the radical year

I find myself tonight back in Indiana, at the edge of a stream, which the brochure of the RV park tells me is the middle branch of some river. I am sitting on the bank, at a point where the flow leaves a stretch of gentle rapids and becomes calm a while–about 50 ft–before exiting over rapids once more. And as the sun goes down against the gentle trickle, on this eve of my homecoming, I am reflecting on the events of the past year.

A year ago this month, I was beginning to sell off and give away the greater part of my possessions. I was training two people at work to take over the position I had held for two years. I was preparing to see off my partner of three and a half years, whom I still loved, for an indefinite absence. And I was planning to relocate to Austin, TX, by bicycle.

In another month, my partnership dissolved. My travel plans changed, then changed and changed again. And I found myself treading water, living in my mother’s spare bedroom, looking for direction. In my journal, I find this entry, undated:

1) Where am I going?
2) Why am I going?
-For the experience.
-For piece of mind.
-To break free from daily domestic patterns.
-To learn a little more about what exactly is important in life.
-To look for peace and happiness and do my best to express it, and bring it back to my friends and loved ones.

I’m amazed at how spot on this list of travel aspirations remains, now with two journeys behind me. I won’t claim to have found or accomplished these points, but they are still my aim. It is a practice of hints followed by guesses. Perhaps a spiritual practice. And as such, the goal is never where you left it. An answer to question one is, and remains, conspicuously absent.

So I wound up riding to Washington DC, which wasn’t too terribly far (1400 miles, all told) and where I had kind and caring family to receive me. It was the first time I’d been away from home for more than two weeks, ever. For a time, I thought I might live out there, but after a month spent largely in strolling the city streets and prowling the museums, I decided not to. In November I caught a train back home and wound up back in my mother’s spare bedroom, treading water and looking for direction again. But looking for employment first.

And so began the winter of my discontent. In December I got a job at Walmart. In February, I got on as a substitute teacher. At first I worked a lot, doing both jobs. Then I started fazing Walmart out. All the while, I had all of the comforts of home, but felt more or less homeless, living in my mother’s spare bedroom.

This was not my mother’s fault. She was never anything but obliging and understanding. I was free to do as I wished with my room and I often had the shared living space at my sole disposal. But in getting rid of my things, I had embarked on a project that was put on hold all the while that I was under her roof. I was supposed to start over, to reevaluate my needs and refashion my surroundings accordingly. Instead, my stuff was replaced with her stuff, and I went from three years of having a home that was very much my own–that I painted, mowed, maintained, molded, and built a life with a partner in–to helping with the chores and defaulting to a low profile in hers.

Worse still, mom lives a fair piece north of town with only two, not-very-bike-friendly roads to choose a path in from, and I used this as an excuse to retreat from my deliberate travel habits. Borrowed cars were almost my exclusive means of transportation until about a month before I left on this trip.

Now, the hard part, with no way around it but to ignore it, politely brush by it, or face the thing head on. To do either of the first two would be dishonest, cowardly, insulting or worse, so here goes: Into this shambles of an idealist’s ego and ruined world walked Kelsey; or, maybe criminally, I ran from the shambles to her.

I don’t know how to explain or justify my actions without sounding like an even bigger fool (and yes, I wrote it then deleted it), so I’ll just say that Kelsey is a woman of the highest order: a former Trinity dancer, an artist who spent time practicing and thinking about art at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, and a geologist who genuinely loves geology and is well on her way to a great career in that field. In short, she’s an independent thinker with the energy and the will to back it up. And she’s caring, patient, and considerate to boot. She deserved a whole lot more than the whimpering mess of a manchild she got in our relationship, and I’m sorry for subjecting her to him.

Ah, but these were just the trappings by which I lived as I plotted and planned and waited for the thaw, for the springtime, biketime, D Rex rebirth! And that’s what makes the Kelsey part the hard part. All the rest of it I did to myself, and in retrospect I can chalk my failing to overcome whatever circumstances were holding me back that winter up to a sort of self-flagellation or contrition: masochistic perhaps, but arguably preporatory and purifying. Kelsey was caught in the crossfire. Maybe she didn’t mind, but I probably shouldn’t have taken the risk.

Of course, the winter wasn’t one long, sustained horror. And when I was in a better humor, my time with Kelsey shined among the diamonds in that rough. Also shining significantly were: time spent with friends and family; many successful days of substitute teaching, and even some less successful ones; my firming up of plans to return to school and to work for Jumpstart again; my GRE score…

On the note of those last three, going into this next year: I feel confident in my desire and ability to be an educator, and I am wholeheartedly pleased to be working for Jumpstart again. But I have some misgivings about graduate school and the hoops that must be jumped through in order to acquire a teaching certificate. First, I have never taken an Education class before, and I have not heard a lot of positive things about Education schools and their curriculum. Second, I have already felt like a capable teacher under many circumstances because I have already exposed myself to the profession, meanwhile a lot of the courses required for certification seem to be designed as a gradual introduction, pushing new educators deeper into the pool of classroom management through field work. I worry that this may be redundant in my case. Finally, I had intended to leave Columbia for grad school, but the opportunity to work for Jumpstart again and the assistanceship that came with it was too much to resist. But, even though everyone says it doesn’t matter where you get an Education degree (another strike against Schools of Education?), I can’t help but feel that I didn’t really apply myself in the application process. I did very well on my GRE and I don’t really know what other doors might be open to me.

But I digress. Those rapids will come soon enough. Let’s dwell in this calm awhile longer.

Where was I? Well, I guess I was just about to the point where I left on this trip. The one that ends tomorrow. It was a Saturday, sunny. I had a very pleasant ride on the Katy and found a carnival waiting for me at the Hermann Municipal Campground… (I didn’t run away to join this)

I did get to sleep that night. Pretty easily. And I slept well. Tomorrow night I’ll probably be sleeping on mom’s couch, or in the guest bed if it’s convenient. Wednesday, I’ll move the bed my sister snagged for me (thanks Jennifer!) to my new apartment. It’s the upstairs of a house on the northern fringe of the Benton-Stephens neighborhood. There’s a preschool playground outside my bedroom window and the guy beneath me keeps a garden of Banzai trees. There’s a place for the cats’ litter box in the entryway at the bottom of the stairs, so I don’t have to worry about litter trails and odors dominating the place. It’s not very big: just a bedroom, a living space, a tiny bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. I think I’m going to teach myself to make bread there. I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, yes Dre, I did stack them rocks in the post from York Harbor. It’s become something of a habit for me since. I stacked these at sundown, the night before I left York Harbor. By far my most elaborate assemblage, and I think my prettiest. I spent a long time picking the rocks out on the beach–I had two sets of visitors come and converse and leave while I worked at it! I set them up on a drainage outlet, a big hunk of cement, where I knew the waves would get them when the tide rose in a couple of hours. But I got pictures with a buoy and a lighthouse shinin’ behind ’em first.

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2 Responses to “the radical year”

  1. Erin Says:

    That’s a mighty fine cairn you built there. I wonder if others did their duty to add a rock or if it washed away…

  2. Kady Says:

    Hey, great list you made at the beginning of this blog. Sorry, I am still catching up on the reading of your wanderings/wonderings. Very inspiring how you question your stance and motives in life. I think we all do that.

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