WOW: the Walden On Wheels project
Eleven pm, December 31st, 2018, found me curled up in my skivvies on a favorite leather couch, more comfy than a Huck buck-naked Finn in a coonskin cap. Two voicemails from bestie Alfredo beckoning me to join them- actually one from him and one from his sweet Brazilian girlfriend- finally pried me off the couch and down to a high rise condo on Hollywood beach, ten minutes before showtime. Before I knew it, we were all being whisked down to beachside, whereby strict Brazilian tradition we were instructed to walk into the water- jeans and all- and hop over the small waves while simultaneously making wishes for the new year. Staring out across the vast Atlantic, cheers and fireworks in the background, it seemed appropriate- even oddly celebratory- that the woman I had hoped to spend New Year’s Eve with was unwittingly not scripted anywhere into the scene.
A clean break, I told myself. It was- that moment- nothing short of revelatory, with wisps and whispers of what felt like the onset of a mushroom trip. The rest of the night, until four in the morning, we drank shitty red wine and danced and snacked, a handful of displaced Brazilians, my Nicaraguan buddy, and el gringo. Note to self: drink shitty red wine more often. And dance, muthafucka, dance!! From that wave-hopping moment of realization and on throughout the evening, I felt layers of oppression and hurt peeling off and composting into the stink and ethers of distant memory. It wasn’t until that last dance, though, when everyone else had exited the living room dance floor to go walk their dogs (no, that’s not a hot pants euphemism- just the daily reality of canine life in a Florida condo), I found myself staring politely though intensely into the too-drunk eyes of a young woman I had no intentions with but felt flattered in a sort of perverted fatherly way. What unfolded beautifully, poetically, though undoubtedly due in part to said shitty wine, was an uncharacteristically improvised repartee, circling each other like some avian courtship ritual, eyes for feathers and subsumed by an intense energy of expectancy like bone-dry kindling anticipating the spark. The tension held as one moment brought us lingeringly close enough to smell each others wine-soaked breath, but the song ended as innocently as it began and so, thankfully, did our impromptu and very much not-me-too courtship.
The experience of that entire evening and the overwhelming viscerally transcendent feeling of liberation stayed with me for the next few days, as if to say hey, bucko, this game ain’t over yet. (You know you’re getting old when you feel inclined to refer to yourself as bucko.) Yet I had no rational way to frame that experience for what it was- the real world foreshadowing of what was to come for me, no way of knowing that indeed my world would shift on its axis and send me barreling towards another new beginning at the transverse corner of the continent, some twenty-seven years after my first awakening in the Pacific Northwest. Twenty-seven years. Some folks fit a whole life into that amount of time, as perhaps have I sans bathtub overdose or shotgun blast (though we know well that time is neither linear nor quantifiable for content). Or perhaps I’ve simply lived a half-life, or a life half lived? In any case, to highlight the themes of renaissance and redress, I’d like to draw upon the iconic image of the deranged happy face of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, that moment when he axes his way through the door and declares “Wendy, I’m home.” ) Not to worry, Seattleites– red rum has no place in my plans. These days I’ve taken to shitty red wine, thank you very much.
Sparing us all the long version, the probiotic micro-account of this gut instinct transcontinental odyssey had me packing up my cargo van mid-February and heading to Chattanooga, TN, for a cumulative 2 months with some back and forth to Florida to prep my condo for rent, then on to New York for the last phase of a two year interfaith seminary program and ordination in the same magnificent sanctuary in which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his anti-Vietnam War address in April, 1967.
Initially intended as a second year seminarian challenge, a year of living in my van was long overdue and thus became my post ordination ecospiritual vow in modern day homage to Henry David Thoreau’s 2 year cabin stint at Walden Pond. Promptly making tracks for Salt Lake City, where an old high school buddy resided stealthily in his Mercedes Sprinter, I spent four months entrenched in #vanlife, learning the ropes of urban stealth living by trial and error, until a string of nights in the teens and twenties conspired to lure me further westward and northward, back to the haunt of my soul- the inimitable Pacific Northwest- which, in truth, had always been the plan.
I can’t possibly know what a pine cone feels upon finding itself wedged into the perfectly opportune position of sprouting a tap root down, nor the sense of asylum an intrepid ocean-going coconut discovers upon its high tide delivery to an indiscriminate beachy knoll, but there is at least one four letter word oft used to describe such a singular sensation, and it is- to parrot Nicholas- home. Despite its presumed singularity, however, I must confess I’ve felt this feeling once before- during my formative years in Costa Rica- which is precisely how I’m able to identify it now. And, while it is identifiable in oneself, it’s practically impossible to describe- except perhaps via metaphor (see pine cone/coconut references). Suffice it to say (for now) that one feels it at a cellular level, a core sense of knowing that this is the place.
Not that finding one’s geographic center solves every problem- or really any problem except the obvious WHERE question. In many ways, that’s where the real puzzle begins- how to reconstruct a life. I feel incredibly blessed to have landed cat paws down in the basement of my dear friends Neil and Lindy (whose marriage I officiated two years ago September, ironically just before beginning seminary school). And, yes, it’s true- the Walden On Wheels #vanlife portion of the project is on hiatus for the winter as I hunker down in my bear cave and turn my attentions inward to music and writing. It’s clear to me now- one thing Thoreau didn’t have to contend with was the effect of the cold on his four cherished pencils…er…guitars. But much more on that later, as the creative faucet has once more been jettisoned into life!! (Yet another way to know you’re in the right geographic zone: when all systems are go, including creative and- dare I say- procreative proclivities.)
First things first, however- paying bills- which brings me full circle to the title of this piece: Sea Church to Sky Church. I was incredibly grateful to find work within days of getting to Seattle, most of it thus far through a banquet services temp agency which has introduced me to any number of cool venues, including my favorite where I’ll be working tonight for their New Year’s Eve bash- MoPOP– the Museum of Pop Culture (used to be called the Experience Music Project back in the day). It’s a dreamy venue, housing many of Hendrix’s guitars, outfits and other memorabilia, as well displaying a comprehensive history of the nineties grunge music scene. But where I’ll be roaming in and out of tonight is primarily the heart of the event space, a room and stage area called Sky Church, inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s own concept of a place where people from all backgrounds and beliefs could come together through the power of music.
In that light, I find it fairly remarkable that last New Year’s eve I was standing knee deep in Florida ocean water, taken to church wet trousers and all. Turn the page, and one year later finds me at Sky Church, albeit working yet very much in the element of Spirit (and spirits), cheerfully being of service to those who might feel inclined to borrow a line from Jimi and veritably attempt to kiss the sky. For my part, I’ll just keep serving up the drinks with a smile and feeling slightly ahead of the game, as if the sky has already kissed me back.
Happy 2020 everyone!
May your journeys take you
from sea to sky
and everywhere between!