WOW: the Walden On Wheels project
The sun is relentless of its own accord and needs no cause to vilify or persecute. In a matter of minutes, it will drain you of perspective and terrorize even your deepest ambition. Daily ambulations will most entirely be dictated by a profound Darwinian desire to not be baked alive, sliced down the middle and stuffed to completion with sour cream. I know this simply by default, not because it’s been on my mind the last six weeks of van life in Salt Lake City (June 15- July 31) but precisely because it has not. And today I have the complicity of cloud cover and the deliciousness of sweet rain to allow me time for reflection and feet-up-on-the-dash pontification. It would seem I have lived half the summer on autopilot, toiling like an urban cockroach, hollow steel shell of cargo van for exoskeleton. I dare say I’ve been incomprehensibly content in my own slavish inclinations, occupied fully with the sheer endeavor of surrender to survival. The sun, the sun- it has become my master, my persecutor, Delilah to my Samson- stripping me of all but the most flaccid agency, leaving me a Hare-Krishna-like tuft of hair simply to prove it was not entirely an evil enterprise and gifting me the occasional erection of humanitarian repose to ratify my still beating and inconclusive heart.
Shame is not the half of it; it consumes some of my best moments. It pushes me to constantly redefine my edges, reminding myself of my purpose in this endeavor to examine my default settings. Even as I brush teeth or have a shave at elbows to the next guy at Planet Fitness, I feel the sting of repugnance. They stare into the mirror adjusting baseball cap and earbuds in pre-workout primp mode, and I imagine their thoughts- as if they bothered to have any at all and certainly none regarding a random dude with a toothbrush occupying valuable mirrored real estate with his ugly mug. But self-important and narcissistic as I may be- or simply undeniably ashamed- I invent the story they must be thinking, some judgement crossing synapses in that part of the brain reserved for asshole permutations. After all, I can feel their discomfort; it’s almost palpable. Then I remind myself that I can’t possibly know their feelings and that it should be above and beyond my non-existent pay grade to give a rat’s ass. After all, maybe they should have just laid off the double bacon, egg and cheese biscuit on their way to the gym? Palpable discomfort in others isn’t always my fault. Something worth remembering, I chastise myself wryly, and argue back that while I recognize the intellectual ideal of one of the Four Agreements– to not take it personally- it’s my current sensitivity to being perceived as “homeless” that wins this particular hand. Tomorrow’s another day.
Clarity is hardly what it looks like; not a thing that generally comes in prescription pill bottles or idiot-proof single serving wrappers like the Kraft sliced cheese of youth. Nor is clarity ever sullied beyond recognition but hangs unconvincingly in what Parker Palmer called the tragic gap, eyes ablink in the feeble veracity that something indeed was known and perhaps still is known though the inability to articulate it even to oneself makes it seem less so. In a relative universe, truths tend to be wired to slider switches not on/off toggles and cultural reference points traffic in fifty shades of pandering to the most basic animal currency. The detritus of not knowing overflows and runs amuck just beyond the simpleton dyslexia of our two left feet. In the best of times, truth is a squashed-bug windshield headed west at eighty miles an hour with the late afternoon sun blazing light like lemon juice into our squinted eyes. (Thanks to the band Tool’s tune “The Pot” for the lemon juice reference.)
Life flies at you in bullet points and ballpoints, bull’s eyes and brazen bollocks. There’s always a target, it’s just invisible in most cases, unknown and unsupposed. But suppose we knew? Suppose we supped from the very bread plate of a healthy existential doubt and swallowed hard against the dubious derision of prohibitionists? Suppose we actually drank the Kool-aid for fucking once?
It’s not a straight line. With me, it never has been. And after fifty years of doing the do, the safe assumption is that it never will be. There are moments, hours, days and whole weeks when my name is more befittingly Gilligan, the Skipper is off having a snooze is some palm tree shaded hammock, the Professor is clandestinely shagging Missus Howl, and The Minnow is all but lost. And yet it’s not. Why? Because morning, that’s why. Maybe it’s the narcolepsy and maybe it’s just my early bird 5 a.m. hard-wiring and dad’s whistlin’ Dixie disposition, but I’ve always possessed the knowledge that when, not if I’m shipwrecked, I can simply go to sleep- pull the proverbial wool over my own eyes- and en la mañana the table will be reset good as new or at least present with a ray of hope and a freshly squeezed glass of possibility awaiting me. That and a dark roast cup of joe and my surya namaskar is complete and come full circle, to begin another day of divining out shade and seeking shelter in the abandoned parking lots of life’s crooked corners.