Unable to be Moved—a Fiction Vignette

I need to write how I feel though it rarely makes any difference. The birdsong, the calm of Sunday evening, everyone in their homes, the loss of light as night overcomes the day: none of it moves me. My own unhappiness moves me least of all. It disgusts me. I went to a place where people who sometimes move me get together, but my heart did not stir. I flipped through books that had moved me before—to tears, to adventure and the road, to longing, to love for wildness and people great and small, to love for quiet and peace within me. I tossed each book down again. None of them could move me. Oh, but I would not be resigned! In the morning before the sun had risen I got on my bike, rode up in the direction of a mountain to the south for 15 miles up a steep grade. I made it to the top and flew down. But to move oneself is not to be moved, to feel oneself moving closer to some destination is not to move closer to oneself. I could see the trees pass by in a blur on the side of the road; it could not make clearer the blurred confusion within me. I moved my body but my soul was left unmoved.

Knowing I could not simulate the love for people I didn’t presently feel, I moved myself into the simulation of anger to see if that emotion could change my mood. I riled myself up. People? I despised them. Always smiling, unconscious or unable to allow themselves to feel their own suffering. It was all pretend, a never-ending game of Risk that ends with each player being dominated by the world, except in this pretend game people were stabbed for their shoes and thrown into gutters to die with rats. And me? I was experiencing my anger about people faking happiness and about the injustice of things in a superficial, fake, non-genuine way, without the compassion and sadness that I knew were deeper than the anger. That only sunk me deeper. I could not think of one happy moment.

Just two nights before, I had danced to funk, soul, and rock and roll. I could not hold the memory in my mind. It flew from me into unreality. Dancing—when I felt most myself, most able to express the truth in my soul—did nothing to me. Its restless, self-abandoning and self-revealing movement was only a way to escape the inability to be moved. It was no better than riding a bike. It was nothing but a last ditch effort to rid oneself of burdens that, at the end of the night, would come back with unforgiving vengeance. It failed like all other futile efforts. I remembered with greater clarity the visceral feelings that came into consciousness after the dancing was over and the glow from it gone: unable to sleep, pummeling the keyboard like I always do, trying to approximate in writing the feelings I get from dancing, and failing there too.

It was all failure, and success was the greatest illusion and entrapper of all. I had never succeeded, though perhaps nothing is more fortunate than this. I had lost jobs, lost prestige, lost relationships that had not even begun. No one had lost anything for me. I had lost them all the way I prided myself on being: alone. But none of those outward losses bothered me as much as the inner feelings: my felt sense of deficiency; my inverse and hidden grandiosity, the distance between who I was and who I felt like I could be; my loneliness yet my barely unconscious shattering of all possible opportunities I had to moderate that loneliness with a long-term romantic partner. But what good did that do? How could someone else take the loneliness away? It was not possible. The loneliness was there, and all I could do was understand and express it as best I could. A partner would only put temporary distance between myself and what I could not be parted from.

I could lose everything as long as I could create a work of art that expressed all the pain of those losses and the much greater pain of which those losses were only a symptom. I could not do it because I didn’t even feel any pain, only apathy and a frustration I felt would engulf me from the inside. I suppose I cannot say that I did not feel pain, but my greatest pain was being unable to express the pain I felt. Everything I wrote was inadequate. Only dancing provided an immediate and full expression of feeling. But the expression of pure and complete feeling possible in dancing was inadequate because inarticulate. Energy without meaning. I could dance and express the truth in my soul, but what was that truth? What did it mean? What good did it do after the fact? Nothing was left on the floor, though everything had been propelled out and onto it. It was depth brought to the surface with nothing that remained after the cessation of movement. Nothing that explained the contradictory feelings of overwhelming nothingness and unbearable passion impossible to keep down, the feelings that had caused the restless movement in the first place.

