Photo: Aurora Darwin
A little context here: The working title for the memoir is All These Imperfect Emotions. The visceral experience of being on the Peel defined this trip for me. I felt my way though, stomped and swore, and sometimes wept my way through this journey, and sometimes I laughed and sang, too. And that’s a big part of what I want to write about. One thing I find about admitting to someone that I had a less than pristine response to a situation, is that they tend to want to council me out of these feelings, or make sure I’m not beating myself up for having them. But mindfulness, real mindfulness, means accepting all the feels. And in order to write this book properly, I need to do just that. Come clean about when I was angry, and selfish, and petty. I forgive myself! You’re damn right I forgive myself, the Buddha himself would have had some choice words to describe this trip. It was hard.
So in these blog posts, I’m going to explore the feels, for better or for worse, since talking with people about them seems to make me frustrated, but bottling them up is harmful. If a post is angry, then yes, I’m reliving some anger, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way I will ever view a memory. If the post is melodramatic and self-indulgent, then yeah. There was no shortage of self-pity on this trip. I need to relive it as well. And if it’s happy, well, enjoy. I hope you enjoy all the posts, because they all make up who I am. All these imperfect emotions.
Turns out it’s hard to come back from twenty days on the river, away from everything except eleven near strangers who became my friends. Family even, since, like family, we were stuck with each other and had to find ways around conflict. There was no avoiding text messages or using facebook statuses as a substitute for face to face contact, as I have been doing since I got home. After my friends had come around to have a look at me, to see if my journey had changed anything, many of them dropped out of the picture all together. As unlikely as it sounds, I have changed. I’ve lost some weight, built up strong arms and shoulders and a six pack, and I can’t feel my toes. Inside, I’m different, too. I still feel the difference, a potent cocktail of clarity and confidence, though the fog of city bullshit is seeping in, numbing me a little. Urban life is ridiculous. The number of things we do every day that don’t contribute in any way to our survival is staggering. And it’s pissing me off.
Two days after my return, I passed a woman on the street and I could smell her makeup. It wasn’t that she had a lot on, just your usual urban spackle. That’s how sharp my senses were, how unused to chemical smells I had become. As days passed on the river with minimal hygiene, people joked about how bad we smelled. On the contrary, I was amazed at how positively neutral we smelled, how that deep, skunky armpit stench just wasn’t present in my merino long johns, and my socks never got to that Gorgonzola stank. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. My hair achieved a certain level of oily-ness, and then seemed to recover. I’ve never been a germaphobe, but besides wishing I could have kept my hands (dirt mittens) a little cleaner, and maybe indulged in an occasional leg exfoliation, I didn’t mind being grubby. And then there was clothing, the concept of how I looked in it utterly removed, now used only for warmth. Its original intention!
And then there was food, only one item on the menu every meal, that I was so ravenously hungry for, it tasted crazy good. Sugar was an explosively delicious treat, not an addiction I sated at intervals, because I happened to be passing a Starbucks. Water gave life, directly. Drink water, keep functioning. The beautiful simplicity of this transaction I observed several times a day. I probably formed an emotional connection to my water bottle long before I could perceive any kind of oneness with the Peel. The Peel scared me, it was too big, too powerful, too indifferent. Drinking water was manageable, and the rewards were immediate.
And how about having a finite amount of stuff to worry about, every day. One pack’s worth. Yes, it encourages a kind of obsessive attachment to the stuff you do have, that a Buddhist monk might caution you against. But a person can only be so enlightened at times like that. One day early on, when the weather was still crisp and clear and very sunny, I shoved my awesome, mirrored cop sunglasses in my bag and broke them. Oh the horror. The thought of fifteen more days spent squinting into the sun, the additional drain on my comfort levels, already so very, very low. I joke now, but at the time, only exhaustion kept me from bursting into tears. There was this unwritten law that you didn’t lean on any of your travel-mates emotionally if you could avoid it, but I showed my sad sunglasses to everyone around me, hungry for empathy. Look at them! Broken!
“I can fix those,” Jordon said. “Let me get my tools.”
“Really?” I said. “REALLY?”
And just like that, he took my sunglasses away while I went to do an interview with Calder, which early in the trip felt basically like me saying stupid things with a serious face, and laughing sometimes. When the interview was done, Jordon returned my glasses, good as new except for a little rubber sleeve around one of the arms, and with one of those neck straps so they don’t fall off.
“I had an extra one,” he said.
Can I even express how happy I was? No. If you ever get so happy that you try to push your emotions through your body into another person because words are breathless and inadequate and frankly, a little tacky in a situation so sacred, that is how happy I was. I hugged him, and tried to push the happiness into him. I hope he felt it. It was a moment, a wonderful moment, centred around a thing, but beautiful because of an action. Jordon’s action.
And if I’d broken my glasses in the city? I’d have bought a new pair. There’s simplicity there, for sure. No beauty.
Beautiful simplicity is a concept I buy into. I aim for beautiful simplicity in my writing, and I live pretty simply, partly because I choose to, and partly because I’m broke. But the simplicity of being on the river brought me so many beautiful moments: drinking cold water, putting on dry socks, the feeling of sun on my flaky, flaky arms. And now that I’m back, every day is filled with so many distractions, I get further and further away from that happiness. I’m lucky that I get to write about the trip, that I get to relive these moments, that is a small consolation. But honestly, the constant shit storm we’re subjected to via urban living, so many things we can’t change but are encouraged to spend hours and hours thinking and worrying about, and then, because we’re stressed, so many ways to escape the worry. Things like pedicures, and facebook statuses, and alcohol. Fuck these things. I’m angry at them right now. I’m angry at the whole stupid cycle.