I’ve been here in Maquoketa, Iowa for a week. It’s pronounced ma-CO-cah-tah, not MA-co-KEE-tah. It’s finally time to move on. Which also means that it’s time to reflect on my time here.
Horeshoe Pond Campground has been good to me. It’s mostly been a lot of fallow time, but I made at least one friend, D, who drinks Natural Ice and hangs with a woman with a pet skunk.
D’s camper was pretty messy, so when I hung out there I didn’t feel weird about pulling my feet up onto the bench cushion. I enjoyed having D’s huge dog on my lap, which D said was good, because sometimes he tries to kill the skunk. So much wildlife in such a small space. Fascinating.
The skunk is light brown with a pink little nose and, of course, the signature white landing strip from face to tail. When wrapped up in a little baby blanket, it’s downright adorable.
We smoked some pot and talked about our vagabond lives, how and why we do what we do. After ten years living out of a backpack and riding trains, D is looking for land. Who isn’t? He’s covered in stick-and-poke tattoos, including a few on his face, and has long, unmaintained dreadlocks. Over the course of a week, he had two different women staying with him.
Hanging with D, and the people he keeps around, has been extremely refreshing. D is full of two very specific kinds of wisdom - one is hard to describe, the other is auto mechanics. Meeting him has felt like great karma.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of stillness - staying in one spot, physically and mentally. Stillness is a close relative to stuckness which is a negative idea. If you’re still you’re not moving. If you’re stuck you can’t move. Trees don’t move, but they don’t seem stuck. They seem still. I’m trying to get better at being still - and maybe even stuck - with grace. Really, I think it’s just a mindset that seperates the two.
Regardless, to be truly still, in mind and body, can be extremely hard. I experienced some mild anxiety because I missed the Jackson County Fair, especially the grand finale Night of Destruction where they blow up a bunch of campers and stuff.
I also wrote four blog posts that I can’t publish. Tone is hard. It’s hard not to sound like a know-it-all. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, like a mess of a human who is utterly lost and bitter. I’ve been called both of those things, recently, and when I read my blog posts I can understand why. Sometimes I’m totally over-confident. Sometimes I ham up the drama to make a point.
I am doing this to get your attention - yes. But I’m also doing this because I think it’s worth your attention. It takes me several hours to write a blog post that will take you just a few minutes to read. It’s a fair trade in both directions. It’s a gift in both directions. I pay attention to what I pay attention to. You should too.
Here’s another gift. A poem by Richard Powers that I have read - no joke - at least a hundred times in the past week:
The gardener sees
only the gardener's garden.
The eyes were not made
for such grovelling uses as they
are now put to and worn out by
but to behold beauty now invisible.
If someone told me I was going to die in six hours, I would read that poem twice and then go for a walk in the woods.
On Friday, I spent a long stretch of time climbing and reclined underneath a weeping willow in Sputnik’s backyard. I also enjoyed long walks around a nearby cemetery.
I’ve been walks for hours at a time, sometimes 3-5 times daily. Sometimes I just stop walking and sit.
Still. Stuck. Not the same thing.
Still. Stuck. Not the same thing.
My writing is half-stuck. Sputnik is half-stuck. My top speed used to be 50. It might now be 40.
Three weeks ago I was banging out a blog post a day. Now I’m struggling to get one out.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I want or what I should be doing. I feel like I’m wasting my time and, above all else, letting good opportunity slip away. Don’t fuck up Readup, I tell myself. Call so-and-so immediately. Or, write the Manifesto - now!
The self-badgering accomplishes nothing. I’m learning to trust my pace. I’m learning to trust my intuition when it comes to (1) when to work, and (2) what to work on. Nurturing that intuition is itself a form of work.
And thinking about the subtle difference between still and stuck has made a world of difference. Being stuck is just the universe telling me to slow down. To be more still.
Sure enough, the benefits have been tremendous. I’ve been super productive on Readup. And I finished The Overstory - undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. The characters feel more real than many real people in my life.
Richard Powers has given the world a beautiful gift. I hope, one day, to do the same.
From my journal:
“I do what I do for me - something that most people can’t understand and never will.”
I want to leave my mark on the world. And I also want to have a happy, whole life. The key, I think, involves a combination of confidence and gratitude.
A few weeks ago, I wrote in a blog post that I think I’m going to have Steve Jobs-level of success. The truth is that I’m actually going for something much bigger - a la Gandhi, or Thoreau. I want to move more than just an industry. I want to move society.
Trust me, I feel squeamish saying that kind of thing. Society does that to us.
Superficially, humans praise individuality, free-thinking, and confidence. We tell kids to “dream big” and “reach for the stars.” But in my own experience, I’ve noticed that adult humans seem far more inclined to knock one another down a peg, to try to keep everyone in line, marching to the same tune.
And, indeed, if I met someone who said they were trying to be like MLK, I’d probably be a little leery.
Why do huge aspirations make us squeamish?
Why do we all feel compelled to read the same lines from the same script - the one that was already prepared for us before we even exited the womb?
You already know what’s on the script, because you probably have felt compelled to read from it too: get a good education; get a good job; be good-looking or funny, whatever it takes to be liked by those around you; get married; have kids; have plenty of money, because money equals security and safety which, in turn, creates the space you’ll need to fill yourself with happiness.
Nowhere on that list is the thing that I think is the most important thing of all: Listen, inward, to the wildest, truest voice you hear. And do whatever that voice says.
“Be you,” is something we all say to each other, but, in reality, we seem to punish those who do just that.
Anyway, my voice is telling me to do some big shit. My voice is telling me that I can make the internet a more readerly place which, in turn, might lift the collective conciousness of the entire planet. It’s a crazy-wild vision, something that I’m just beginning to grasp. Even just typing it makes me feel stoned. But it’s radical-fun (ooh, I like that term!) and at this point, I can’t not do it, no matter what it makes the rest of my life look like. And, so far, it has made the rest of my life radical-fun too, Sputnik and all.
To accomplish what I need to accomplish, I don’t have time to be embarrassed or bashful. But I do have two things to focus on: vulnerability and authenticity. Someone I really trust recently told me that gratitude is the counterpart to confidence. I think that that is absolutely beautiful - and oh so true.
I have almost no money. I thought about that while I was sitting in the weeping willow. I thought about how I needed to write a blog post about money. I needed to explain my perspective so that everyone else can understand what I know. Then I realized that I don’t know what my perspective is. Then I realized that that might be the entire point of the blog. I need to write a hundred blog posts about money and then maybe I’ll get one iota closer to the truth on that.
At trailer parks in Iowa, I feel downright wealthy. Many of my neighbors go to food pantries for food. I eat organic fresh fruit from Walmart every morning. I sprinkle my oatmeal with flax seeds and crushed walnuts. My few thousand dollars worth of savings feels like way too much and almost nothing at the same time.
Anyway, it’s a lot to tease apart, and I can’t wait to dive in. Next time. Writing, yet again, proves to be the solution to everything.
I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful. I am lucky and happy and joyful. The abundance I currently enjoy might be temporary. That’s okay. If Sputnik does explode in a blaze of glory, I have backup plans. I have a tent. I have a thumb. I have enough money for a bike and I already have almost no posessions.
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” -Jack Kerouac, On The Road
My permanent backup plan is always going to be: Go.
I’m trying to stay in the moment, to not force a plan on myself, but it also helps to have a general sense of direction, so here it is: Go West. Don’t stop until the Pacific. Over and over again: Slow and steady wins the race. There’s so much to see and do and I’ll miss it all if I try to see and do everything.
It’s time for this drifter to drift.