Soon all the feelings would plunge back in and down, become invisible, practically non-entities, as insignificant as the empty dance floor in the closed dive that only moments before had been the site of such forced exuberance. The feelings would be sucked in like dirt into a vacuum, the only thing to show for their existence and expression the fading neurotransmitters that would make it difficult to sleep for a few hours at least. And in the morning a hangover as psychologically painful as that from booze, though the night had been spent without the suspect benefits of that wrecking substance. The extreme ecstasy that dancing can bring at its most intense moments does not lead to long-term happiness and the comedown is just as severe, just as strong as that from any intensely enjoyable experience, whether naturally felt or artificially prompted. It is important to find the center, but not if it precludes the dancing, not if it prevents the soaring. Let monks and spiritual titans experience that grounded, centered equanimity. I know nothing of the center. It is as alien to me as I have become to myself.

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“Hunger”

I no longer need you, but
I do still need
to feel the hunger
I used to feel for you,

as

I no longer need to be alone, but
I do still need
to feel the hunger
I can’t help but feel
alone,

as

I no longer need to drink, but
I do still need
to feel the thirst I couldn’t help
but feel when I couldn’t drink.
I need to create
out of that endless hunger.

Don’t think

I needed
to love you.
I did anyways; I couldn’t help it.
I loved you then
the way you need him now;

I’ve heard

the way you talk to him;
it’s the same way my poems never sounded
when you read them back to me.

Well, here goes:

I hungered for you to hunger for me;
when you hungered for me,
I was glutted with you
and hungered for her,

so

I’m afraid my hunger will devour me,
that it cannot be satisfied,

and also

I’m afraid I hunger only
for what keeps me hungry.

There’s this:

If we are afraid together,
will we be half as afraid?

And this:

if we are alone together,
will we be twice as alone?

And, of course, this:

if we are hungry together,
will you take care of the bill?

Tell me:

When the storm rages
will you let me sit,
surrounded by it,
to meet with stillness?

Yet,

why some days can I sit for hours,
patient like the mountain laurel,
while other days I am a child who waits
for a roller coaster, a child who hates
roller coasters, yet in strange ways
hungers for what he hates.

Answer me:

If I say
I cannot receive love
and
I cannot receive enough love
and
I hunger for what keeps me hungry,

will you understand?

Biking the Oregon Coast Part 2, Day 2: From Lincoln City, Oregon to the Washington State Line

I woke up before the sun rose at the campground in Lincoln City. I had gotten to the site late the night before. There had been no one at the window, so I didn’t pay for the site. I left before anyone could hassle me over that. It was before six in the morning, but when I got to the road it was still maddeningly busy.

This trip was a microcosm of the longer trip I had done from Montana to Arizona almost four years before. I experienced all the feelings I had on that trip, but in a shorter period of time. There was the same need to go, the same confused and unclear longings, the same restlessness, the same moments of doubt, the same feelings of loneliness, the same experiences of accomplishment and jubilation. The feelings were condensed on this trip; they did not have the time to fade that they would on a longer journey. They came in shorter but more intense bursts. For me, the more intense the feelings are, the more rewarding. When the road loses its intensity, it’s time to go home, if you’ve got one. If the road is home it’s time to leave home for a time, settle down for a week or two.

There was a streak of insanity to the journey up the Oregon Coast. Each day I rode for over ten hours. Ten the first day, almost fourteen the second, twelve on the third, and thirteen hours on the last day. Why? I had a week to do it, but I did it in four days, and when I was done I felt like I wouldn’t be able to bike for at least four more. I could have averaged more like eight hours on the road per day instead of twelve. But maybe I wanted to test my endurance, as I pedaled by the eternally enduring sea.

So the trip was a microcosm.

