As I age like a fine wine (or maybe whiskey?) there are only a few epiphanies I’ve come across which stand out as being truly relative all the time, and only one which I personally cycle back too regularly as an allegory for life: The Road.
The Road was a vision, an allegory, an analogy, for life. When engaged in a vision quest, as I was when I came across this scene, it turns out that my psyche is something of wild-western-style-mountains. Too much time trekking around the Sierra Nevada’s, I suspect. The visage was that of wide dirt roads with veering paths into the woods, very slightly tropical plants, big trees of mixed types, bushes, and an assortment of shrub cactus you would never think of as cactus. If you’ve ever followed the El Camino Real, which is the 600 mile road which connections the California Missions, you might have an imagine of what I’m talking about. Or just watch a Spaghetti Western. It’s odd how truly accurate those films are.
Anyway, there I am walking around, enjoying the sun. I notice lots of other people are walking along too. What I find interesting is that everyone is carry baggage. Some are carrying rolling suitcases; some backpacks. Some are carrying multiple pieces, like duffels, and purses, and hat boxes. Interestingly, some are couples handcuffed together. Another is a couple ridding piggy back. Everyone is, for the most part, walking at a different speed. I see one couple with an assortment of baggage, trying to hold hands, and stumbling between their baggage and trying to keep pace with each other, even though it’s clear they walk at different speeds. Me? I’m carrying a backpackers pack, and it is weighty.
Town approaches. Well, sort of. First, I notice a dude with a little sack. He sees town approaching and promptly veers off to the right down a deer path, separating from the loosely formed group. He seems calm about it, like he knows where he’s going. Next, I notice that town isn’t really a town. It’s like an old Spaghetti Western village from the movies. There’s a Saloon, and a Hotel, and a Whore House, and a Tavern, and that’s about it. Four buildings, two per side of the road. Nothing else. There is merriment coming from these things, and people fighting in the street, and people crying on the sidewalk. Some of the people I’m walking with veer inside at running speed. Some keep walking through town and out the other side without stopping.
All sorts of exchanges happen in town. Baggage is emptied, and refilled, or exchanged. Couples split and part, or come together. Looking at some of the folks in town, it’s clear they’ve been there awhile, got stuck. This town doesn’t have homes. This town doesn’t have locals. If people are staying it’s because they’re too tired, or too scared, or too distracted, to keep on going.
I sit in town awhile and drink and people watch. I start to realize that bags are being traded between people to hold what they got. Some folks carrying small bags need bigger ones. They’ve picked stuff up along the road. Some folks with bigger bags are dumping in town all their crap, and need only a smaller bag now for a few things they cant or don’t want to let go of. I look at my bag and wonder whats inside it. The bag itself is comfortable, mostly. It’s made for carrying things. I must have realized at some point that whatever I was carrying around I’d be carrying for awhile and so should be practical, and comfortable, about it. But what was I carrying?
The couple with the handcuffs were possibly the most interesting. It didn’t seem like they really got along. They clearly didn’t always want to do the same things, but they couldn’t get away from each other. They’d fight and make up, and then move to the next spot, over, and over. The couple that was piggybacking, the bottom, who was carrying the other, she dropped him right off when they got to town. She kept walking and he stayed. Guess carrying him along with baggage was too much. Seemed like he could walk just fine, once in town.
When I left town and started down the road I saw the dude who took the deer path emerge from another deer path, from the woods. Apparently he’d taken the scenic route, presumably one that wouldn’t take him into the drama of town. His bag was no bigger or heavier, it seemed. He had an easy step and seemed pleasantly calm. Others were walking around me again, some from before, many new, with new configurations, speeds, baggage.
At some point I stopped at the side of the road and decided to look through my bag. I took the first handful of things out, left two, and kept one. I did this over and over on my walk, looking, keeping, shedding, in no particular order. Sometimes I took deer paths and found clearings, springs, waterfalls, views. Sometimes I stopped in town, there were always more towns, and hung out. Slowly I went through my bag until I had much less. Eventually I traded my bag for something much smaller. In fact, the new bag wasn’t tinny, it was still big, like a good sized backpack, but it was half empty. I liked that. Space to collect, if nessissary, but empty to remember what I’m not carrying around anymore.
I also began looking at the ways couples interacted on the road. I began to think it might be nice to walk with someone. It’d be great if we walked at the same speed, if our bags were smallish. It would be nice if when we got to town, if both or either of us veered in, or out. Or better, what if one of us took a deer path, and the other the Saloon, and we happened to leave town at the same time, and emerged back on the road at the same time! That would be cool! To have separate adventures but to move in similar timing, always willfully re-meeting, always excited to share and learn what the other discovered, still walking at the same pace. That would be neat.
