Silver Lining Syndrome

Key West, FL

Fourteen story cruise ships loom over the tiny island like high rises. Everything here is a palm tree.

Geckos, pelicans, squillions of turtles, roosters, ibises, a macaw, six-toed cats, flamboyantly-attired bugs.

I am delirious.

I arrived at SFO with three hours to spare before departure. One cut-open and re-taped 68-pound bike box, one unpacked duffel bag, $150 in fees, several reviews of print-out policies and diplomatic discussions with supervisors later, and I managed to elicit enough sympathy of a deadpan bureaucrat for him to conjure up a creative solution to the fact that their computer system wouldn't let me check my bag. At several points I was pretty much convinced it wasn’t going to happen. 

Against a backdrop of rain and lightning uncharacteristic in the Bay, I said my goodbyes to Alex and Nathan who were both there to see me off.

Then there were other trifling incidents on my way to the gate: I must have grabbed my expired license instead of my current one on my way out the door [d'oh] and the TSA guys were convinced that there was something in my left pocket [there wasn't—nor was I happy to see them]. Two hours after arriving, I got through security checkpoint, somewhat frazzled.

My flight was delayed, which was fine by me. I dragged myself into the nearest airport bar and wound up ruthlessly bantering with an exceptionally handsome lawyer [he looked strikingly like a young Hemingway] who was sporting a black eye.

About three hours of sleep later [couldn’t get back to sleep after my layover in Atlanta] and I was spat out of Key West airport, blinking wearily at the sun.

Since then I've repeatedly been punk'd by serendipity and boggled at others' generosity. Must be Silver Lining Syndrome or something. Or the Universe is trying to teach me that I shouldn't bother trying to plan anything, ever.

Exhibit A: Every single one of my several hosting options had fallen through or gone MIA at the last minute. My arrival coincided with spring break, so finding a hotel or even campsite at such a late stage would not only be expensive, but possibly quite difficult. And I had a giant box with a disassembled bike, and all my gear, and nowhere to put them or reassemble them. I didn't really know what I was going to do [hide myself and all my crap behind a bush for the night?], but shit felt dire.

Silver lining: A friend I made during my brief stop in Shanghai last year got in touch out of the blue, and it came up that he had US hotel points that he couldn't use and that were about to expire. So I wound up with a free night at a deluxe king suite at the Hyatt, with a balcony drooping right over the shoreline; below me were beached humans flopping on the sand in front of a musician with comically poor taste in covers. I looked at them and thought: If I knew anyone here, I could easily host a fifteen-or-so people shindig and still have wiggle room. What a crazy amount of space and luxury to waste on one person.

I got on with it. Little toy cars and fake choochoo trains and pedicabs rolled by as I quaffed black coffee in a cafe patio done up in bamboo and rope, digesting a lobster and shrimp omelette, and I felt compelled by the weather—76 and all undiluted sunshine—to change into something froofroo and skimpy for a change. I wandered to the Hemingway house [which was lovely and frothing with cats, many of which were polydactyls].

Then I holed up in my room to try and figure out my bike situation, so I would be mobile and unencumbered the following day. I planned to get that out of the way, then maybe nap, then reemerge a bit before sunset and get up to shenanigans.

Exhibit B: What actually happened is that I spent six delirious sleep-deprived hours in that room trying to reassemble my bike and going bonkers, realizing I was missing essential bolts, realizing just how poorly designed my front rack was...not to mention pretty much incompatible with my frame. I attempted to jerry-rig solutions with hair ties, with limited success. The horror.

Around 8 or 9 pm I gave up. I didn't know what I was going to do...ask the guys up front if they could hold onto my giant box and see if I could bribe a bike mechanic to help me bring it to a shop? If there was a shop. Everything I looked up was geared towards cruiser rentals for tourists. But I knew I was done making decisions for a while. I resigned myself to exploring the alleged Key West party scene, though I wasn't feeling very chipper by that point. I wandered Duval Street aimlessly [it struck me as a beachy cousin of Bourbon Street]. I failed to locate oysters before succumbing to hunger and eating conch.

Silver lining: wound up hanging out all damn night with wonderful, fun people. Chilly and Kerry, a local couple who work for a cycle touring company and have gone on a few tours, and Kai, freshly-graduated from high school and four months into his first tour circling around the country from Oregon...

...Moreover, Chilly just opened up a shop in Key West and came by my room the next morning on a promise of coffee to use his mechanical sorcery to get my bike completely set up, and teach me a few things [and conjure up a better front rack]. So, basically, he's a life saver. And quite innovative. Will update with a link when I have one. 