I experienced moments of doubt. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? These feelings are probably normal for any trip, but this one somehow seemed more purposeless to me than any. To go out while resolving not to return is one thing. I can understand that. But to go for a four-day out and back tour, even along a beautiful stretch like the Oregon Coast—that is more difficult to understand. Yet I was doing it. I felt like I needed to do it. I certainly wasn’t doing it for fun. There were moments of exhilaration, feelings of strength. But more often it was painful. The wind on the way north was relentless, that cannot be stressed enough. The going was slow. It was work more than fun, work without the weekly check. It is easy to forget how to have fun, and often times I forget. I was not taking an easy ride up the coast. I was booking it, a man on a mission, but what my mission was exactly, I couldn’t say. When I started going and the wind was relentless, I just grimaced. Very well then, into the wind. I welcomed the wind with wild grins contorted by pain.

There was something holding me in Oregon, something I felt was concurrent with my purpose as an individual, but its hold was getting looser. Still, I couldn’t go out if I wouldn’t come back. But as long as I returned I could still go. I wanted to push through all feelings without pushing any of them under. I felt as unsettled and restless as I ever have. I knew the best way for me to deal with those feelings was to keep moving, keep cranking up the revolutions and intensity until I could crank no more. On the trip, that worked; after the trip ended I felt exhausted and could barely move for a few days and then the restlessness returned with a vengeance, what had been holding me loosened its grip still more, and I ended up returning to the coast to do Oregon’s southern route.

I experienced moments of loneliness. On a solo trip, there will be loneliness. I would rather be alone and experience occasional bouts of loneliness than be with another and desire to be alone. The desire to be alone is usually stronger in me than the desire for a companion. When it is not, then I feel lonely.

I remember passing a party on the outskirts of Tillamook on Saturday night, heading back from the Washington border. I saw a woman and man kissing out on the deck, the woman in a bikini. The sun was setting. I felt the loneliness; there was nothing to do but ride on, bringing the loneliness along for the ride.

As I rode, I thought about why that particular scene brought loneliness. It seemed so much like the essence of something, some ideal I had always imagined but never realized. The vast sweep of sand stretching out below, empty of people, the magnificent and rock-islanded Oregon coast, the sun sinking slowly, and a young couple having found their place feeling a part of it all, seeing each aspect of the scene—the vastness of the beach, the power of the sea, the brightness of the sun—reflected in the other’s eyes.

A small, for some reason nearly forbidden part of me felt lonely for that life. I knew I would never experience that much contentment, that much peace and easy happiness, for longer than a few hours or minutes. I cannot understand actively pursuing that life. I take those feelings as they come, but I do not pursue them. I have never been able to let myself experience them for too long. There has to be some conflict, some war with the self, some divine discontent, in order to live a creative life. So I tell myself, at least. My creative output would have to be my romantic sunset night. I too was a part of this scene, a part of it all, not least because there was no one else there with me. My aloneness made me an integral part of what a companion might take away from. So my rationalizations went. As I continued moving, the thoughts slipped away like the sinking of the sun. I kept moving as it started to get dark.

sunset oregon post 2

But that was the following day. This day was still Friday, one of the most physically difficult days of the trip. I don’t know how to write about the actual biking. I just kept pedaling until I got to where I ended up, which was the brilliantly named town of Seaside. It was painful; I was in despair most of the time; I cursed the cars and wind; I belted out Dylan and Zevon again; and I talked to a long-bearded man who was walking from San Francisco to Seattle. I thought it was strange when he said he was walking. We were in the town of Tillamook, renowned for cows and what comes from cows, and we were both walking . I could see that he was walking. That was evident. I was also walking. Later when riding it hit me that he actually meant he was walking the coast, up to Seattle. That was a more impressive feat.

