Atlas, I am not.

Contains strong, self-absorbed language.
Unapologetic, rambling thoughts.
Inelegant stream of consciousness stuff.
You’ve been warned.

The past year and a half has been brutal.

Filled with suffocating sadness, heartbreak, and paralyzing confusion. Anger. Pain. Exhaustion. Isolation. Most days lived for others, to help them land somewhere on the spectrum of okayness.

Still, all that I have to give is never enough.

Indeed, I am no Atlas, and the strain of holding up the sky took a toll. A back injury. A sprained shoulder. A broken hand. Sleepless nights. Disturbed dreams. Lost thoughts. The goal: survive until tomorrow and tomorrow again.

For a spell, I wondered daily when the breakdown was going to come.

Not the kind where you bawl your eyes out in the shower and blame the redness on wayward shampoo. Nor the kind where you scream into a pillow so the neighbors don’t call the cops. Not even the kind where you eat a pint of whipped cream-covered Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and fall asleep watching Gilmore Girls for the 100th time, mumbling something about in omnia paratus” and jumping jacks.


I mean the kind where the last wrong person says the last wrong thing or asks the last bit too much of you — or worse, says absolutely nothing to you at all — and you lose your ever-loving shit because there is simply NO MORE ROOM in your soul for compassion or forgiveness. The kind where you abandon your refined ability to make excuses for the thoughtless, selfish, ugly behavior of others. The kind where heated contempt boils off the tears, you hurl Philippians 2:3 into a gaping abyss — gone forever, and good riddance — and stop giving a damn about anyone else, or what they need, or think, or feel, because why the fuck should you if they aren’t going to reciprocate in even the most perfunctory way?

But, it never happened.

And, here we are.

Things still aren’t normal.

We’re still facing unprecedented challenges.

Lies, disinformation, and disingenuous regurgitations of same mingle and swirl with the wildfire smoke, floodwaters, and oil slicks befouling the country.

And yet, I don’t feel quite like exploding anymore. Most days.

The Little Engine that Could

Vital lesson from the steam locomotive, tea kettle, and nuclear energy plant: one must have a pressure relief mechanism. A way to keep the system from going kablooey. I, as do most humans — being the wonderfully complex systems that we are — have several.

Tears, of course. The manufacturer default. Sometimes sufficient. Usually not. I dislike the resultant red, puffy eyes and face; blurry vision; runny nose; mussed makeup; headaches; and exhaustion. Highly ineffective. Counterproductive to feeling better. Messy. Perhaps so for others, but to me there is nothing good about “a good cry.” And yes, I know. I knooooow. “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!” Alas, like Evelyn, I have yet to find a way to disengage that mechanism.

Physical activity. Yoga. TV binges. All have their place, but my favorite way to blow off steam is — you guessed it — getting out and about in the world. I don’t need anything exotic or far. Just some tunes and a drive out of the city to wander a bit. To watch the sun set. To be surrounded by plants and critters and open skies. A drive across the desert to another city. New places to explore and people to learn about and from. To get down low and inspect a mushroom. To dip my toes in the ocean or a mountain stream. To wonder at the inky darkness bedazzled by stars. To take in a show, listen to a band play, or hang out at a local watering hole listening to the regulars sing karaoke. To watch a cloud of butterflies haphazardly tumble across a meadow. To breathe in peace. To breathe in peace.

Anyone who knows me well knows I overthink things. I care too much about others’ impressions, words, opinions. So, when an acquaintance snidely commented recently “What a luxury it must be able to run away from life so often,” it stuck, and stung, and I’ve been mulling it over. A lot. Too much, really.

A sample of what it is like in my head:

We’re they right? Am I running away? Am I wasting my life?

And if I am, how do I stop? Do I need to stop?

Who is it harming? What should I be doing with that time instead?

It may be a privilege to be able to spend time out and about, but why should I feel guilty about that? So tired of people using “privilege” arguments to guilt their compatriots. Spending time and money — earned by developing specific skills and working really hard using them — on things they enjoy… I mean, isn’t that the point?

Should I be looking for a way to monetize my “down time” too? Then I could call it a job and justify it.

“Sell your photos.” I don’t know how to do that. Not sure they are even good enough to sell. Maybe as stock photos? Research that and Etsy. Start that shop. Use time more wisely. Take photos. Process them. Market them. Make stuff. Photograph it. Market it. Sell it. Package it. Ship it. Work. Shop. Clean. Cook. Do laundry. Write. Make stuff. Exercise. Take photos. Sell stuff. Help with homework. Be social. Sleep. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

I should read more. One book every few weeks isn’t enough.

The photos are just my memories. But memories of what? Running away from life?

Seriously?! Don’t you remember? They are postcards to yourself. They tell a story. They go along with the doodles and notes you scrawl in your travel journal. Memories, all, frozen in time. Reminders of places, people, lessons learned… namely: the world is a pretty spectacular place.

Anyway, why the hell does it matter? I don’t have to justify my life to anyone but me and maybe St. Peter, if I get lucky.

I need a taco.

And so on.

Maybe — as so many things are — it is simply a matter of perspective and sufficient quantities of tacos.

From here, right now, this is how I see it: I am not running from life. I am living it. Preserving it. Filling it. Extending it. Experiencing the world, and worlds within worlds. Which brings me comfort for a spell. Which teaches me new things and expands my horizons, both proverbial and literal. Which affords me the grace and renewed energy to deal with the hard things, the difficult people, to cope with the ugliness, to be kind to others even when they choose not to reciprocate, to do the things I need to do, and to just keep on keepin’ on. “I think I can…”

Lived experience. Scientifically proven.

When I travel to the wilderness of Death Valley or Joshua Tree; up to the rocky cliffs and woodsy lakes of the Mogollon Rim; or just take a quick drive out to the Superstitions, Salt River, or local riparian preserve for an evening jaunt… well, it’s like America said “In the desert you can remember your name, ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.” The stress of the daily grind melts away, and I can focus on matters of consequence, or not, as I choose.

When I travel to a town where people don’t think, dress, or experience life in the way I do, it connects me with humanity in new ways, and I LOVE it! It helps to “de-other” them. It gives them names and faces. It makes them real. It gives me context and perspective I would not otherwise have. It helps me understand why others believe what they believe, why they are who they are, and every rare now-and-again, it overhauls my thinking on a thing or two. Ethnography, lived.

Of this I am certain: we all share the same needs to be loved; to have a home, family, friends, community; to be part of something greater than ourselves we just have different approaches to fulfill them. A bit more compassion, and a lot less animosity in this world would go a hell of a long way.

Personal experience notwithstanding, there are oodles of studies demonstrating exposure to nature improves our emotional states, and contributes to physical wellbeing by reducing our heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone production, and muscle tension. Travel to new places creates new synapses in the brain, which — among other things — makes us more accepting and adaptable.

Context and perspective. That is why even my tiniest adventures are therapeutic and enriching and help me cope with what life throws my way. “Do more than just exist,” isn’t just a quaint phrase inscribed on a bracelet I wear, it’s how I try to live my life.

Go. Do. See. Learn. Grow.

Or something like that…

Greenlights. Post script. 10.23.21

I finished reading Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey last night, well after scrawling everything above. It will be one of the books I keep to revisit as needed. It’s been a some time since I read a book that so thoroughly resonated with me. Not the individual events or stories, but the lessons, the voice, the spirit of the thing.

At the end of the final chapter, McConaughey writes this:

We all have scars, we gonna have more. Rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it. ‘Cause we don’t live longer when we try not to die. We live longer when we are too busy living.

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

We live longer when we are too busy living.

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