Plus, in a few short hours, I miraculously found people to stick in my gifted-super-fancy-room-for-one-night so I could make better use of the space before giving it up. And to cover in the miles of bubble wrap strewn all over the floor from my bike box, so I could make better use of it before disposing of it.

The one negative takeaway from last night was that, at 4 or 5am, quite drunk, I thought ordering myself room service breakfast for the next morning would be a brilliant idea. I'd never ordered room service before, it had occurred to me. First time for everything! Breakfast in bed!

Mediocre gravlox, mediocre coffee, good-but-very-very-very-small portion of grapefruit juice.

I learned a valuable lesson this morning...and that lesson cost me $40.

Exhibit C: Rode to prospective host's house today. Door had accidentally been locked by a roommate, I could not reach anyone by phone and the house was empty [and my would-be host was working until late, but I didn't know where she worked]. There was Kerry and Chilly's house where I'd just come from, but I'd locked it on my way out and they'd be gone for several hours. I really, really wanted a nap. With nowhere to go, a loaded bike, and no energy, I went and got a key lime pie [well...duh] and Internet for the time being, thinking perhaps I could just slump, unconscious, onto a table in a cafe, and maybe no one would mind.

Silver lining: Wound up being treated to dinner by David, an exceedingly candid, hilarious, fantastic man whom Nathan calls his "fairy godfather" [ahah] whom I'd been advised to meet but hadn't heard from and had given up on meeting. He called, and I was neither asleep on a couch [the original plan], nor with other people, so with what may perhaps have been a bit of initial trepidation on his end, he offered to come get me and feed me. And it was a fit of fantastic conversation and, on my end, copious chuckling.

And now I am set up with with an air mattress thanks to Chilly and Kerry, so all is well!

See what I mean? Some cosmic force disapproves of my attempts to make plans, apparently. 8P

had been planning to leave Key West tomorrow...but I can afford one more day. It deserves another day. Plus, I still haven't given myself a proper opportunity to sleep since getting to Florida [speaking of which...I should get on that right about now]. 8]

Extrapolating on the last few days, but people can be so damn kind, and so immediately authentic. Sure, being smart and funny and charming are also virtues I admire. But really, kindness and candor are so underrated and, in the long run, probably matter a lot more.

Bucket List 2015

Photo: Lee Nutter

Photo: Lee Nutter

Not that I've really got any idea, but I think one aid towards both happiness and fulfillment is to never plateau—to never live off your past in a way that excuses you from investing in the present.

2014 was full of firsts. I visited Southeast Asia for the first time, had an idyllic first modeling tour in Australia [and made it to all but two of the states and internal territories], spent six months getting splinters and busting my balls to make a seven-story-playhouse-sculpture and learning a lot of new skills [and a few rough life lessons] along the way, got work remodeling houses on the side, and other things.

The year before that, I published my first writing pieces, worked as a masseuse at an upscale spa, learned to fabricate gigantic fire cannons, and climbed into a sixty-five foot bamboo tower in nothing but a hard hat and climbing harness in order to adjust heavy fuel lines, did farm work for the first time, etc.

In times of inertia or fatigue or self-doubt, it's easy for me to feel discouraged, even envious, of my past self. Like I can't live up to my former energy or willingness to take risks. Like I'd rather just watch documentaries.

Which is it's in my best interest to suck it up and keep chugging onward and upward—so that, a month, a year, five years from now, I'll have to outdo myself again. 

So! Goals for this 2015:

1. Successfully complete my East Coast Model/Bike Tour [at the very least, “successfully” means I’ll see the trip to its end, and that my body, mind, and modeling reputation will all still be intact when I do—though, of course, I’m hoping for much more]

2. Expand my modeling network:

  • Not counting my East Coast trip, tour at least three US cities I’ve never been to before.
  • Meet more badass traveling models. 
  • Be open to planning a future tour with another model—something I’ve always been simultaneously attracted and averse to. [Can’t force it, but I want to be receptive to it.]

3. Improve my French throughout the year through daily practice [I've been good about this one so far]; move to northern France for the summer for a manor renovation project.

4. Debut modeling tour in Europe!

As for the winter and beyond…I’m not planning that far yet, but I’ve got several pipe dreams lined up that could all settle into the end of my year nicely if no other unforeseen opportunities arise:

Could do a Southern Tier road trip and model in the warmer states. Could go to Australia and New Zealand. Could teach another ski season. Could work a season in Antarctica. Could do my yoga teacher training. Could hide in South America or Southeast Asia. Could do a writing residency. Could join a yacht crew. Could very easily be enticed by something different from all of the above. Far too soon to know. 