The long-bearded man was from Flagstaff and wearing a NAU shirt; apparently, he had spent some at the Wednesday community lunch offered at Prescott College. That was quite a coincidence. When I said I went to Prescott College, he said, “One of them, huh?” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I answered, “yes and no.” I didn’t explain further but if I did I would’ve said,

“I go to the school but I do not feel like ‘one of them’, or one of anything, save the human race occasionally. And though I like being outdoors, and most people at Prescott College like being outdoors, that alone does not make me one of them. In fact, that is one of the reasons I find it hard to be there. How do I distinguish myself when there are so many others with the same interests, the same passions. The need to stand out has always been much stronger in me than the need to fit in. However, my natural inwardness does not usually allow me to stand out, except when writing takes my place, and the words are authentic and passionate. And how does it take my place? What place is there to take? Who is authentic? What is passion if invisible? And where do I go if writing takes my place? Who goes? Who writes? Who knows? Go home! You long-bearded expatriate from Flagstaff! Go moan for man! Go eat the famous Tillamook cows! And how authentic is it when it takes my place? You ask. As authentic as a place holder? Have I placed my trust in images and distorted facts? Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at? I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me any better than that?”

http://videosift.com/video/Bob-Dylan-Idiot-Wind-1976 (very cool version)

And then the long-bearded expatriate of Flagstaff would probably be mightily confused because indeed I had just met him less than two minutes ago and had not known him for all these years, unless he knew the Dylan song and then perhaps we would have joined in a duet, and after finishing and radically butchering most of the song I would’ve said, ‘Let’s go, I’ll walk my bike to Seattle with you’ and we would have taken off for the road north and I would never have gotten back to school because I’d be walking up the coast with this man who would call me Alias while I would call him Augustine.

But none of that happened because I just answered, ‘yes an no.’ We talked for a few minutes, I wished him luck, then I took off again for the Washington state line.

The wind was howlin’ and outrageous but I just put my head down and pedaled slowly and steadily until I made it to Seaside close to sundown. All the tent sites were equally as outrageous in price as the wind was in power, so I camped by the side school which I hoped was closed for the summer. Anyways it was Friday night. I ate a burger in a fish joint and then went and saw a movie by myself: Spy. It was very funny but I nearly fell asleep during it for exhaustion.

I slept without issue that night by the school, woke up late, and went to a continental breakfast at the Quality Inn. Illegal! You rotten vagrant! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I probably shrug my shoulders and give no response. Though I was itching to get back to the road, now being only about twenty miles from the state line and the turn around point and the wind at my back, food was necessary, and also free, if illicit. No issue at the Quality Inn either, and some quality eggs, sausages, granola, blueberry muffins, and I forget what else. On previous trips I had once done this often without shame, feeling I deserved it from the riding I was doing, but I was starting to feel slightly uneasy. I was older now, nearing the age when other people were making money, maybe even sleeping at hotels and getting the continental breakfasts with good consciences and emptier wallets. Well, regardless, I was starving and felt I had the right to the food that would probably been thrown out anyways. I wasn’t causing anyone any pain. Entitlement! Rationalization! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I would probably shrug my shoulders and give no response, though perhaps I would secretly agree.

So I ate and went back on the road, where I would ride up to Astoria and get pummeled by wind from what felt like every direction as I rode over the bridge to Washington in order to promptly turn around and head back over the bridge to Oregon. Insanity! You might roar, enjoying yourself now with glee, to which I would openly and wholeheartedly agree, with a shrug and perhaps a wild yodel, now with the wind at my back.

Washington

Biking The Oregon Coast (Part 1): From Florence to Lincoln City

I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.

I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.

I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.

I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”

This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.

The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.

John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.

I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.

I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,

“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.

In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”

more oregon coast

oregon coast

The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.

I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.

oregon sunset

I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.

“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”

Or Warren Zevon:

“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”

Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.

oregon caost sunset

“Feeling Empty in Myself”

Feeling empty in myself
I took to the highway
Where I rode under a menacing sky
Filled with vultures descending on sheep
Scattered amidst dew-covered grass by the sea
On that morning when the mist would not lift.

Feeling empty in myself
I opened and closed the cabinets of a desk
Looking for a letter she wrote me long ago
Her words overflowing with feelings
I once thought would fulfill me.

