There and Back Again

I’ve now been back home for as long as I was away (longer, by the time I’ve finished writing this and you’ve finished reading.) It seems a good moment to sit down and write.

Nearing the ‘end’ of the ride I felt a nagging obligation to find something before going home, so I’m a bit self-conscious about this post: what if I don’t have enough to show for having gone there and back again? No Goblin swords or Dragon’s gold. I’ve been experimenting with possible opening lines, ways to sum up the odyssey experience in a sentence or two. Here’s one.

Adventure is so unsettling, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone except that it’s ridiculously fun when it’s not miserable and cold and wet and lonely.

True fact.

Here’s another.

I didn’t know that I was on a quest for some thing until I got lost, and didn’t know that I was fighting free of some thing until returning home again.

Also true.

I was talking to a friend about this last blog post, about my urge to sum up the experience and offer the world a tidy narrative of my journey and he said No Don’t Do That! Life has no ribbons no hospital corners no neat conclusions! And neither does your journey! It was a road of growing questions and questions on questions and they continue to live with you. It was a road of great extremes: huge unutterable joy, vast newness, awe to the point of numbness…and also deep darkness: times of loneliness, fear, doubt, confusion, longing. It was messy! And life continues so, if in a subtler way; life continues so.

Change is easy to experience on the road because it’s so fucking obvious: Jesus there’s a YAK! They don’t have those in Berkeley! The search for the miraculous becomes subtler when living a more stationary, predictable life. But really…I wonder if this predictability isn’t a false assumption…? I think I know what’s going to happen next because my toothbrush stays in one place and I always know where I’m going to sleep.

When I first got home the bizarre novelty of the familiar wacked me upside the head and I remember thinking to myself: things change in a hurry…and they stay the same in a hurry, too. I was already grieving for the moment when I would forget the miracle of every kind and comfortable thing.

Cycling into Madison (‘twas a gorgeous summer evening but I was bone tired and so really didn’t care) I paused next to a commuter cyclist at a stoplight. He looked at my rig and said where are you going? I told him and he said “wow I’d love to go on a bike ride where I didn’t have to turn around and go back at the end of it.” Didn’t have to turn around. Here’s the thing. I knew all along that at SOME POINT I was going to turn around. Most probably. I was theoretically open to the idea of falling in love and moving to Canada but really I was planning to go home and then go to rehearsal (insert shameless plug for The Coast of Utopia: currently in previews, we open March 29. Shotgun Players. Berkeley. Be there.)

Even though I was excited about the work ahead of me, returning home brought on this sense of grieving. As the train pulled into the Emeryville station I felt a desperate braking in my heart: please pleeeeaaasssse waaaaaaiiiiittt it cried. Don’t. Go. Backwards.

For days I resisted unpacking the boxes I’d stowed away to make room for my sub-letter. What was in those boxes that made me so scared and sad? Three of them were labeled Chaos Boxes: for the stuff that resists easy labeling, the stuff that is left over after everything else is organized and stowed away.

On the road I found a kind of freedom I’d never felt before. It was a freedom to be who ever the hell I wanted to be, and to be different in each moment. Most of my conversations were with complete strangers so I didn’t have to be Caitlyn the This or Caitlyn the That: I could just be a person talking to another person on the side of the road. Plus every environment was so new: I didn’t have a vocabulary for dealing with many of the scenarios I encountered, so I had to make it up. This was both empowering and liberating and often frightening.

I remember talking to a friend one day as I sat in the middle of my room in utter terror, surrounded by boxes. You don’t want to what? You’re scared to…unpack? Call me crazy, but the boxes seemed to contain aspects of some kind of static identity--a pre-Odyssey collection of assumptions about myself and about the world. I was afraid that whatever was in those boxes would steal away my sight, teach me to forget how to live with eyes wide open. I didn’t want to unpack the old boxes of stuff until I’d unpacked the new boxes of not stuff I’d collected on the road, then maybe the old and the new could duke it out. But metaphysical boxes tend to unpack themselves when they damn well feel like it…so I was going to have to be patient. I let the ‘real’ boxes sit unopened for a good long time and lived my life around them until I needed a washcloth or a stapler: little by little the chaos boxes emptied themselves. And once I was good and rested, the invisible boxes began to open too.

People keep asking me three things: what prompted the journey, what’s your biggest take away, and what’s the next Big Adventure. I have no answers for these questions! Adventure is too wild for summary and would probably get pissed off and bite me if I tried to capture and label it. I will say this: I could have done ANYTHING and I chose to go home to friends and family and make more theatre, so my bet is that the next Big Adventure will have something to do with love and art and staying in one place. I was recently talking to a wise friend who said that fighting to stay put for a spell was one of the biggest mountains he ever climbed in his life; staying still does not mean missing out or going backwards…though it can often feel that way, especially to young grasshoppers like myself. The world is happening everywhere, at every moment, and chasing after some kind of quintessence is probably the only way not to catch it. I have an inkling that there are certain kinds of riches that can only be mined by holding one's horses.

One narrative of the journey seems to be about the dance of choice and chance and the role I play in creating my own happiness along the way. Whatever it was that I was questing…it wasn’t out there beyond my reach; it’s right in front of me as long as I choose to see it. I know this sounds woo woo and like whoa so obvious but you guys I rode 2,400 fucking long sweaty miles during which time I forgot and remembered this over and over and over and over. It’s not out there, it’s right here. It’s not out there, it’s right here. Happiness seems to have something to do with choosing to see what ever comes next with a Yes of Course! Rather than: Really? That? What scares me though is that if I simply accept what’s in front of me…is that the end of the story? No I tell myself: it’s a paradox: I can’t move forward to the next true thing until I see and accept what’s in front of me now. Plus: what the hell’s wrong with an imperfect moment?

Sir Peter Hall says that the expected is the enemy of the living theatre. Now yes okay we can’t just go onstage and “be unpredictable” that would get us fired. What’s interesting though is that in order to come alive to the unpredictability of the moment one must slow the fuck down, listen deeply and let go deeply. It’s another paradox: in order to dance with chaos one must be positively still.

I am humbled by the fact that life’s big questions must be forgotten and found over and over again: maybe that’s why we go on quests, to remember what we already know but keep forgetting.

Plus…adventure is pretty damn fun, too.