To wax universal, if I may:

You are not your past accomplishments: prior successes do not validate your laziness, complacency, or self-coddling today. You are not your past failures: do not continually punish yourself for having tried and failed, nor even for having done wrong, provided that you did what you could to set things right and have put the lessons of your mistake into practice.

UPDATE: Continuing to go on longer rides on harder terrain and cross-train around the Bay. Soon going on my first multi-day ride; stay tuned. 8]

Channeling My Inner Chickenshit

For weeks now I've repeated, like a broken record, the same phrase to whomever's asked me how I'm doing: "About to fly to Bangkok with a one-way ticket." Each time, the words emerged automatically; meanwhile, I was catatonic, not registering the words that were fast becoming my own personal fucking catchphrase.

Really, that's not an answer to the question How are you doing? but everyone I've said it to has accepted it as such.

This is the last time I'm stating it, but this time I'm at least half-conscious of my words: I'm flying to Bangkok in a little over twelve hours...and that's basically the extent of my itinerary thus far.

As my departure's been arriving, a lot of people I've caught up with or run into--mainly acquaintances or bygone friends from a past life I no longer relate to--keep saying things to me like, "I wish I could just get up and go like you, by the seat of your pants, caution to the wind, [insert cliche after cliche here]--you're so fearless/free-spirited/bohemian." Or whatever.

They couldn't be farther from the truth.

I'd like to officially come out: By default, I'm actually pretty fucking neurotic. I overthink, overanalyze, overspeculate on worst-case scenarios. My natural tendency is to swing between being a control freak, and being opportunistically lazy. I am aeons away from being inherently free from fear and anxiety.

A very select few close friends of mine know this all too well; on the other hand, my acquaintances tend to invent a persona for me that I generally haven't bothered to disillusion them from because--I'll admit--the persona is pretty flattering. However, it's a fucking facade, and after a long-ass while of being adulated [and even iconized] on false pretenses got me feeling pretty worn-down. It's that whole it's worse to be loved for what you're not than hated for what you are platitude-majigg, incarnate. This incongruence was a large factor behind my compulsively deactivating my Facebook a while ago [which I've just now reactivated, after the persuasive barrages of a couple friends--given that I'm traveling without a phone, and with a camera].

Now, presenting the reason I'm writing all of this:

By birth, I'm chickenshit. That's not meant to be self-deprecating; rather, the thing I've just realized is that that's kind of the whole fucking point.

Listen. On my first solo road trip, I scraped together $900 and left my credit/debit cards behind. I packed my car with a sleeping bag, climbing shoes, and a couple cans of soup left over from my winter supply. That was to last me through three months of driving a vague loop from Tahoe down to San Diego, up to Vancouver, then back down to Tahoe.

It should be obvious to anyone with the faintest grasp of American gas prices, cost of living, and geography that $900 was not even remotely in the vicinity of being almost enough for such a trip. I had no jobs lined up, and no firm plans of where I'd stay along the way.

Call it poor planning, but I did that on purpose. It forced me to have a better time than I ever could have had if I'd taken the precautions of responsible planning and budgeting, if I'd been able to buffer myself in creature comforts, if I'd been able to maintain all the same habits.

Why? Because doing so was the only way to finally quell the unfounded fear, anxiety, and paranoia that had been plaguing me all winter.

To use an excerpt from an email I wrote an old friend the other night, featuring the exact moment this realization of my own behavior and motivations suddenly hit me:

My winter's similarly been a succession of catalyzing shaker-uppers. Lots of out-of-nowhere encounters [with people, but also other things--books, experiences, coincidences] that have propelled me to be introspective in a productive way, rather than "introspective" in that punishing, paralyzing, depressed way...which I don't think is true introspection to begin with. I think true introspection might lead you down dark passageways, but eventually comes full circle back out into the light--a brighter, cleaner light than whatever you'd been basking in before.

Blah, blah, figurative language. Metaphors and shit.

Anyway, you're welcome? Not really, though--I mean, not that you're not welcome, but it was a symbiotic exchange. I've been learning about myself from all my interactions this winter, too--in gauging how I react to different questions or situations, in gauging what feelings emerge or linger when I'm alone again after the interaction is over. It's interesting. I've dug up a lot of old ghosts from the past [ranging from casual acquaintances...to closet-skeletons].

This winter's been existential boot camp for me. Asking myself a lot of unhealthy questions, dealing with unwarranted anxiety and depression. [Granted, who's to say when those things are and are not warranted? Are they ever warranted? Are they ever not? What does anything mean? AHHHH!] 

