I watched the moon hang full and bright in the night sky as I dreamt about night trails and camping alone somewhere. I have studied maps and made countless lists of places to visit for years, but I haven’t done much about them. A few years ago, I made a detailed itinerary of about a dozen national parks in the western United States that I wanted to visit and explore. I told myself that I couldn’t go until I had built up enough leave from work to take the two weeks I thought it would take me to visit them all, but that was simply another excuse in a long line of them. And two weeks? How about two months? Or two years? I yearn for the open road and a day without time. I yearn to escape this world and enter a new one, a world as unexplored and alone as the moon.
On my walk, I stood by the street corner on Main St. and waited for a car to drive by before I crossed the street. A man in the backseat stared at me as they drove by. He wore dark shades and had the car window rolled down halfway. I half expected him to say something, but he didn’t. I crossed the street and kept walking. As I stuffed a package into the blue collection box, I watched another man drive by and park his car near me. He said, “I never realized you could stuff a package into the back of those things.” “Yeah, me neither,” I said. “But it’s pretty cool that you can.” I didn’t know what else to say. We nodded and went on our way. On my way home, I waited at a different street corner and waited for a different car to drive by. This time, the driver stared at me as he drove by, and as I began to cross the street, the man did a U-Turn and parked across the street. We locked eyes for a moment, and when I realized he was dropping a friend off, I walked away. After arriving home, I thought that was the weirdest walk I’ve had yet. And I want to do it again.
Went for a drive. I needed to feel the pavement and the illusion of freedom the open road provides. I understand my contradictory nature. I chastise those for not wearing a mask, for not doing their part in preventing the spread of this godforsaken virus, yet I yearn for the open road and long walks through nature and cities. I finished my rewatch of Breaking Bad earlier this week, and I never felt as much of a connection to any piece of media more than I did on that shot of Jesse when he drove away from his past, his hand hammering the steering wheel and his roar of freedom and pain, his eyes looking ahead at the open road and toward an uncertain but liberated future.
What am I trying to run away from? It feels like I’ve been running away from something my whole life. One of my first memories is of my dad striking my mom and dragging her across the living room floor as her hand reached out toward me, her eyes wet with fear, her face roaring with pain. Fear and pain followed me throughout my childhood until I escaped and moved to Los Angeles. It followed me again when I moved back to San Diego after college, after trying and failing to find a job during the 2008 recession. I thought I had escaped it when I moved to Montana, but I can see it lurking behind me through the rearview mirror and no matter how far I drive, it’s always there.
Maybe I need to stop running away. Maybe I should stand up and fight whatever it is that’s stalking me. Or maybe it’ll always be following me, and I will need to keep running from it for the rest of my life.
Flipped through an old notebook in search for the reasons why I moved to Montana eight years ago. A month before I left California, I wrote about the debts I owed and the money I didn’t have. I tell people I moved because of family, but that has always been secondary to the truth: I moved to Montana because of money. I didn’t have it, and I needed it to pay off my debts. In a year, I will pay them off, fulfilling my original reason for moving here. The question I’m asking myself now is what comes next.
I want a new life that doesn’t involve California or Montana. I want to hit the road and travel the country. I’m craving the open air and paved roads, late nights and early mornings, new friends and new memories. I want to be remembered and forgotten. I don’t want to settle down. I want to keep moving and see where my feet take me. Because life is too short and I want to see as much of the world as I can. That’s where I am in August of 2020; I wonder where I’ll be in 2021.
A former presidential candidate died from the coronavirus earlier this week. A few weeks before, he attended a Trump rally without wearing a mask. I heard secondhand that a Marine living here in Montana justifies not wearing a mask by comparing it to someone who won’t carry a gun: If someone won’t carry a gun to protect him, why would he wear a mask to protect them? People in my community believe the coronavirus has been blown out of proportion by the media and that it’s nothing more than a glorified flu. Normally, I would be shocked, but when the president retweets a video from a pediatrician who believes that gynecological problems are caused by sex with demons and witches, then it’s tough to be surprised by anything anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if this picture came from an alternate timeline, one where true joy is an actual thing to experience.
Our school continues to discuss plans and contingencies for when school reopens later this month. Our discussions are good and productive, but there remains disagreement that I don’t think will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Something like this can’t be resolved amicably, especially when people choose to believe what makes them feel better rather than what’s unpleasant. I miss the kids, too. I miss seeing them, laughing with them, and taking care of them, but how can any one of us live with ourselves if we inadvertently infect one of them, and they either get sick themselves or cause someone close to them to get sick? What if someone dies because of us? School staff are trained to protect kids from school shooters and earthquakes and nuclear attacks, but we’re okay rushing through a school reopening plan when an invisible enemy continues to run rampant in the world. But when we have Marines acting selfishly around people they have sworn to protect, then none of this surprises me.
It’s like God put an X over America and told the devil to do his worst, and the devil sent his demons and witches to fuck us from here to next Sunday. But instead of getting off, we’re killing each other with selfishness and ignorance.
If I grew up in Montana, would I be a cowboy today? Would I walk into this shop and be excited to pick out one of these cowboy hats? Prior to junior year of high school, I loathed writing. I was never any good at it, and I hated that I couldn’t plug in sentences into my essays like I could numbers in math. But my junior year English teacher changed that. She made writing fun. She assigned more creative writing projects than any of my previous English teachers ever had, and my creativity blossomed because of it. I had fun writing my stories, and she told me she loved reading them. She was the one who told me to apply to the screenwriting program at USC, and when I was accepted, she was one of the first teachers I told. Her name was Mrs. O’Connor, and I will never forget her.