Feeling empty in myself
I filled up a notebook with words
Looking for the word
That would shorn me of myself
Long enough to be reborn.

Feeling empty in myself
I began to celebrate my fill of error
And lament my still-born success.
I undressed my undirected terror
And began to caress its undefended neck.

Feeling empty in myself
I discovered a dimly lit tavern filled with spirit.
Finding myself unable to soar with spirit
I sunk instead into soul
Until I could no longer hold under
What could only be driven up and out.

Feeling empty in myself
I imagined a life bounded by a journey never taken
Roads closing in on me as I hung on tight.
I put one hand on the ground
And raised the other to the sky
That the moon would soon overtake with light.

“What Do You Want?”

Can you let deadly calm possess you?
Can you let stillness confess its wordless secrets
On this windless morning?

You want to give everything,
But you have nothing to give.
You want to be yourself,
But do you know who that is?
You do not want to speak,
But you expect to be heard.
You do not want to be swayed,
But you demand to be stirred.

Can you let the river of unknowing stir you?
Can you let mystery endure amidst the empty uproar
On this wind-strewn afternoon?

You want to get out of here,
But you don’t know which way.
You want to say it all so clearly,
But you don’t know what to say.
You do not want to weep,
But you’d love to be honest.
You do not want to be surprised,
But you demand to be astonished.

Do your unending demands astonish you?
Do your own offending hands admonish you?
Feel the wind die down in the early evening.
Even it does not pretend to acknowledge you.

You want to change everyone else
So long as you can remain the exact same.
You want the world to be different
So long as you don’t have to feel any pain.
You don’t need to be with anyone
So long as they all want to be with you.
You are just fine with being all alone
Just so long as you are being pursued.

Can you let happiness pursue you?
Can you get out of your way long enough
To let the wind that picks up at dusk
Cut you back down and pull you through?

You want to remember how it was
So long as it was better back then.
You want to imagine how it will be
So long as it gets better again.
You don’t want to stay stuck here
So long as there’s someplace better to go.
You don’t mind stickin’ around
So long as someone here still enjoys your show.

Can you feel the agony of all your divisions?
Can you kneel over every one of your tragic decisions?
You open the window, no wind blows inside.
In the darkest part of the motionless night,
The silence pierces you with deadly precision.

“The Long-Awaited Remedy”

He’s out on the road, to break out of the mold
He vows he will never come back
He feels under siege, like his soul has been seized
His very lifeblood is under attack

She rides off into the night, rides on out of sight
A prisoner of longings and dreams
She has to get near to what she can no longer hear
Before it all comes apart at the seams

The truth can’t be heard, it lies beneath the word
The rooster now crows at midday
The grass won’t stay down, it grows while we drown
In all too predictable ways

The wino is out on the curb, he takes another swill
As men full of hate smile broadly and proclaim goodwill
And the sick man’s got no money to pay his hospital bill
He hears the spokesperson shout, ‘Have no fear!
The long-awaited remedy will soon be here!’

Now the market has crashed, the city is being thrashed
By sellers and buyers and thieves
He looks to the east, there’s no sign of the peace
That all the fighting was supposed to achieve

She takes a look inside, where the true war resides
And nothing in there makes any sense
Everything’s gettin’ harder, no one’s any smarter
The inaugural address is being given in past tense

The future can’t be heard, the past is lost in the words
Of a writer who doubts he can last
The strong have long gone, the spectacle drags on
With actors who have all been miscast

The fashion model is fired for the pound she is overweight
While her car gets impounded for the minute she is late
And as the romantic wiles away the time waiting for his soul mate
He hears the spokesperson shout, ‘Have no fear!
The long-awaited remedy will soon be here!’

