I burn scented candles at night to keep cozy and calm. I need to. I’m anxious and restless by my nature. The dim light and vague wafts of clean cotton put me at ease. Tonight, I take one more heaping helping of homemade mac-n-cheese, a comfort food I’ve grown accustomed to making in the absence of better culinary ideas. Call it a rut if you wish — something ought to be familiar in a time of personal upheaval, and man, is this ever one of those times.
In my last piece, I broke the news of alcoholism and my immediate retirement from all pursuant hedonistic pleasures. It was defiant, it was (over-)dramatic, it was drunk, and it was done that way on purpose. I needed to draw a line in the sand to tell you that this was the end of the line. I read it again tonight as a reminder, and I barely recognize the voice as my own. The sentences are shorter now; and unfurling at a more measured cadence. There’s 95% less cursing. That’s been just over two weeks.
Since then, I’ve hunkered down the way they do in the Finnish Lapland, warm and quiet in winter while the darkness roars, far away from the bright city lights of my blistering history. On August 20, 2017, having exhausted all the possibilities of a breakneck spectacle of a life, where every hand was played all-in and every day lasted all night, it was time to retire to the cabin and take inventory while the tremors faded.
In the intervening fortnight, I did no writing. I did no running. I halted social activities and used each day for work, and each evening for rest when possible. I watched my mood gradually level off. I watched my energy approach something like baseline. I crammed a small shipping container’s worth of carbs into my mouth. I talked only when called upon to do so. I waited for the rocket to reappear, but it never came. There is no shuttle to this somewhere, this place I can’t yet mark, only a slow crawl down a snowy trail. My mind and body, slowly healing, are not quite ready to join the peloton down a different track. I sit here, idling. And this is fine.
This is not the bold declaration of a new beginning, or of a radical life transformation. No marathons will be run. No records will be set. No earnings forecasts will be met. Earlier this year, I stopped setting goals. I’ve still crafted no new ones, and I do not miss them. I have vague ideas of what I’d like a day to look like sometime in the not-too-distant future. I think of getting a little better, a little stronger, a little less weird as each day that passes. Better at writing. Better at working. Better at living. Better at loving. I think that’s about all I can ask for at this point. I don’t think there’s a whole lot else left for me to do.
Publicly starting over is liberating. It grants you the freedom to zag when others zig. It grants you permission to do nothing. And to take care of yourself. To read. To experiment. To tweak. Or to rest. By calling the problem’s name out loud, you’re putting out a call for solutions.
You can reinvent yourself, if you want to. It requires the audacity to unlearn the inertia you hold inside your head. These are your memories, and they are a lie we tell ourselves, a distortion of the past that’s warped by our inability to retain all information perfectly. It takes great effort and discipline, but once you detach yourself from these, you are free to wander the world anew and approach the world with a childlike wonder. All the snow is fresh powder. All the forests untouched and unbroken. And if you’re not a rush, you’ll find comfort wherever the days travels and travails leave you. With this in mind and the burden of memory released, you can become almost* anything if you have the courage to forget who you are.
*(One caveat: I cannot become tall.)
It’s been suggested to me that the way I live is inauthentic — that I do things specifically to write about them and possibly go viral, and that I spend very little time appreciating experiences for what they are. I held that idea in my head for a while, let it marinate, and thought, “Hell, maybe I do choose to do things to tell people about them.” And that made me sad for a while, and think a little harder, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “No … that’s backwards. I choose to tell people about things to do them.” I didn’t live in a car so that I could write a 9,000-word manifesto on the harrowing myth of self-reliance. I didn’t crash-and-burn an 18-month relationship so I could pen a eulogy that doubled as a crash-course in anxious and avoidant attachment types. And I certainly didn’t go and get myself dependent on drink so I could sit here in the quiet dusk telling you how bad of an idea that was. Yes, in each of these cases, I always lived to tell the tale, but I didn’t live to tell the tale, if that bold-italic made that distinction make sense for you. (Did it?)
No. I’m not a lifestyle brand. I’m not even a lifestyle. I’m an anthology of choices, a collection of experiences, and the sum of my stories. And I am also, now and always, none of these things. That is what is most alluring about the nature of our humanity: We can change at any time — if we’re ready for it. All that we do may never be wiped clean from the record, but there’s nothing and no one who says we need to keep reminding ourselves of it. Yes, I have an Instagram. Yes, it’s mostly pizza. But that is not me. And this blog isn’t, either. It’s just a document. It’s a map. It’s not the land itself. And when we truly want to feel alive, we don’t bury our nose in a map. No, we look around outside. That’s where you’ll find beauty. That’s where you’ll find peace.
The life I knew, I have thrown it away by design. It was all too much, amounting to not much. All the trappings and spoils, black holes and dark alleys, bright lights and fiery exits, they’re all gone now. All that’s left is the moonlit sky, the whirring winds, the all-consuming forest and the trail I’ve left to trudge down. I put on my backpack and go. A flashlight. Some clothes to keep me warm. A compass to keep me honest (and sober). But with no other destination in mind. I will document this journey for the same reason I always do: To make sense of what has come, and try my best to assess what’s to come, and hopefully feel a little less lonely along the way.
I do not know where this will lead. I blow out the candles and take a deep, long inhale of the last, smokey embers. I take one last bite of the mac-n-cheese. I am uncertain, but not afraid. The cold is coming, but I will remain calm. That’s the great thing about turning off your memory: Wherever you are, you are always at the beginning. And no matter where you go, you’ll always be on your way.