Brendan asked me to write a blog post. I am a little nervous to share, because this is not about adventure in the regular sense of the word.
Currently I’m in a laundromat in a small town in Northern Wisconsin. I have lived in this beautiful place for 9 months. Not in the laundromat - in northern Wisconsin. Although, it’s nicer than most. The laundromat, I mean. Wisconsin is nicer than most states though, too.
Everybody waves, for example. In a town of only 4,000 people, everybody waves.
Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity recently, and what it means to be authentic. I’m even going to try to write this without editing; the dream/idea being that whatever I write in one go is more authentic than being able to go back over it a number of times, editing it until it’s “good enough”.
Essentially, I’m trying to be more authentic because nothing - including and especially me - is good enough. And I’ve recently come to understand that authenticity - and vulnerability - is the cure to that shame.
Do you want to hear something crazy? Haha! I just became aware of a plan formulating in the back of my head. And this was a real thought that just came to me - or maybe more like a knowing, as if I’d always known the plan.
The plan goes like this: “Muwahah I’ll say that I’ll write it without editing so that people’s expectations are low and then really I’ll go back and edit it until it’s perfect and then everyone will be amazed by my writing skills / deep thoughts”.
So, scratch that last part. I’ll probably edit this. Again, scratch. I will defiantly edit this. I already have. I just did it, like 10 times. To make it good enough for everyone else, and for me.
What’s the point of admitting that? Well, first off, I feel better, proud of the admission that I am not perfect, that I lie, that I often make plans knowing full well that I won’t follow through with them. And hopefully I’ve gained your trust. With the admission of one lie, you know I’m committed to this “authentic” letter. Committed to holding myself accountable. Second, I guess, is to show you how deep it goes. The shame of being me is not so easily deterred by an idealized blog post written without edits, it appears.
One of my favorite lines comes from a Modest Mouse song; it goes, “Well, I know this of myself, so I assume as much for other people”. So the rest of this letter assumes that occasionally you all have also felt shame in being you, felt “not good enough”. Felt disconnected from other people. I’m also assuming most of us at some point would like to edit our lives, or at least edit the way we live them. Most of us have wanted to take back a joke that offended, declined that last shot in a bar at 2am, etc.
But the more I think about it, the more I think that we do edit our lives, in real time - and I’m NOT talking about social media. Fuck that. I’m tired of hearing about social media being a problem. Unhealthy social media use is a symptom, and we should be talking about how to treat the virus. If you want to kill a weed, you go for the roots, right?
I’m talking about masks, about defenses. About tactics to keep us safe from feeling “negative” emotions, pain, hurt, alone. About how we edit our lives unconsciously, habitually.
As an example, my own masks include perfectionism, “I can do it by myself”, a consistent “happy face”. I consciously and unconsciously use humor to distract, I lie, I stay busy, I minimize myself and emotions while talking to others. All of these numb hurt, pain, shame. Unfortunately they also numb every other emotion, including joy, happiness, excitement.
These masks and defenses, these real time edits, they blur the authenticity of a person. They are both a response to not feeling good enough as well as contributors to not feeling good enough. I know it’s me as much as anyone. Not all my connections are as authentic as they could be because of these masks, these defenses.
No wonder why I feel disconnected from others and misunderstood sometimes.
I work for a wilderness therapy program as a field guide. For the last 9 months this job has been my life. Engaged in the therapy process for so many people has brought to light a lot of my own shit. I guess that’s what this is really about.
I’ll tell you a story that really got me thinking. It actually happened last night. I’m working with a girl that, for anonymity, I’ll call Jess, because I’ve never worked with a real Jess.
I’ve been working with Jess for a month; we have a good relationship, she trusts me perhaps more than any other male in her life. I take a lot of pride in that - trust and a solid relationship is important if I want to get any *ahem* authentic work done with her. We’ve stayed up late talking about a whole range of problems, her adoption, her surprising amount of relationships, her long life of 13 years. Mainly, how she feels rejection all of the time. Unless you explain to her exactly why you are saying “no” to something she asks for, she takes it personally and feels rejected. She thinks all of the other girls hate her. Sometimes she thinks I hate her.