Bob Dylan: Enneagram 4 (Part 1)

“We have named this type The Individualist because Fours maintain their identity by seeing themselves as fundamentally different from others. Fours feel that they are unlike other human beings.” (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-4/)

In the next few posts, I will look at Bob Dylan as an Enneagram 4. If you don’t know the Enneagram, I suggest reading the above link or checking out a book on it from the library. One of the best ones I’ve found is Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso (http://www.amazon.com/Personality-Types-Using-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0395798671). That book goes over the levels of each type, from healthy to average to unhealthy, the relationships that can occur between different types, and the wings of each type, as well as other Enneagram functions. The book is ideal for explaining the incredible complexity of the Enneagram with words and concepts someone who has never heard of the system can understand.

I cannot pretend to explain the Enneagram in full, but I will try to explain some of it as I go along. I did some research on Dylan as an enneagram 4 for a presentation I gave in a psychology class on personality, but I will go more in depth with it here. Because of an unfortunate circumstance, I now have a lot of time on my hands. I thought I would use the time productively and write, part of why I’ve written more in the past week than I probably did in the month and half prior. This will be a sort of psycho-biography on Dylan through an Enneagram lens. I am not sure how many parts it will have.

Bob Dylan was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, a middle-class town in middle America known for its coal mining. Dylan’s 4-ness was evident from the start. In most of the Enneagram books, the author explains how childhood events lead to the forming of a certain Enneagram type. I’m of the opinion, though I have no evidence to back it up other than personal experience, that people are born with an Enneagram type and childhood experiences are only used in order to explain the way we already were before the experiences occurred. For the Enneagram 4, the childhood story is usually some sort of abandonment, whether physical or emotional, some sense of not being understood, of being disconnected. “Fours are disconnected from both parents. As children, they did not identify with either their mother or their father” (Riso 1988). This is a massive generalization and cannot possibly be true for all 4’s. However, the generalization does seem to ring true for Dylan. He was not physically abandoned—In fact, he left his family and hometown at 18—but he did have the felt sense of not being understood. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan says, “Sometimes your parents don’t even know who you are. No one knows but you. Lord, if your own parents don’t know who you are, who else in the world is there who would know except you?” And in his autobiography Chronicles Dylan writes, “My father was the best man in the world and probably worth a hundred of me, but he didn’t understand me.” There could be few clearer expressions of the Enneagram 4 stance. ‘Worth a hundred of me’ hints at the distinctive 4 self-renunciation and ‘he didn’t understand me’ directly states Dylan’s feeling of being different from others and misunderstood.

Because 4’s feel some sort of disconnect with their parents—or unrelated to their parents—some sort of disconnect in general, the main goal of 4’s becomes to understand themselves, to turn “to themselves to discover who they are” (Riso 1988). Or, as Sandra Maitri puts it in her insightful book The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, “Like a boat loosed from its moorings, the inner experience of a Four is of being a separate someone who is cut off from Being and set adrift…at root is loss of contact with Being. What is left is a sense of lack and of lostness…There is a great longing to reconnect, to become anchored again in the connection that has been lost” (Maitri 2001, p. 139). In understanding themselves, in reconnecting, the Four hopes to “not feel so different from others in the deep, essential way that they do” (Riso 1988). Introspection is necessary for self-understanding but it can also result in excessive self-consciousness, which further separates the 4 from other people. In time, the 4 begins to “develop a sense of ego identity based on their difference from others”; They begin to focus on how they are unique and ignore or simply do not notice the ways they are similar to other people. “Being ‘unique,’” Riso writes, “feels like one of the only stable building blocks of their identity.”

Dylan’s obsession with uniqueness is evident in interviews and songs. Unlike some 4’s, Dylan succeeded in an impressive way with this primary 4 goal. No one who listens to his songs can say he is ordinary. In his autobiography, Chronicles, which is apparently not an altogether truthful account of his life (not exactly a rarity for a 4), Dylan writes, “Billy [From Columbia] asked me who I saw myself like in today’s music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn’t see myself like anybody” (Dylan 2004, p.8). Whether or not this conversation actually occurred (Dylan wrote the book more than 40 years after the fact), it is a striking example of the 4 stance: ‘I didn’t see myself like anybody.’ And it was probably true that Dylan didn’t see himself like anybody in popular music. He ended writing songs like no one else was writing or could write and playing music in a way no one else was playing.