But I never wanted to drag a partner. Never wanted to carry a partner. Never wanted to carry their baggage. I would, for awhile, if it needed to happen, I suppose. I tend towards caring and kindness. But I’d drop that shit at the nearest town, where they could be safe, and find something or someone else more willing or capable of that sort of thing.
I also realized it takes a long time to figure out what you want. When you’re young town is appealing, fun, interesting. But town comes with drama, and baggage, and people looking for a free-ride, to piggy back to the next town. The older I got the more I would pop in town for a moment, for the experience, and if town wasn’t quite right, I’d leave straight off. No point in spending time in a place that doesn’t quite feel right. There’s always another town, another deer trail, another choice. Sometimes, I would take a deer path and just go hangout in the woods for awhile. Set up camp. Lots of folks did that near town, on the outskirts. Closer to locals, I guess. It’s natural, for a lot of people, especially if they are carrying around a lot of baggage. Baggage is heavy. It’s hard to carry. If they don’t realize they can let that shit go, drop it and leave it behind, then it makes sense to set up shop and stay near town.
The interesting part about this vision is that its intent was to express an inherent truth: that walking The Road was the only real choice. This, as much as any allegory for life, was still a vision. It still wasn’t real life. It was spiritual. It was intended to describe the ongoing nature of change. It lacked all the realities of circumstance, which come in our daily world. There was a certain requirement of every person in the vision to walk The Road. There was no beginning, and no destination. An analogy for how we deal with our problems as we walk through life, on a mental and emotional level.
It was a good vision for me. Accurate for my nomadic brain. I believe the point of life is the road we walk, not the destination. I believe self worth comes in how we experience the road, and interact with others, and ourselves, and how we treat our surroundings.
In the real world I tend to function exactly as this vision. I’m one of those souls which thrives in travel, which looks at this world in terms of baggage, and town, and deer paths. Am I City right now? Or am I Mountain right now? Or am I Beach right now? Those titles hold classification for my personality, and interactions with the world. I’m the same in all of them, and different in all of them.
In the City I’m active, and busy, and generally engaged. I have to make sure I don’t see too many friends in a week or I’ll come up bust. We all do emotional labor for each other constantly, because life is complicated, and multilayered. In this last two weeks, for example, I visited: Forbidden Island (tiki bar). Ben and Niks (restaurant, used to local). RIC House (bar). Calavera (Latin food). Hogs Apothecary (BBQ). Backyard card games for foreign smokes. Drakes Dealership (Pizza). Heinholds (1800’s bar). Merchants (dive). Heart n Dagger (home bar). Mijori Sushi (duh). Shazam! (movie). Meal of Thrones (Game of Thrones event). SFMOMA (art museum). Pearl Spa (Koren scrub). Hinodeya Ramen (duh). Zombie Village (tiki bar). That’s not counting the sheer number of people I saw, and spoke to, and shared with, including strangers, as I’ll generally talk to anyone near by. That’s also not considering the spiritual emotional labor I’m doing for myself in trying to stay present, and involved. Cites have ghosts and spirits. Lots of them. And they love to talk, and since not many people are listening they tend to like to talk to me, when they figure out I am listening. It’s exhausting.
In the Beach I’m usually relaxing. Beach time is for fidgeting, for me. It’s a time to get bored, which is the best. Beaches tend to be cheap, warm, and restful. Ya don’t need much, or to do, or prepare for much. It’s all the time in the world. Beach folks tend to except spirits and ghosts as normal, so there’s almost no spiritual chatter. It’s apart of the culture, often, to the degree that spirits are acknowledged daily. I love Beach life. I tend to enjoy my present more than anywhere else. If work arrives it’s paced. If drama arrives it pallor’s in comparison to the beauty of the world. Boredom is where imagination takes root. It’s when I’m bored that I make the best art.
In the Mountain I am unconcerned. I think that’s the best way to put it. There’s work needs doing in the mountain. It gets cold. There are animals. You have to prepare. But once work is done, and the work is hard manual labor, usually, the sort that makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something real, then it’s chill, time to kick back. Mountain time. After dark there’s nothing left to do but drink, and smoke, and eat, and laugh, and dance, and read. It’s just the nature of the thing. I was born in Mountain Time. I visit the high desert often, which is still Mountain Time. The water is cool, and clean, and crisp. The air is fresh, the soil clean and healthy, and the spirits mind mostly to themselves, as they have for a long long time. If you’re the sort that can talk to spirits or ghosts, and you say hello, they might show you something truly amazing. But they don’t need humans. They never have, and for me, that’s the best.