And I put her up to a challenge - I can’t explain it fully - but she is away from the group a lot this week. And last night, as she’s brushing her teeth alone, she calls, “Kent, can we talk?”
The point is that she learns to cope with loneliness, among other things. Jess hates coping.
“Well, I’m willing to talk about why you want to talk - and about why you feel like you need to talk right now”.
“Well, this is the only time I get to talk to you, you’re busy all the time!”
“No, no. Come on. Don’t put this on me. Why do you want to talk right now?”
“Jess, be real with me. Why right now?”
“BECAUSE I’M LONELY. Okay? I’M LONLEY AND I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE. Want to hear a joke?”
I looked at her.
“Want to see what I made earlier? It’s a bracelet out of roots”.
“Man, Jess. Can you notice yourself reaching for distraction? What do you do at home when you’re lonely?”
“I’m not like everyone else, I don’t do anything unhealthy, I don’t do drugs, I just jump on my trampoline or leave the house or find someone to be around or…”
“Jess, I’m going to go back to the group, to give you the opportunity to truly sit with what loneliness feels like. No distractions”.
She looks hurt, angry, maybe sad. This is okay with me, for the time being. I walked back to the group. It was a Thursday night, and after everyone was in their tent, I picked up my pack. I had the next day off, so I wasn’t staying with the group that night. I looked around to see if staff needed anything, if I could be useful in any way. Nope. Have I done everything I needed to? Talked with everyone I should have? With growing hesitation, I buckled the hip belt and began the 40 minute hike out to my car, my dim headlamp illuminating nothing but the 6 feet of trail in front of me. It needs batteries. I hated that I had the next day off. Three days? I didn’t even know if anyone was at the apartment.
As I walked away, the loneliness set in. I thought of Jess. Rejected and lonely. “Sit with it”.
When I got to my car, I turned the music up as loud as it could go. I sent out a few texts to see if anyone was in town.
When I got to my apartment, I flipped through reddit until I fell asleep.
We could dissect the story I just shared. Partly because I like dissecting, but really it’s because it’s almost unacceptable to me to leave on a sad note. What if that’s how this blog post had ended? Satan forbid everyone think I was a “sad person”!
But, it was important to me to be vulnerable, to share a sad/lonely moment of my life and take the “always happy” mask off for a bit. The last thing I posted on the internet was a literal highlight reel of my life. It was all the footage I took in 2015. I’ll put the link in here somewhere. I love watching the video, it brings me back to the happiest parts of 2015. But 2015 was a whole year. I experienced many other things besides joy and adventure. There’s a part where I’m sand boarding with two of my best friends in Colorado. It looks fucking awesome in the video. And it was.
But also in those 4 hours of sand boarding I felt anxious - I was moving to Texas in a week, by myself. I also felt lonely - my two best friends have been a couple for a long time and I remember feeling a surge of loneliness that I did not have a partner there with me. Perhaps it was jealousy of their relationship.
The point is that video is true but it is not honest. It’s not vulnerable. Happy songs, exciting and quick cuts, ADVENTURE! JOY! Those things happened, but I felt so many other things in 2015.
Rás Life is about living the real moments, and I appreciate the hell out of that. Because some of the most real moments are pain, sadness, loneliness. Jess is working on the courage to experience those moments in full - partly because I am helping (or, in her words, “making”) her. If I learned anything from last night, is that I need to start experiencing them fully too.
Well, I looked it over for the last time. Everything I’ve written, it seems true right now. Maybe it won’t be true in a year, maybe I’ll have more insight into what is happening. Here’s a quote. Thanks for reading.
“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” If you’re having a bad day, it is.