Even the way Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) decided on a name fit with the viewpoint of the 4. “There already was a Bobby Darin, a Bobby Vee, a Bobby Rydell, a Bobby Neely and a lot of other Bobbys. Bob Dylan looked and sounded better than Bob Allyn.” There were already a lot of Bobby’s, so Dylan chose Bob. To make a probably harsh and fictional comparison, this is the same thinking a certain Tom Riddell had when he changed his name. There were already so many Toms. The name was so…common, so ordinary. Most likely Voldemort had a 4-wing; but his drive for power, notorious fame, and recognition are closer to the viewpoint of the pathologically unhealthy 3. I will save that for another post, however. It would be interesting to look at Harry Potter through an Enneagram lens.

In the next post, I’ll continue discussing Dylan through an Enneagram lens, getting into his early career and his struggles with identity, a 4 preoccupation.

And here is a song by Dylan that beautifully expresses aspects of the 4 I haven’t touched on yet: pain and melancholy. The lyrics also speak of disconnection:

“Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there”

“Soul”

My soul is broken until all souls can be bound together,
Yet each soul can remain a separate and unique manifestation.
My soul breaks when I see another broken soul.
Did I say another?
My soul breaks when I see soul, broken.
My soul will continue to break until there are no broken souls.

My soul breaks for the loneliness of the human condition,
The sense of separation we all feel from each other,
And from the truth of ourselves.

My soul breaks for and is mended during the journey we must all undergo
From separation to connection,
From apartness to closeness,
From painful loneliness to the unburdened aloneness
That we feel when we connect to and accept ourselves in our entirety,
Realizing the wholeness within that has been there all along.
My soul is not mended yet.

My soul yearns to be broken and shattered,
It yearns to be overtaken and sink under,
It yearns for years of suffering.

My soul yearns to be unbroken and whole,
It yearns to be given over and rise above,
It yearns for years of joy.

It is a soul full of desire.
It desires also not to desire,
How can the soul not desire that?

Will the soul be broken until it no longer desires to be unbroken?
Will the soul be broken until it is no longer?
Does the soul remain after it is no longer broken?
Was the soul ever unbroken?
Is the true nature of the soul unbroken and whole?

Questions, questions:
The soul is curious about itself,
It is a mystery to itself,
It is restless until it rests in itself,
It seeks until it finds itself at rest.

Will the soul ever be at rest?
Is the nature of the soul restless?
Or is the nature of the soul at rest,
And it is only restless until it finds itself?
How can the soul find itself?

Questions, questions:
The soul is curious and restless and the soul is broken.
The soul breaks when it feels the spirit of another broken soul,
The soul breaks down in weeping and fills up with joy,
The soul breaks, it yearns to be broken and to be unbroken.
The soul will continue to break until there are no broken souls.

Why Wilderness Therapy Works

Why does wilderness therapy work when other therapies don’t work? The word is wilderness. No person is healing another person. No one is the healer, no one the healed. Out in the wilderness, away from everything that makes it necessary to need healing, healing comes naturally. It doesn’t even look like healing, like recovery. In wilderness, recovery is not the final goal. What good is recovering what you have lost if you don’t uncover anything new? The wilderness allows for uncovering in addition to recovery. You begin by recovering the aspects of yourself that were lost to the addiction, compulsion, mental disorder, whatever. Then you begin to uncover aspects of yourself that you had never known about. You uncover aspects of yourself that do not belong to you alone. You uncover aspects of the world that also happen to be aspects you share. You recover the fact that you are capable. You can hike many miles in a day, you can make a fire, make a shelter. You can survive; you are worthy of your existence. You uncover the fact that you are more than capable, more than worthy. You discover a power that has nothing to do with superiority over other people; you discover a love that cannot be expressed, a love that comes into you from nowhere and out of you towards no definite object; you discover a sense of belonging that does not need to be identified and has nothing to do with other people. You discover the stillness at the heart of things, and in your own heart. You wake up the morning after the storm, and all the trees are still standing. You look at them and feel their strength, their robust aliveness.