However, by the time the plague shut down the world and we were all locked inside our homes, I had decided that I didn’t want to be a writer anymore. Ever since I first met my other screenwriting classmates at USC, I’ve wondered if I was ever meant to be a writer. My stories were always different, the way I viewed writing was always different, and my tastes compared to theirs was always different. One day, when I was locked inside my home wondering how I would spend all my newfound free time, I reminisced on the moment when I decided to walk down the writer’s path, and I realized it was in Mrs. O’Connor’s English class. Before I entered her class, I was on the path of becoming some sort of engineer. I was always good at math, and I figured I should do something that was heavy in it. But Mrs. O’Connor made the prospect of becoming a writer fun and exciting, and I based my life decisions after that on fun instead of logic. What if I didn’t?, I thought. What if I had gone to UCLA or UC Berkeley to study engineering instead of USC? God knows I wouldn’t be in so much student debt today.
I spent those subsequent months of lockdown unproductively. I dabbled with my guitar and with the idea of making electronic music. I thought about learning animation and creating funny skits based on moments at work. I bought photography courses and wondered if I could make a living taking pictures. I did anything but write, and looking back at that time now, I felt okay. I was neither happy nor unhappy, but I felt I made the right decision when I “quit” writing. I felt relieved finally letting go of the writer persona I had built during my adult life, and I felt excited to embark on this new journey of self-discovery. But then something unexpected happened.
An old friend from USC asked me if I wanted to start a writer’s group with her and another friend of ours, and without any thought I said yes. The idea of hanging out with my friends felt exciting but the idea of writing again didn’t. I hadn’t written anything in months, and I felt comfortable not being a writer anymore. But I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone that. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever admitted this publicly. As the idea of becoming a writer again started to sink in, I decided to commit to it full bore, hence this blog. If I was going to be a writer again, I was going to write. And you know what? I’ve never been this happy in a long time. I’ve been writing a daily entry in here for about a month and a half, and I haven’t had a day yet where I wasn’t excited to start writing. There have been days when I’ve felt stressed because I hadn’t taken a picture yet, but each time I do take a picture, I feel happy. There’s value there that I should never forget.
There are things in life that just feel inevitable, and even if I grew up in Montana and was a cowboy, the role of writer was always going to be the path I took eventually. And that’s cool.
The day was hot and thick with smoke, the type of smoke that seeps into your skin and clouds your thoughts. There’s a fire burning west of Dixon named the Magpie Rock Fire, and they say it’s around 1,000 acres, but the smoke is too thick for helicopters to get an accurate size estimate. There’s another fire burning near Polson named the Horseshoe Fire, and that one’s about 20 acres. I used to crave the smokey air and the burning earth. Now I crave relief, a short break from this eternal nightmare of death and despair.
I expect more hot and hazy days, more days filled with introspection and doubt. I feel doubt whenever I listen to my inner critic, that voice in my head that tells me I’m not a good writer, that I’m a mediocre photographer, that I shouldn’t be publishing my thoughts online because no one cares. I remind myself to keep writing anyway, to keep taking pictures, because I’m not doing this for anyone or for anything other than the sheer joy of it, something to take me out of the world for a bit and into something better.
The road ahead might be hazy, but I know if I keep walking I’ll get to where I need to go eventually.
At one point yesterday the weather said it was 94º and raining. I looked outside and saw one dark cloud to the west of me, but otherwise it was sunny and beautiful. Even the weather feels like it’s losing its mind in this long and lonely summer. Throughout the day I kept seeing movement in my periphery, but every time I turned to look, I saw nothing. I wrote down ghosts in my notebook and moved on. My feet carry the memory of my walks, and it feels good. My confidence in not only going outside but also carrying my camera has grown, and now I don’t remember why I was scared to do so for so long.
About a year after I moved to Montana, I told an old friend a goal I had that had been forming in the periphery of my thoughts for a while. I told her I wanted to walk across the country and meet new people and see new places. It was nothing more than a dream then and a fading memory now, a ghost of who I used to be, but the desire to undertake this journey has grown again, and I can’t shake it. I’m on track to pay off all my debts in a year, and about a year after that, I will have lived in Montana for ten years. Ten years is a long time to live in a place, and I wonder if that’s not a good spot to leave and start on a new journey. I don’t want to look back on my life and feel ashamed for the roads not taken. God knows I’ve felt enough shame in my life.
It’s sandal weather. I’ve been wearing them on my long walks around the neighborhood. Can it be called a neighborhood when it comprises a majority of the city? I miss the pace of the city. And the anonymity. I think I had stopped taking long walks when I moved to Montana because people would remember me here. The thought of being in a stranger’s memory felt unnerving, and that thought kept me from walking. I recognize the contradiction. I write to leave a legacy, to be remembered. Then why does being seen by a stranger feel unnerving?
I woke up yesterday to the words mentally ill in my thoughts. Remnants from a dream, perhaps, or a warning by some higher power. When I was in college, I saw a therapist every week for two and a half years. I took Zoloft and started journaling. Maybe there’s a correlation here, but I can’t see it. Maybe if I keep walking I’ll figure it out.
Went for a long walk yesterday. My shyness and anxiety seems to be fading away, and I was reminded of all the long walks I used to take when I lived in LA. I don’t remember anything stopping me from doing so back then, so I wonder what changed. I guess I had more places to go to then. And more people to see.
Now I’m focused on the flowers. Sometimes they make better company anyway.