Then I climbed out. The boy went away, so that I'd be left alone to make sure I was standing on two feet and empowering myself [rather than turning to the comforts of a partner to use as a crutch and distract me from myself--knowing him makes me wiser]. I pulled out my fucking IUD, which had never even occurred to me as a culprit. I started tackling one important task at a time, instead of overwhelming myself with several and being reduced to arresting procrastination. I went outside. I woke up earlier. Then I started meeting up with people I hadn't seen in a long, long time--and seeing myself reflected in ways that I denied at first, resentful ["they're just projecting some idealized archetype onto me, rather than simply seeing me"], and then later accepted as facets of truth. Just because a perspective is dissimilar--and incomplete--doesn't mean it's ALL wrong. I mean, it's limited, embellished, but so is everything--we limit things so they'll be simple, and embellish them so they'll be memorable. And even if the projection seems too lofty, the answer isn't resentment--or big-headedness--it's comparative self-evaluation to the other person's projection of me...and then converting it into a challenge, or an inspiration.

Anyway, that's what my own internal process for this winter looks like. Letting go of arbitrary fear.

In all honesty: as much practice I've had in chasing uncertainty [and I've had a lot of fucking practice in the last few years], it still scares the steaming shit out of me every time I walk up to the precipice.

However, I know from experience that--once I jump--the fear becomes obsolete, and all that's left is adrenaline and a sense of infinity. 

[This is literal, too: One of my best ways of getting myself out of a depressive funk is to go jump into a cold body of water--ideally an ocean, lake, or river, at night, in winter. And when I get out of the water, I feel so alive and not at all cold. The initial apprehension is there every single time, and never even really diminishes--but as I keep logging mileage this same pointless thing countless times, I become more and more assured of how I'm going to feel, once I get it over with, by a deeper knowledge that beats off my instincts to back down. It's my own version of practicing/cultivating something like faith.]

So, a month ago I worried about mosquito prevention, worst-case scenarios, theft, issues at the border, being targeted by the police, running out of money...I even thought about all the things I could put my money towards, or all the work I could get, or things I could do, if only I chose to cancel the trip and stay in the States.

The closer it gets--the more of an inevitability it becomes--the more relaxed I feel. I get this sort of zen-like resignation. I'm packing next to nothing, and I know once I get through airport security, I'm going to feel like I've finally returned home. That warm narcotic-orgasmic-bracing relief of tension I didn't even know I'd been carrying.

It never, ever feels like that's going to happen before the fact, but I know from experience to have faith because that's always what happens.

Incidentally, this is why I only buy non-refundable plane tickets: because I know myself well enough to know that, if I allow myself an easy way out, I'll end up taking it. I have to trick myself, all the time--not only with traveling, but with more mundane things [like studying, exercising, working, errands, hygiene--anything requiring discipline, which is something I decidedly do not have a natural-occuring supply of.

Tricks...I have to leave myself no easy way out, or make things into a game, or make it so that I'd have someone to answer to should I back out--where I'd lose face or let someone down by doing so. 

Some people seem to be easily self-motivated, or truly fearless. Lately people keep making the mistake of thinking I'm one of those people. Not even close. In truth, I am as lazy and cowardly as the next person. I just don't let my laziness and cowardice get the best of me--I corner myself until I have no choice but to act constructively.

Tonight, I sat on the roof of my old house with Alex. We were silent for a while.

"I'm nervous."

"I'm nervous."

"That's why we're going, though."

"Exactly."

It's not just about questing for adventure because it's fun [though that's obviously a big part of it]. If I was actually fearless, and living exactly the way that I do, it'd be gratuitous. I'd just be wanking my ego, over and over, resulting in weak thrills, at best. There'd be no rush, no challenge, and most importantly, no growth. 

I have no use for a stagnant life--even if that life appears on the outside to be rife with extreme sports and strange encounters. Nothing disturbs me more than meeting someone with a life that appears full and rich and surreal, only to find that they've become desensitized and adopt a too-cool-for-school attitude towards everything in the entire world--that is, towards their own existence. It disgusts me, even. They do all this cool shit, meet all these people, but have nothing to live for: philosophical zombies in glamorous packaging.

A couple days ago a girl asked me, "Why Thailand?"

"Well, not just Thailand. Not sure where else I might be going from there."

"Yeah, but why Thailand, in particular? As your first stop."

"Because it was cheaper than New Zealand, and more of a departure from what I know."

"That doesn't answer my question, though."

"...Doesn't it?"

Thailand's got nothing to do with this trip, really.

The ultimate reason I'm going is unknown to me, of course: if I already knew my reason for going on this trip, then I wouldn't need to bother going.

More generally, the reason I do what I do is because I'm not a philosophical zombie yet, and this trip is just one of succession self-vaccinations against becoming one.