The reason that all of this comes to mind today is because I was just in the Beach, and now I’m in the City. It’s good to come home, to the City, to remember. The interesting thing is, it seems before I left that on top of my normal small mostly empty backpack, that I had also been carrying around what can best be described as buckets. That’s to say, I had taken some stuff out of my backpack and put it in buckets to carry. I did this, I guess, because I knew this stuff I was carrying I would need to let go of, get rid of. I’d sorted through it and kept some things, but mostly gotten rid of a lot. Thing is, I wasn’t really ready to let that stuff go. So I had it in buckets which I was carrying around.
Apparently, when I left for the Beach, I left the buckets. I’m not sure I really knew that I did, but I did. Might have been one of the reasons the Beach was so nice. I wasn’t carrying around these buckets I’d been lugging for the better part of seven months. Now that I’ve been in the City for a couple of weeks, I’m surprised to discover that one of those buckets is completely empty. The bucket is there but there’s nothing inside. Not sure where that crap went, but I’m okay with it. The emptiness of it reminds me what was there. I’m a fan of empty. It’s a short step to look at empty and remember and honor what was there, before dropping the bucket altogether. The other bucket, on the other hand, wow, is that shit full.
Thing is, I’d forgotten about it. Well, not forgotten, just, I hadn’t been focusing on it. But there I was in a cafe, and there I saw an old friend, and there he was with my bucket, and there he was handing it to me, and suddenly one arm was weighed down down down by this bucket, and I’m like whow! And I have an empty bucket to boot! And so here I am, in the City, seeing and doing, and suddenly I notice my empty bucket isn’t so empty. Being in the City collects stuff.
Not. What. I. Want. The opposite of my goals.
Really, this means I need to sit down and evaluate both buckets. I need to go through them, see what matters and what doesn’t. Then I need to take what matters, put it in my pack to think about later, and I need to dump the damn buckets. I want to do this before I head for the Mountain.
Thing is, as annoyed as I am to see these buckets when they weren’t there a moment before, the stuff in them, it’s all stuff I want… or wanted. The thing about baggage, about the stuff inside, it’s all stuff you want to keep. That’s why you’re carrying it. You think, I love that, or maybe I’ll need that, or, how could I ever let that go!? Baggage is an agreement, and that’s what makes baggage so fucked up. We don’t want to think that we want painful reminders, or anger, or sadness. But the truth is, some part of us does. Maybe those negative feelings remind us of something good. Maybe we’re just accustomed to them, to the dopamine or cortisol they give us, and we’re just afraid of what life will be like without them. Maybe it’s been so long since we looked at them that we forgot what they were, or we haven’t realized how much we have changed that we just don’t care anymore.
That last concept is interesting because its frequent. It’s like when your mom pulls your art from grade-school and asks if you want to keep it. It has value, probably, only to her, because her baby made it. But you’re 30 now, or however old. Do you really want to carry around a squiggle in crayon? No. The value of keeping it is for the value of mom, even though her giving it to you is her saying shes never gonna look at it again. Throw that shit away. Why are you carrying it? Are you gonna look at it again? Okay, maybe keep one drawing. But the rest? Pssshhh. It’s like that. We grow and we change. Often the baggage we are carrying is full of stuff like that, stuff we don’t know or care about anymore, which we are carrying out of habit, because we are afraid to look and feel and be hurt again by remembering, even though carrying it is weighty and sloggish, and probably unnecessary.
But so, my buckets. What am I going to do about my buckets?
Well, first I need to evaluate my baggage. I apparently had more baggage than I thought. I need to see what I’ve got for baggage, and then look towards the future and figure out how much I want, and am willing to carry. I’d like to say I’m good for a rucksack, but realistically, I’m still carrying around a backpacking pack. Its still real big and mostly full. That’s because I’m not sure what I’m doing and I want to be prepared. That doesn’t, sidebar, mean that I’m lost. It means that I’m trying something new and want to cover my bases. Ooo. Hyper-vigilance is a form of PTSD! See! See what I did there!? I thought about my baggage and made it big, and full, and necessarily heavy, based on a habit formed from coping with past trauma!
Example: When I moved to Oakland I carried a knife for 4 years everywhere I went. I carried it to be prepared because my forms of youthful trauma said that was the thing to do. I was hyper-aware of my surroundings because trauma had made me afraid. After 4 years I realized it was unnecessary to carry around a knife. Life wasn’t like what it used to be. Where I was located was different, and I was different; no longer a child but an adult. I no longer needed the knife. The hyper-vigilance didn’t quite leave though. It did calm down some. Now I carry a knife almost no where, or if I do, its circumstance specific, like I know I’m going somewhere dangerous, or its required for work. It’s honestly more trouble than it’s worth, for me to carry a knife. It means I’m paying more attention to the possibility of a negative interaction than the realistic probability of having a good interaction. Most people are good and want to live. Most people don’t mean you harm. Most.
