Foriegn adventure

I wake in the morning and feel my body and my world around me now, it’s a foreign country. I will get up from bed and walk down the hall—it’s my familiar house but my body doesn’t work like it used to. I move forward at the same vector and thrust around a corner to find my steadiness can’t keep up with the usual pace.

I veer off balance woozy and weak again tilting toward a wall

Oh right. Instruments hit the red sooner than expected.

I set feet, spread balance evenly between the left and right, drop my knees and get my balance.  

New territory takes fresh response.  And a keen awareness that the ground is still shifting.

I flash back. I’ve walked this forest before.

Landed in the far east, a foreigner in a landlocked city walking the streets to find what I needed. Food and friends, not in that order. Every corner, every conversation was a surprise and possibly a dangerous one.

I loved it.

I was 19 and adventure of any kind was what I wanted. I explored those streets without ceasing, to see what could be discovered.

I wanted to know the edges and go beyond them.

This body I’m living in today is very similar.

What can I do? Yes, I can’t go as fast as I used to. But what if I try it this way? What if I start slow then pick up speed? Will my own momentum carry me better in a straight line?

It’s not so different from the forests on the edge of town in Russia. Sure, it’s dangerous kinda. Maybe. But the game is to see what is possible.

The beat went over the mountain to see what he could see.

I am going to see what my current horizon shows me, and them peek over it.

That’s always been my way.

Simply the best

I’ve always been very hard on myself. Ambition and drive are—were?—my constant companions.

The phrase “do your best” made no sense to my younger self. There was always something more that could be done. Always a way to do it better, do it harder.

Of course I haven’t done my best. I’m not dead. There is more that I could do if there is air in my lungs.

I did come to a gentler understanding of completion in the last several years by comparing myself to the efforts of others.

Doing my best still allows me to have enough to spare to make to another day.

And now I’m at another level of understanding my limits. My best today is not what is was a year ago. Nor what it was a month ago.

Sometimes I look for inspirational quotes of speeches to lift my spirits as I’m walking through this valley of affliction. Things that used to energize me now seem to have nothing to do with my life.

My life itself seems unrecognizable. I’m in an alternate universe to be sure.

What is constant?

My capacity is less than it has been. But I can still do one small thing. I can do the hard thing that used to be easy. But it’s hard now, and it can fulfil my drive and ambition still.

That’s constant. And it will be cumulative. That’s the treasure I can amass, the accomplishment that seems like losing ground.

But I will have faith and see where I end up a year from today.

I’ll take it.


I’m hearing some people say that thoughts unspoken and not really thought. Writing it out is certainly better than getting my thought circulatory system clogged up with unthought ideas…Or maybe I could say undigested thoughts.

I imagine getting backed up with thoughts or half-grown concepts and ideas begging for a chance to grow. Or dying like grass and cluttering my brain with underbrush that I’ve not cleared away.

I do have a set of wonderful smart people with whom I can conversate. I love having long talks to think through what is going on in my mind, my life and the world. But the way things are in my life mostly I write things.

My world is small. I go very few places and see very few people. I would rather go more places and have adventures

However, my body is weak. My mind is weak too. My edge is dull and so is my life. I’m still thinking things. Often in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.

There is a weird tangle of briar thoughts that I can’t quite deal with. They can’t quite finish growing and I can’t quite find the time to finish the incomplete half thoughts I am thinking.

I had been accustomed to my body working a certain way, and even more so my brain. This medical treatment—targeted poison—has left me in a surreal twilight.

Just wait. This will pass. Like the water crashing on the beach, leaving the sand rippling and smooth.

I do well not to focus on the crash, and to keep looking for the smooth ripple that will come.

War Story

It’s no secret I live through books. I just finished The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien.  I didn’t know it was a classic, part of the canon.

I can see why. O’Brien published it in 1990 and it fits perfectly into a high school English teacher’s set of assigned books. A book about the Vietnam war—a true history!—and a book about stories. Just what an Englisher needs.

Me too.

Every morning I wake up and find a story. Well, I wake up and shake off all the stories I was fighting in the middle of every night.  My war is my wakeful mind past midnight.

The dark of night is not to be trusted.

The war and it’s stories are Tim’s subject. He’s ground it up to understand the bits:

“Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

His stories are for his fellow soldiers. I am not sure my dark war has an audience.  It’s not so important. For me I have to choose my story when the sun rises.

It rises every day and I can rise to choose the one that serves me best. Tim says it here too:

“But this too is true: stories can save us.”

I greet the morning sun. It always comes. With it comes the reminder that I can choose the the story that serves me best.

It’s a choice. In a world of so many possibilities, I look for the one that can raise my spirits. I can choose it, and in the choosing it is closer to the truth.

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.”

I can choose for tomorrow to be a better day. I can call it forth by telling anyone who asks.  Sometimes the hope that tomorrow is a better day is worth as much as an actual better day. Is that enough of an illusion for it to come alive?

That hope, the dream that others might dream along with is inviting a good spirit to live in my head. Not one that I have to fight. It’s one that can lift me up.

“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”

I am a writer. I believe in stories. They have sustained me, and I hear what he’s saying. The truth of a story, whether it’s in writing or in the spirit of my head, is the victory prize of the war I fight. It’s the root of the faith and hope that sustains my in the battle, and the love that conquers all when I pull the light of the morning into my soul.

I am never alone. The story I choose chooses me back.

Surprise Hurricane

I’ve seen the videos of hurricanes, with the wind and the rain. This weekend one came to me: hurricane Hilary. Around here on the west coast, I’m used to earthquakes and traffic jams. But a HURRICANE? That’s for other people, other places.

Not anymore.

I had to prepare for it. We took stock of the ground around us. I picked up the loose things that the wind might pick up. The things that would be hurt by the rain I took inside.

In my award-winning essay Alaskan Road Rules, I talk about my upbringing and how the streets I come from are gravel and often covered it snow. That’s my context.

Snow and cold sometimes meant it was hard to leave the house. But it was hard to drive in snow at any time, so I just had to be ready.

One of the things about California civilization that took a LOOOOOONG time to get used to was the abundance of food and supplies at every turn. There are people ready to sell me food and all kinds of things

Around here people fell they can drive out in perfect confidence regarding where they are going to get their food. It’s more a matter of what kind of food they are in the mood for.

Planning and thinking ahead get skipped over.

This Saturday, I watched videos of cars in fast food drive throughs with rain water flowing half as high as the tires. This is what people left home for. Cheap fast food.

Other videos showed water rushing like a river through the streets. In the desert they call it a flash flood.  Disaster appears in a deadly flash. One moment, things are as they’ve always been, and suddenly everything is in danger.

I have to be ready to respond quickly when the danger first appears. Civilization is a very thin veneer on the wildness of nature. Complacency has a cost.