At age 30, I chose to quit my job and live on a bicycle for a year and a half. Actually I chose to do it at 27, but knew I would do it when I turned 30. Now I’m seven months and four thousand miles away from Florence, Oregon. I’m in Medellin, Colombia and I’m holding a grab bag full of memories and people and currencies and confusion.
I want to be full of lovely observations about humanity, culture, and Latin America everyday. I want to be so present and say yes to every wild thing like I think Jack Kerouac would though I haven’t read much Kerouac.
But sustained epiphany is not easy and forced epiphany is worse. My brain is working behind my consciousness all the time, sifting my discoveries and my daily living into patterns, and it fits them into folders and shapes without my knowing. And once in a while, it will find something, like an intern in the basement scouring old company files, and run upstairs and shout ‘look what I found.’ An important pattern, something that might be true about life as a whole because a thousand experiences have some through-line. That’s what I’m about. Sending files to the basement until someone runs upstairs yelling.
Of course my favorite writer told me about this. “I believe there are techniques of the human mind whereby, in its dark deep, problems are examined, rejected or accepted. Such activities sometimes concern facets a man does not know he has. How often one goes to sleep troubled and full of pain, not knowing what causes the travail, and in the morning a whole new direction and a clearness is there, maybe the results of the black reasoning. And again there are mornings when ecstasy bubbles in the blood, and the stomach and chest are tight and electric with joy, and nothing in the thoughts to justify it or cause it.” – John Steinbeck.
Here in Colombia, I am paralyzed by thinking. It’s like being in constant conversation with a conspiracy theorist. They have so many facts, so many hand-picked convenient isolated facts that sound silly when seen alone, but after a few beers and a few cigarettes, I find myself confused about the fundamentals of democracy, the CIA, the Chinese, and the Nicene Creed. All these theories about being, about what it is to be alive and be a good person, what Love is, what and Who God is, all of it, swirl in my filing cabinet mind and all my interns have quit. I want to find the pattern, but I am getting too much information.
Extended multi-cultural travel can do this to a person. Each nation or region has its mythology. There are blankets of agreement across millions of people that don’t seem odd until seen from far off. The exposure invites you to question everything you were effortless handed by the place you were born (although it was with great effort over centuries that it came to feel effortless). In the United States, we have a spirit of ‘I’m as good as you’ that allows a hungry worship of the rich and famous because we are almost certain that we could have done it our selves. Or that we still might. If only for a few factors, or hard work, or a few less beers, we could have invented whatever. ‘Candy Crush? Pshh, I could’ve thought of that.’ This belief fuels a dynamic economy that sees stars rise out of nowhere all the time. It also establishes a panic of inadequacy and judgment against common jobs that are necessary for a functioning society. We all want to be stars because we were told we could be. When we’re not, some people feel like a failure. This empowering and challenging ethos is not the norm.
In the parts of Latin America I’ve seen, people just want a job. They want to provide for their family. They have fewer illusions of grandeur. They celebrate the rich and famous as fascinating aliens, not as lucky bastards to be studied and copied.
In the United States, the loudly Christian tout a personal relationship with God and fight politically against what they see as moral erosion: same-sex marriage, drugs, indecent television, abortion, government hand-outs to the poor, the war for our children’s minds. In Latin America, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, the religious life is lived in devotion to church, to family, but the politics are a liberation theology, much more for the poor through government aid, prayer and devotion to God are written on every bus and car bumper and taxi, and same-sex relationships are more common, less of a political trigger, and legal in many nations. I asked a devout Catholic mother about this, and she said, ‘Every family has at least one. It is normal. Why would we hate it?’
These are just a few of the new ways of seeing that are shaking me up.
I am 31 now, and intent on writing a autobiographical novel about this trip. I’ve got nine months to go before I see Patagonia. I’m reading books about writing. I’m reading good novels and nonfiction. If there is one thing that every great author recommends it’s ‘tell the truth.’ I plan on it, but I’m not the first to be terrified of it. I have inconvenient thoughts and transitional unformed ideas and fragile relationships and family members and I’ve hurt people and been hurt. And it’s all true, and important parts of the story that God has written about my life. I want to tell that story, a bit fictionalized to give it flow, but mostly true. I don’t want to dishonor God by telling anything but the truth and my guesses at what it means. And I don’t want to have any agenda but to tell the truth. I hate agenda.
I also want to be good to people and good for people. We’re all messengers from a different trail, and we have to give account of what’s over this hill or that river, and be accurate, because whoever we tell might be going there.
But it’s a heavy bag of shit to sift through to even know what’s going on or what road you’re on. And it’s a life’s work to realize that none of it was shit at all.
And who am I to understand any of this? I am reading some Kerouac now, to get a taste for the autobiographical novel. I’m reading his book Big Sur. He says, ‘…as far as I can see the world is too old for us to talk about it with our new words.’ God that rings true to my paralysis. But the beauty of it is: I love that line because it feels true. Some things feel so heart-breakingly true that you underline them and jot them in your journal and wish you had the memory to store so many quotes forever. That’s what I want to write.
I apologize for the haggard organization of these thoughts. I’m in no place to be organized. I’m hoping that clarity will come while drinking black coffee in some brick-walled loft in Los Angeles early next year.