job because I’m in America.
I’m not even close to when the good stuff started. When I left the hostel and started traveling with the Irish girls and the California girl and the guy from Uruguay and the Kiwi busker we picked up. We would camp out and play music and get dirty and swim in the rivers and eat cous cous and vegetables. But I’m not there yet. Baby steps. Crawl before you can walk, right, Chris?
I’m sorry I haven’t updated my blog in a long time but I’m working on it, OK? This is going to take some time. The word document I wrote from my final month in New Zealand, when I was hitch hiking and camping and communing with nature, is 65 pages single-spaced. Most of it is word vomiting but with a bit of refinement, I believe that vomit can be turned into gold. But I’m not even close to cracking into that document. I’m at the point right now where I start to read my journals and take notes and find themes and I end up with even more hand written notes and that is just making even more work to do and then I have to stand up and walk around the house and look in the fridge even though I’m not hungry and then I go back to my “desk” and I can’t control the demon inside of me that opens up Facebook and the Reddit and then I check my e-mail but nothing has changed.
I know what I need to do, what I need to write and what I need to focus on but I don’t want to say it until it is done. I feel the compulsion to read everything I’ve written in chronological order and not just jump to the good parts because I don’t know what I will have missed. And then my guitars distract me and then my Mom gets home from work.
Meanwhile, I’m broke and I need to get a job so I can buy a car and move somewhere new because I don’t want to stay here.
At first I was hesitant about Virginia. Then I watched the Washington Nationals play baseball. It’s like nothing has changed. F.P. still says, “And there goes the no-hitter” at the first hit and Bob still says, “SEE, YOU, LATER!” when we get a home run. I sat down and watched my first game in two years and I felt a sense of belonging and community with my hometown. The team has barely changed. Life goes on. I can be happy here for the summer but this is a means to an end. The Drifter in me needs to stay on the move.
Don’t fret, loyal readers, Stories From A Drifter is still running. The resident Drifter is just working out this whole life thing and trying to live while also trying to re-live the past and show people what I have experienced. I have changed. I am different than I was two years ago. Even one year ago. My year in Australia revolved around working. My year in New Zealand was about learning and growing and being a soul rebel, soul adventurer, soul capturer. I’m here. I’m working on it. I promise (eek!) something good will come. But I can’t say when.
Everything was so easy in New Zealand. I had my rucksack on my back and my guitar in my hand and all I had to do was stick out my thumb and after a few minutes or a few hours I would summon a car. Some kind soul would give me teleportation, conversation and positive vibrations and then I would end up at the next campsite, pitch my tent, eat my oats and breathe the air. Constant high speed Internet, cable television and hot showers didn’t distract life in New Zealand. Life was simple over there. I was a wild animal. We all are.