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Who Holds You?
An Ordinary Disaster — chapter 26 — Who Holds You?
Before I knew anything else about myself, leaving was the only thing that felt like me, and escape seemed like the only thing that mattered. Naturally I wanted to escape the house to get away from my parents’ control, but also to get away from the disruption and chaos swirling there around my sister. I also wanted to escape San Francisco; as proud as I was to be a native son of the City, and as attached as I was and still am to its unique and compelling geography—in those early years, even just crossing a bridge to Marin or the East Bay was a minor treason, and any mention of the arch-enemy of “LA,” which might as well have been most of the rest of the state of California, was out of the question. I was also stricken, and sickened, frightened, and exhausted by the plague of alcohol, drug, and violence-related injuries and deaths of my peers. I viewed San Francisco through a lens of love and death, a forever home shrouded in darkness that I constantly and feverishly worked to separate myself from.
Amongst those of us that did survive, there are many of my friends that purposefully left so as to distance themselves from this same dark past. I left in many ways, and many, many, many times, and yet now find myself here after all, happier than ever to be part of what is now a lifelong community—family, really—that began going back to elementary school—and still, I dream of leaving.
As I’ve said elsewhere, if nothing else, we get good at what we do, and I got damn good at leaving—so good that it became part of who I was—a core aspect of my personality and of how I was known to others. I was always leaving, and returning, and leaving again, touching down for a few days and then winging off somewhere else, and I reveled in what felt like the freedom of it, as well as the delight of finding my way around the world.
I’d return home for a while and then soon enough I’d find myself yearning or ready to leave, and then, before I knew it, in a familiar-smelling cab on the short run down 101 to SFO, threading my way through the airport maze, and then settled in my seat for takeoff, excited at the prospect of, if nothing else, collecting another minor chapter in my never-ending saga of points visited around the globe. I’m fond of saying that “I’ve been most places,” and it has made for some good material, but the fact is that almost always, once I did get away, soon enough I’d end up lonely, confused, and low again, wishing for a woman and a home—anywhere but here. I could not come to terms with the idea that one place, especially not the place where I’d already spent so much time by way of having grown up here—San Francisco—could possibly be the home that I needed.
In leaving home, I was searching for home, and yet unable—or unready—to see anywhere as home.
In early June of 2019 I packed up my apartment, put my things in storage, and drove east, headed for the Sierra Nevada. I have a photo from my parents that shows me lying in the pine duff of Tuolumne Meadows as an infant, perfectly happy and already accustomed at the age of three months to the ethereal alpine atmosphere at nine thousand feet above sea level. Those mountains run so deep in my blood that I have memories of those places even from before I could form memories, and so it’s often no more than to the mountains that I need as a destination when I go. As in fact yet again today, as I write these very words.
Over the course of the last several years and even more-so over the few months prior, I’d left everything from my past behind—my business, the most peaceful and loving home—and relationship—that I’d yet been blessed with, and—more than a year ago already—my lifelong love affair with drink. I was leaving again, but this time was different. I still felt the sense of inevitability, the pull of the road, an echo of my addiction to leaving that makes it perhaps too easy to leave, but now I know that I don’t need to leave, and I’m more comfortable than ever with the idea of making my home here, or somewhere. Much as with alcohol, I changed my relationship with leaving. I am still attached, but no longer addicted.
I made quick tracks across the flat, smogbound, overheated gap of California’s central valley, turned south for Fresno, and then east into the foothills. There, I spent several nights amongst the domes and valleys of a place called Tollhouse, where I joined several fellow pilots to fly our gliders high into the faultless azure sky, craning our necks over our shoulders eastwards toward the snowy peaks of the southern high Sierra. From there I drove north, around the west side of Lake Tahoe past Emerald Bay, north through Susanville, and then west through miles of plantation forest—still beautiful in its scale—to Mount Lassen and the Hat Creek Valley.
My van is smaller than most of the larger ones you might see out on the road, and I like it that way. It’s a fine little land yacht with a lovely custom bamboo bed frame, a solar-powered fridge and a little table that folds out when I need it. Traveling in the van is as simple as: find a meadow and park along the edge, cook some beans, crawl in the rack and sink into sleep, already dreaming of morning coffee. I often sleep better in that little can than at home in my own fine bed, and the freedom—the freedom!—to turn the key and roll on with the road and the wind—often, that is exactly what my body needs.
Movement is part of who I am. I need to move my body, and I need to be free to explore, to roam, to wander—and to find my way. Although we don’t often think of journeymaking as a skill, it feels to me that it’s one of our oldest trades, and a craft that I’m proud to be an expert in. Even though some of my own travel may have been needless and even addictive escape, it’s also true that I’m always ready for adventure, and more capable than most of cooking one up.
More importantly, all that leaving has offered me a certain kind of cleansing, and release. The practices of making ready with clothing and equipment so as to be just ready enough, while also knowing that there may well be something left behind, and also that that something is immaterial—and of the leaving the always larger set of belongings and physical shelter and comfort and static safety of home for the fluid and mobile and much more self contained, much smaller home that is carried with oneself while traveling—train us to have our affairs in order, know what is needed, let go, make do with less, intentionally move into the unknown, and, most of all, offer oneself shelter from within—and these meditations all derive naturally from movement and travel.
Continuing north from Lassen and Shasta, I joined a paragliding competition in the Applegate Valley, in southern Oregon, and then wound my way through the mountains north of there, stopping every day to run in the woods, swim in a creek and then soak up the sun. The Rouge, the Umpqua, the Willamette, the Colombia, and the vast meadows of the Malheur all passed before me and beneath my wheels as I rolled onwards.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself at a place called Priest Hole, a sage and gravel bend in the John Day River in eastern Oregon, on my way to Colorado. The glow of the sunset had faded over the scrub oak and the many-colored mesas and the silent, oily slide of the river, and I was at my little table, listening to the evening birds and writing in my journal.
I was writing the beginnings of what would become this book.
Sitting there inside my little rolling home—so tiny that I can’t even stand up inside—a message came to mind that I’d gotten a few days prior from a woman that I had once been engaged to.
“…isn’t it hard in moments without alcohol?” she wrote. “Who holds you?”
Of course, at one time it had been her that held me, but what became clear right there and then was that in the entire month since I’d left, on the road alone and with no permanent address, not once had the thought of home crossed my mind. I’d passed through—and beyond—my place of often-desperate and always-seeking need—and my answer to her question was, “I hold myself now.”
Now is the time
This is part of my book-length memoir AN ORDINARY DISASTER, one man's proof that despite what may seem like our inability to hear it, and all of our attempts to avoid it, we can all learn to listen to ourselves, and to act upon the inner voice of our self, our sanity and our soul.
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I’ve got some questions for you
What’s your own relationship with leaving — and with home?
What do you feel is the value of travel, and is getting good at it something that has real value?
Who holds you?
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