Standing in my living room, looking at a growing daylight spreading across the mountains, I seek the truths of who I am. I like climbing. I like working for NOLS and those with whom I work. I like sexual connection. These things though, when scratched at and observed through a more critical lens, are the expression of traits that have been woven throughout my life. I have recently, at work, heard the term truest truths tossed around. As I grapple with heartache and direction, I know I need to identify mine.
To the outside world, to family and friends, much of my life could be categorized as one of climbing and adventure. It has been typified by being a dirtbag and has been comprised of expeditions, NOLS work, and living in my car. Maybe those days are behind me now. Maybe I have a few more of them in front of me too, who knows. Even with some of those things in the past, it doesn’t change who I am; it merely changes the way I present who I am to the people with whom I cross paths. The traits that have driven those qualities and choices remain constant. Now instead of them being presented through dirtbaggery or climbing or full-time field work they are presented through homeownership or horses or program supervisor or (even still now) climbing. But I am still me. The sun casts its rays through the smudged, plate glass window, laying its warmth on the carpeted floor. Steam rises from a ceramic, locally made, thrift shop mug. I step into the sun, wishing it to enlighten my thought process. What am I? What are my truest truths that are consistent throughout my life’s pursuits and experiences? I am what I surround my self with; I am who I surround myself with… The room is pretty empty, but I sense it speaking volumes. I sit and listen.
Simplicity – less is more. I truly believe that perfection is not attained when nothing else can be added but when nothing else can be taken away. The more layers I strip from myself, the clearer I see myself. My front room is sparsely appointed, not due to lack of money or desire, but for a simplicity of open space and a desire for something to not merely fill a space, but to genuinely add to my space, to fit in. It takes significant thought to add to simplicity.
Relationships – platonic or sexual. The way I interact with my relationships is the most complex aspect of being me. There is a desire for a simple, honest, hard working connection, in open spaces, that drives me to travel, to climb, to try , and to invest. For years, sharing a rope has been used to build relationships. That is changing. Meaningful relationships, romantic or otherwise, are not easy for me. Most things in life I approach with an inward, cautious optimism and a outward mild pessimism but in matters of the heart I dive in and expect the best. Though I have walls, I fall easily. Friends are dear yet even those can be hard to come by and harder to keep. I shut people out, rub the wrong way, am silent at the wrong times, am engaged or distance with no in between, am too selective, or too judgmental. I value relationships, yet do not enough to maintain them. I can be loyal to a fault. My distance does not engender a closeness that I need. Again, right now, being alone in the room speaks volumes.
Open space – it feeds my soul. And to be clear this is not a trait. I enjoy the city. It is a foil to my Lander existence. I love all that is has to offer and its accessibility. Staying simple in a place that is anything but and staying creative and low impact in a place that reeks of consumerism takes relationships, takes hard work, honesty, and clarity of purpose. Staying sane when all around you seems to trend opposite requires clear direction. Open space inspires, whether in the mind or my physical environment. Wide open waters; deserts; long, empty beaches; savanna; high plains: any place the horizon is not occluded by human encroachment, does it for me. Here in the American West, I find my element. I want nothing more than the space, and the road, to go on forever. The walls are slowly being taken down, opening up space in my house, in my heart, and in my mind. The room in which I sit and write, captivated me with its space the moment I first walked in the door. Wide open spaces is so much more than a Dixie Chicks song. What I like, what I need outside of me, I need inside of me too.
Honesty – being true to myself–to these traits I am identifying–and to others. From not lying as I travel through customs to seeking truth in questions to being a vulnerable writer who attempts to dig into what I am experiencing, honesty is paramount. I want to be known as trustworthy and I seek trust in my relationships. So often I have done that and built it with mountains and climbing. Or as a teacher or co-worker. When I feel something, I say something–I have to, or it gnaws at my gut until I do. And honesty is tainted, it is associated more with the constructive. Honesty of expression though works both ways for me. When I am moved to praise, the same gnawing sensation works its magic until something happens.
Integrity – doing what is right. Right is complex and not always clear, but when that gnawing is back at my gut, I know I need to be honest with what it is saying. There is no denying it, there is no temporary fix. Asking the questions, standing up for someone, recognizing my privilege, and and by doing so, encouraging others towards a path of acknowledging theirs. Integrity is sticking by values and things that are me.