The wilderness heals when words fail. And don’t words always fail? Ain’t talking, just walking. Let us walk together through the woods, both of us pilgrims, “searching ones on the speechless, seeking trail.” What are we seeking? If we knew, would we be speechless? Perhaps we would. Don’t we seek life, and is it true that life also seeks us? It certainly seems that way. Each person is sought by life, let’s call it, to give what only that person can give. We are sought and called in order that we might call back in answer, ‘I am here, and I will remain. I am here to answer the call of the one who seeks me, the one who I seek.’ And is it one who I seek? It could be one, it could be none, and it could be many. I seek the place where the one are many, and the many are one. I seek the place where there are none but myself and yet I am not the self I thought I was. Not another soul is there, but is that the truth? I seek the place where I become no one. Nemo. Everett Ruess disappearing into the red rock canyons.

What does it mean that wilderness therapy works? Is that the right word for it? Yes. This is Gurdjieff’s Work here, the work of awakening, of becoming one’s authentic self. Do you think you are already yourself? Maybe you are, I couldn’t know that. I know I am not, not completely. I am a fragment of the whole self. There is always further to go, more work to be done. I’m not there yet, but in the wilderness I do not worry about being not there. Where am I not? Where I am not is unimportant. Where I am is what matters. Being where I am is how I move towards who I’m not yet, who I could be.

Of course, there are moments of despair even in the pure clean air. There are moments of despair everywhere. Nothing we can do to escape those, especially when we’re in the wilderness. Where to go? What to say? What to do? Can’t drink, can’t get prescribed anything, can’t drive through the night, can’t rob a bank. Just keep walking, I suppose. Walk straight into it. Will the despair pass through and away like a storm from the east? Who knows? No use in minimizing it, rationalizing it, idealizing it. No use in talking about it at all. Ain’t talking, just walkin’. But even in the wilderness, that strange human desire for verbal utterance is still there. Very well, speak then. But it is important to choose your words carefully. The human words must somehow do justice to the inhuman beauty of the place. This is exceedingly difficult, and oftentimes it is better to melt into the silence. To become a part of the inhuman we become inhuman ourselves. Inhuman not meaning ‘unfeeling’ or ‘cold’ or ‘cruel’, but as defined by the poet Robinson Jeffers in his philosophy of Inhumanism: “A shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.”

To become part of the inhuman, we must not focus so much on the human. What was your relationship with your parents like? With your romantic partners? What do you remember about the trauma you suffered at age 7 when your parents accidentally packed you tuna for lunch, forgetting that you preferred pb + j? Well, I think I was enmeshed with my parents, or maybe abandoned by them. All my romantic partners left me, or maybe I left them all. The trauma with tuna, I think, is still affecting me in a deep and significant way today, as I instinctively recoil whenever I see anything remotely fish-like. Whatever. These human questions and answers fade into insignificance in the wilderness, as they deserve. They are not integral to The Work.

What is integral to The Work? Jeffers knew it. It is integral that we recognize the beauty of the inhuman world and feel a part of it. Recognize the human and the inhuman within us. Envy and equanimity. Anger and serenity. Vanity and authenticity. Fear and courage. The jealous, prideful, and possessive love, and the detached, humble, object-less love. The desire to fade into the shadows and the desire to be pierced with and surrounded by light. The passion for success and recognition, the continual striving; the sea receding from shore in the night, the vast sky overhead filled with light.