I owe the world an apology. OK, maybe an apology is the wrong thing. I owe it to the world, and to you, to be real.
Though I wrote a blog for part of my trip, I must admit I was really hesitant to do it. Yes, I wanted my friends and family to not be burdened with worry about me. On a selfish level, writing helped me feel connected with my community back home. But their was another part of me that was uncomfortable with “showboating” my adventures. Sharing is one thing. Entertainment is even better. On the other hand, I am aware how the “hey, look how great my life is” message that is pervasive in our world can create pain, loneliness and even sadness for those that receive that message. A while back I worked on a contract at Facebook and while there I found out that they have actually done studies that demonstrate how browsing other’s lives makes people depressed. Granted, this is not in all cases. Often it is great to hear from an old friend. But, in general, people tend to only show the great things in their lives when on a public forum like Facebook. If you are having a rough day, that can feel like a punch to the gut. Even the things that people claim ‘make them happy to see’, often slowly erode their sense of happiness, sense of presence, sense of community and adequacy.
But…I did it. I wrote a blog. I even got sucked into showboating on Facebook. Initially, I intended to use Facebook more to convey messages and communicate. For example, I did this often when I needed help. Many of you stepped up in a wondrous collaborative effort to help me when my bike’s rear tire started to fall apart and ultimately exploded in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who missed it, after posting my plight on Facebook, Andrew (in Mountain View), Jeong (Palo Alto), Steve (in San Francisco), Michelle (in Boston) and many others started a cross city and cross country collaboration effort to devise technical solutions. Joe (while at work in his office in CA) started searching for bike shops in Argentina. Kelly (in Sausalito) started posting messages asking for help on Facebook to her bike tour operating friends traveling in Argentina. Many others pitched in, so many I have lost count. It was like I was a NASA astronaut and I was calling Houston for help. Incredible.
But, added to that, I too got sucked into the “look at me” seduction of Facebook. Over time I just started posting more and more pictures. That seems innocuous enough. You might of thought that was great to see, but to be honest with myself, I am sure I was posting subconsciously out of loneliness. Looking back, I am sure I too was looking for that little “hit”, that little rise you get from a ‘Like’ or a comment to a post. It’s a hollow high…but a high nonetheless. And on some level, there is a dishonestly I that was conveying to both to my community and myself.
So here is my truth. Well, it is one of many, but lets stick with one today. In one of my last posts from my trip,( “Why this trip”), I made a joke about the starting point of my trip not having its genesis with some dramatic painful moment. I flippantly made fun of the book Eat Pray Love in which the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, describes crying on the bathroom floor as her life is falling apart and how that was the motivation to start her trip. (I might be confusing this with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild but you get the idea)
My words might have implied that my life was fine, that pain and loneliness is only for the weak, and that this adventure was a simple thing born only out of curiosity. That isn’t a fair or entirely true. Yes, did not begin with the deep level of drama implied in Gilberts‘s book, but a trip like this does not come out of a life of contentment. As those who know me can attest that I certainly have more than my share of “being lost” and frustrations with life. At times, I can carry a deep loneliness and a sometimes painful existential search for meaning in life.
As far as the “falling apart on the bathroom floor” moment, I apparently am having a backwards journey as compared to Ms Gilbert’s. I am here to tell you that today, this very morning, that moment arrived and hit me like a locomotive. Subconsciously, I think I knew it was building up but this morning it arrived on my doorstep. WAMMO! Fear, anxiety, deep deep loneliness, all of it, and all at once. I became one big messy pile of emotions and helplessness. A grown man, sitting alone by his tent, in tears.
I am Bend, Oregon. I have been camping a bit, checking out the town and trying to enjoy the peace of the outdoors. I am not sure why I am here. I guess, I just felt I can’t make it in a big bustling city, that I just can’t hear myself think or listen to my heart there, and that ultimately I can’t make it in the big responsible corporate world. So…I am exploring other places to live life. I am about to rent a little place here for a month, just to try things out. That is terrifying for me. Loneliness can be a terrifying thing. It is painful that my friends and community are in San Francisco and other corners of the country. It is horrible to feel like you are starting over…or need to somehow. Hell, who knows what I will figure out for a living down the road? Or if I don’t like it here…where will I go next? Where do I belong? Where is home? Will I ever find a place that I feel I belong, where I can rest and find peace? Maybe I should keep traveling? It makes me happy, but would that just be running away? How do you build community if you travel? What should I do? Who can I get advice on life from? Why am I doing this to myself? Why can’t I be a normal person?
So…I just sat. And I cried.
This is a semi public forum, so I will spare you all the personal details of my life but you get the picture. To name some of the emotions that overwhelmed me this morning during my proverbial train wreck on a bathroom floor, there was: Loneliness…not just now, but looking back at my lonely decade living the Bay Area. Sadness over failed relationships, not being married, not being a dad. Sadness over an empty (and now pretty much failed) career and fear for my future.
And then there is the sadness about the closing of my trip. I carry a deep sadness of missing the friends I made on my journey. Some of whom I feel astoundingly attached to though, in all honesty, I may have only known for a few days or a few weeks. I am terrified that they will just fade into the woodwork and become ghosts in my memories of my past life. It pains me to think that I may never see them again and that our growing friendship might have stopped at the very moment we turned our bikes in different directions and pedaled off on the dirt.
So why am I writing this? I am not attempting to say my life is worse or harder than anyone else. I know that in many many ways I am blessed. I just want share a bit of humanity and hopefully purge the remaining threads of “showboating” from this blog. I well know many have much bigger things on their plate. I just feel that for our own happiness, the world needs to be more real and honest with itself. In that light, I need to step up and be more real and honest with my world about my trip.
Since coming back to the states, my conversations with friends have been dramatically different. I don’t know if it is my trip or my current life flux, but all kinds of people from my current and past lives have emerged talking about their lives in very different ways. There is a deeper willingness to be honest and vulnerable. Many friends have shared their pain around feeling a lack of community in their lives. One friend had a dear friend and mentor pass away. Jobs are stressful, money even more so. Worries abound about living situations in the expensive bay area, retirement, and children’s futures. Of course, the current political climate just heightens all of this.
But in my community there are also deep joys. In one friend’s home, a new baby is here. In another home, a baby is on the way. There are newly weds. And there are the simple joys of hugs from friends that I haven’t seen since leaving the states.
So there you have it. Life is an amazing challenge. It is both a joyous and difficult roller coaster. We can’t do it alone and we can’t do it without the courage to be honest and vulnerable with each other. So, today I am attempting to do my little part. I hope this makes the story of my adventure more real. And I hope it can be a source of joy, perspective and support in your own journey.
We are in this together. Don’t forget that.
P.S. Will be a back in the Bay Area for a bit this in early June. Beers are on me.