Self-reliance – if not me who… The classic self-reliance story of the American Dream, pulling oneself up by their bootstraps, is a result of what people are born into–gender, skin color, sexuality–more so than character traits. Acknowledging this privilege I have and its helping hand I can’t shirk, which has helped me craft my story of self-reliance, is tied to integrity and honesty. My self-reliance manifests itself in so many ways: Saving to buy a house. Doing my own work on my house. Not relying on someone else to lead the crux pitch. Learning to fix things. Hating to borrow things, but knowing that most of the time, a lawnmower sits unused. It is a balance with simplicity and low-impact. And then there is the irony in how this self-reliance contradicts my desire for relationships…
Low impact – reduce, reuse, do without. Finding ways to make use of resources that already exist in this world, whether a wooden spoon from a mountain mahogany branch, a used sweatshirt from a thrift shop, leftover food in the nomad bin, a used laptop on eBay, or repurposing salvaged building materials, runs deep. My love of second hand is less about money and more about bringing less things into this world or my space. Patches and stitches have for so long typified my clothing. I was worn wear before Patagonia made it trendy. I look around the room and know low-impact does not mean doing without. I see a hangboard I made when in college; it was made from scrap wood I found in my mother’s basement. I look at the trim in my dining room and see 99% of it is repurposed from other projects. Twenty years of reusing.
Creation – from something to something different and not just about things. Making things–writing, spoons, art, working on my house, baking bread–directly contradicts the idea of reducing, reusing, and repurposing, but also supports it. Creating a material item from a thing repurposed, something of quality and usefulness brings light into the world. Bread and writing are consumed and enjoyed, people are made more thoughtful, happier. Open space is created, more light and more joy is brought into existence when space speaks to people. Someday I will change my sullen expression(s) and my voice and countenance will create more positivity in those I meet.
Physical touch – not just any physical touch, but one of caring, love, affection, and desire. This, the simplest and purest forms of human connection, is so needed and appreciated, yet won’t be asked for, at least not verbally. It is my personal love language. It is what I need to receive, and while so easy to give in romantic relationships it is just the opposite in platonic relationships. While I yearn for this, it means so little if not coupled with meaningful relationships, sexual or platonic.
Hard work – when a task presents itself, putting my all into it and working to make it the best it can be. Just get it done. But not just any ol way, getting it done in acordance with those traits and concepts I have outlined above.
There is a lot in there, and I suspect even more exists the more I contemplate and assess. I am not sure if it is simplistic, despite simplicity being one of my core principals… Forty years is a lot of experiencing and a lot of lessons. I see the roots of some (my old man picking up a jean jacket off of Sherburne Road–I still have and wear the jacket–or how he would brag about his 25 cent jeans from the thrift store or the art supplies I was given and encouraged to use as a kid or work ethic my parents instilled in me by example and expectation and on and on and on….)
I am not claiming perfection and many times I have fallen short of these ideals and many times I have strayed. I think about being harsh and sarcastic with a true friend on a mountain in Patagonia or professional missteps in East Africa or leaning on friends in hard times or engaging in retail therapy or buying new before shopping used or not being able to lead a pitch in Valle Alerce or . . . the list goes on and on, but so often it is another of my core tenets pulls me back in line. I feel habits growing, feeling guilty about buying something I could have made: bread, molding or trim, Christmas cards, etc. To know that feeling emanates from a breach of what is important to me also engenders a feeling of self-awareness.
Digging deeper than the above list seems essential. What do I get from having those be heavily integrated into my being? Maybe Maslow’s Heirarchy illuminates my truest truths. I get acceptance. I get shelter. I get love. I get food. But there are other ways I can get those things too. So why is the above list important to me? Are they critical? No. I can change these things. I can become less concerned about relationships, or depend on people more or buy new things. Some will change easier than others, some will be hard. So maybe my truest truth is fear. I fear failure. I fear non-acceptance. I fear rejection. I fear not having money. Maybe the life I live is rooted in fear. Maybe that is a pessimistic way to look at it, but, that is for another day…
My living room is well lit. Natural light floods in from the low hanging, December sun. This is why I bought the house, this room, this light, this space. I walked in the front door and felt the space and light were right. It spoke to me. Shades of brown prevail, but it is not dark, nor dirty. It is bright, it is clean. Drop cloths cover parts of the carpet, above which heating vents are in various states of repair. Dampers are installed. A remaining duct needs to be covered. I sit in a wooden chair, laptop in its place, typing words, fulfilling a vision I had since I first walked through its front doors, since I first started recognizing that I like writing, since I first started being OK with who I am: open space, natural light, creating things, and being honest with the world about who I am.
Editors Note: I must give credit where credit is due: as it was in the beginning and throughout, so it is in the end. She always gave me so much to think about, encouraging an inward turn, an introspective and reflective assessment. I suspect she will continue to do so even as she drifts away. Kellsie, thank you.
Featured Image: Another Three Peaks Ranch sunset. Open space in all its glory.