Camping in khakis…allow me to attempt to illustrate the profound in that.
To be a 30-something in Saint Louis represents an interesting dynamic. Commonly referred to as a “big city with a small town feel”, contradiction is prevalent. Neighborhoods are segregated in a manner that would suggest little has changed over the past 50 years socially. Reality would prove that, though racism is evident and sensationalized by the media, diversity exists. I would say that Saint Louis is “reluctantly diverse.”
I digress. I’m as exhausted with discussing the city as I am with the city itself.
Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods to live deliberately. To live deep, and suck the marrow out of life.” Or something like that. My scenario is not as dramatic, and without internet access I can’t tell you exactly. I came to peel off a few layers of stress and disenchantment. Like a cool onion left in the fierce July sun. I did not build a cabin from the ground up, nor will I be testing my survival aptitude in these Ozark mountains if I can help it. Though I did pitch my tent with the quickness and fashion a fire from damp logs like goddamn Bear Grylls. The only witness to my woodland prowess, my German Shepherd.
Not bad for a city chap donning khakis upon arrival. Not bad for a man trapped in the modern day-to-day grind, governed by corporate America on this Independence Day. Not bad for spontaneously packing some shit and shoving off. Not bad…recognizing the rare combination of the need for freedom and the inner turmoil that spawns the spontaneity required to command it.
A tough few weeks had transpired, as they do sometimes. Tough enough that identifying them as if they were bullet points would be both tedious and disingenuous. So, I’m not going to do that. We all know what a tough few weeks feels like, relatively speaking. Remembering this fact alone makes the trip worthwhile.
Most people, when feeling distant to even those closest to them, hoard the feeling and react towards others based upon it, but without actually addressing it. Not to themselves…and most certainly not to others. Leaving all parties involved to suffer the harsh expression of it, none of whom necessarily deserving of it.
I’m especially guilty of this, as it is perhaps my nature and a reflection of my own insecurities, to be overly independent and distant at times. When life feels unpleasant, I sometimes force its unpleasantness upon those within the ropes of my squared circle. I lash out impatiently, and regret it almost instantly. Fortunately, I have very understanding people in my squared circle. May I continue to be so undeservedly charmed.
Point is, I’m recognizing my tendencies earlier and more often. I find myself acknowledging them before words spill and feelings are hurt. I find myself biting my tongue. I take my time. I take my space. I sulk, and I check & balance. I aspire, make goals and regroup. I come back better than ever. Because the Universe has allowed for my repositioning of the scales in a way that better suites my ideals, which I recognize. I take action.
I invited a handful of guys to join me, knowing full and well that it was a long shot. Not only was the notice short but I understand not everyone is feeling caged at the same moments that I am. It’s all good. Though I found myself wondering: who does this shit? Once the initial shame sensations subsided (read: what the fuck is wrong with me?), like a whitewashed table the solid surface beneath was revealed and it was proud as oak. Driving two and a half hours out of town felt obvious. Watching my dog bewilder herself with wave patterns caused by her lanky legs in the river current felt necessary and perfect. After all, if any animal has the right to feel caged, it’s the ever-obedient, loyal and loving domestic dog.
At various points during the retreat – canoeing down a river so quiet an apocalyptic event could have occurred and I would not have known it, or moving my chair from beneath the oak and maple canopy above to take in the stars – I found myself reassuring myself.
I do this shit.
I move through the timid exercises of social understanding and approval, and on to riding the tide of self-awareness. Even when the parts of myself that I’m suddenly self-aware of are not very savory.
I suppose if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I feel lucky to have beer. For better or worse, the beer helps.
While renting a canoe, my dog lay on the store’s linoleum floor as peaceful as I’d ever seen her. Exhausted by the complete assault on her senses, I’m sure. The kind of pleasant, casual conversation probably enjoyed regularly by those beyond the light pollution provided extra time for her to relax. She’s an opportunistic beast. To me this kind of friendly banter feels foreign. Which is unfortunate. Should I be instigating these moments? Would anyone back home want me to?
Who does this shit? Who overanalyzes conversations at Harvey’s General Store and Canoe Rental six hours after they occur?
Another transcendentalist and fellow Gemini, Walt Whitman, wrote that the world for which he was born did not exist. I respect the feeling. I know the feeling. But this is a cop out. We must create the world for which we were born within the world we are given. When changes are called for, when we feel dissonance within ourselves, we must address it hastily. Or we must accept our recurring plight and subsequent discontent as our reality responsibly, doing our damnedest to not smear our shit onto everyone else’s canvas.
So I’m here. A few hundred miles from vandalizing lives. Sitting by the fire I made, next to the dog I love, doing what I know I should be doing so much more than I do: writing.
Just like that, an epiphany drops down like a tick from a tree. There are things that I do that are filling the spaces of the things that I should be doing. This is the internal conflict that I’ve been feeling. I must do more of the things that I know I should be doing. Plain and simple. Being kind and compassionate to those close and to those unknown to me. I need to be doing more of that. Creating my life more carefully and with greater precision. Writing. In a proverbial and in the literal sense. I need to be doing more of that.
Having done so for a respectable bit of time, I stare at the campfire as if it may have more answers. But I expect and hope for none. Enough introspection has been had for one day and now it’s time to rest my brain. The khakis…they were just the pants easiest to grab on my way out the door. Because I wear them a lot. “Business Casual.” My summer conformity uniform.
Wearing them inappropriately never felt better.