Considering we’re talking about the psyche here, this is an interesting analogy. And now that I think about this more, I realize that I really think of my pack like a Merry Poppins Bag, except in rucksack shape. It’s bigger on the inside, but neither weighty or full. That’s how I think about the wealth of my experiences. It’s not that I can get rid of the PTSD, but I can work through it, and value its worth. With a backpacking pack full and heavy, that’s PTSD and trauma living and accessible, every damn moment of every day. That’s me carrying around a knife and full hyper-vigilance, and expecting things to go badly all the time, because of the past. With a Merry Poppins bag, that’s me realizing that I no longer need to knife. That I need the hyper-vigilance less. I can still pull out the memory of how to knife fight. I can still pull up the memories of the trauma, but I’m not trying to look and handle them every moment of every day. I’m not trying to see the world through old lessens. The world isn’t what it was like then, not for me, not anymore. If I’m in a place where I need those memories, those experiences, I can get to em, but I don’t need them all the time. Once I did. Once that kept me safe.
The stuff that is accessible all the time for the present is only a small packs worth of stuff, like social cues for safety, intuition, and following the gut, and memories which associate with the today, right now. I tend to handle whats in my bag when it’s there. Take it out, look at it, put it back away. Once it’s put back it goes to wherever Merry Poppins stuff goes. Probably with missing one-socks from the dryer and lost jewelry.
Okay, so I feel good about my bag. Now what are these buckets, and why? Buckets are for carrying and dumping, so I was clearly intentional about what I intended to do with the stuff in them. Buckets are also useful. What was I planning to do with the bucket themselves? Realistically, I wanna keep em. Cause useful. Realistically, I’ll give them to someone else who wants to dump some shit from their baggage.
Okay! So! What the fuck is in the buckets? This gets weird because to be in the buckets it means I’ve already handled and evaluated this stuff as being unnecessary. Say, for example, that your mom gave you a doll when you were a kid. You loved that doll. Now, looking at that doll as an adult, it brings up good memories of love, and a ton of sad memories of loss. That was the doll you held through your parents divorce. Ugh. It’s time to get rid of that doll. When you decided this you remembered that you and the doll had matching friendship bracelets. You found yours and that bracelet you kept and put in your pack. It’s small, and a memory, and reminds you of all the things, without being too fierce about it. It’s a totem for a time. So now the doll is in your bucket and frankly, looking at it again aches. It brings back all those feelings. But it also does something else. It’s not as bad. You’ve had the doll in the bucket for awhile. In fact, you sort of forgot it was there. So looking at it now aches, but almost more the ache is because you realize how much you don’t need it. How much you forgot it. How much happier you were in forgetting, or at least in not focusing on it. When it was in your baggage it was weighty and bulky, and hard to forget, like the divorce. But now, now that time in your life is just a small thing you carry and remember, and this doll… well, mixed feelings.
Neat thing, maybe as you are looking at this doll in this bucket you see a little child who could use a doll to love while their parents go through a divorce (this is sharing experience, comfort, knowledge, holding space, and spoons for others while they ache, validating their experiences and emotions). Maybe you give the doll to them and it makes them incredibly happy, or at least less alone, and more hopeful that the future will be okay. That’s the nice part about stuff, sometimes it can be reused. Some of the other stuff in the bucket, it just needs to be burned, or left behind. This is the psyche, after all, what’s in the bucket are emotions and memories.
I tend to find, given my spirituality, that when I put a ritual of respect to those things in the bucket, when I consider them, see them, thank them, and let them go to reabsorb into the energy of the world, I find that ritual of intentional letting-go makes the letting go easier for me. I make the choice that it will be the last time I really think about this thing in this way, and I set it free. That method works for me. Remember, the bucket carries the doll, even though I carry the bracelet the doll and I wore. Letting shit go is not forgetting all of it. It’s just not paying attention to what no longer matters.
I know in the future I will visit the City again and memories will surface. It may be they are from my Merry Poppins pack, old and kind, and curiously surreal in their loving accuracy of a time once ago. I may discover that I actually left a bucket full of stuff in the City that is always there waiting for when I’m back in the City; things that still ache, things I haven’t wanted or couldn’t let go of because healing can take a very very long time. The psyche is strange like that. There’s no clear way, one way or another.
All that anyone can do is try to pay attention what they are carrying and why. Try and take the time to leave what doesn’t matter, and keep what does. It’s a long road we walk in life, try not to carry too much.