How have you been? Still in school? I’m a student of the road no longer, a student in the classroom once again. Not sure if I’ve settled in yet, it takes me a little longer than most. I’ve been living odd hours: sleeping in the evening, waking up when most other people are heading to bed, writing and working for those six hours, midnight to 6 in the morning. I spend this time trying to understand the alienation I’ve been feeling since starting back at school. Nothing doing. I’ll keep writing.
There is much that I like about this school I’ve started at, Prescott College. I like that it is focused on the environment, social justice, liberal arts, the outdoors, wilderness. But it may be that no school environment can give me the independence and leisure time that is necessary for me to live a creative life. Of course not. A creative life cannot be given, and neither can the intangibles that lead to such a life. I must find those things out on my own, find how to live creatively in all types of environments: in school, at work, while traveling.
But I’ve missed being outside, sleeping under the stars. Maybe the alienation comes from feeling disconnected from the land itself. I’ve forgotten what a fire of mesquite and juniper smells like, I can’t quite remember the joys of waking up before sunrise, silently packing up the sleeping bag, putting it in the rucksack, getting back on the trail. Not being woken up by an alarm or some chemical stimulant; rather, waking yourself up by your own physical movement, awakening to your strengths, becoming aware of your weaknesses, sharing yourself with yourself fully so you can share yourself with others in the same way. Hiking or walking or biking all day, or however long you want to, then having some time in the evening to sit in the stillness, listen to the owls and coyotes, cook your simple dinner on the fire. Turn to the west and watch the sun set, turn around and wait for the moon to come up. Sit for a while, between the two, the sun and moon, feel the wind come, feel the white butterfly land on your shoulder and then fly off again, smell the fragrance of the burning mesquite. Watch the fire die down, fall asleep.
I’m listening to melancholy piano music as I write this at three in the morning. It’s hard to find these times of solitude when taking classes, but I need them in order to write with any sort of clarity or purpose. When I haven’t been alone for awhile, and when I haven’t been out in the wilderness and on the trails either, I become less confident, less happy, more confused, more prone to isolating and reverting back to the old habits that never worked and never will work.
I’ve been thinking that there’s a good chance I’m drawn to you because the distance between us is so great. It’s the space between that integrates. You’ve probably figured it out. In simple words, I want what I can’t have, what is just out of my reach, a little too far away. I’ve thought some about why this is, but I can’t remember what conclusions I came to, if any. Let me try again. When you can be with someone, your longing for that person decreases, is reduced to reasonable proportions. When you can’t be with someone, and you are like me and have difficulty accepting the things you can’t change, then that longing remains and grows the longer you are apart from whomever you want to be near. That’s the way I feel.
In a way what I tend to do in idealizing relationships is as dangerous as codependency. Idealizing from afar allows you to keep your independence, but at the cost sometimes of preventing you from having actual relationships.
But that idealizing, that inability to accept what is, that’s why I write, I wouldn’t write if that wasn’t an integral part of me. I’ll always plummet down into the depths of discontent and sort through the debris like a dumpster diving drifter until I find something that’ll keep me going until the hunger returns again. That’s why I wake up when everyone else is going to sleep, why I sit here scribbling words down for a letter I’ll probably never send, why I’ll always be drawn to people like you who are on paths that parallel mine. And they say that even parallel lines intersect at some point, but it might be a long time before they do. We are on separate paths, but that doesn’t mean we are separate. I sit here alone and wonder what you are doing right now. I guess it’s almost tomorrow there, it’s barely today here. Morning has not yet broken, I’ve not yet broken my fast, the darkness outside is intact. The moon was full two nights ago, and I took a midnight hike by its light. I thought of you on it.
“What business have I in the woods,” Thoreau asks himself, “if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But I do not separate the woods from you, nor you from the woods. I walk through the woods on a trail here, in the desert sun on a cloudless day, the town below, a soaring red-tailed hawk above; you walk through the woods on a trail there, knee-deep in snow on a cloudy day, surrounded by mountains and lakes, the waves crashing on the beach somewhere far below you, an eagle soaring somewhere far above.
For a moment as I walk, I think I’ve come to some sort of satisfying answer to the complex questions of isolation, aloneness, solitude, alienation, and the differences between them. I am not isolated, not alienated. There are the woods and we both walk in them. The names are not important. I am walking on a trail in the Prescott National Forest, you are walking on a trail wherever you are.
I am here, you are there, and for a moment I do not want what is there. What is here is what is there.
But before I can go into that thought a bit further, a bit deeper, I find that the trail has looped around and I am standing next to my car. I get into the car and drive alone in silence back to town, stealing a glance in the rearview mirror at the woods I’m leaving behind.