Appreciating the Ride

Note from April 9, 2021: This post was first published on October 27, 2014. I just found it this morning among my unpublished drafts, and decided to write a note here for the 468(!!) of you who will be getting this old piece of writing among your emails today. I take your attention seriously and want to acknowledge it.

Here is a very raw thing that I wrote almost seven years ago, at the age of 22. I’ll be turning 29 this summer. The gaps in my perspectives are massive. I refer to taking care of many children on long cross-country drives in huge vehicles that still give me stressful dreams as “road trips across my beautiful country,” words I would never use today about that experience in this shithole country. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Lana Del Rey said some stuff last year that is worth pointing out as a disclaimer, and I wouldn’t write around her music anymore because this morning was the first time I listened to it in years, and yeah, it glamorizes men being dicks (who’s going to censor me now? This isn’t Facebook or Twitter). My music interests have improved with my broader exposure to better music, I’m happy to report.

The most striking change between my perspective then and now is the knowledge of these past six and a half years. I didn’t know how much worse life would get before it got better. I would endure multiple heartbreaks and lost friends before finding my people. Being homeless or nearly homeless for years isn’t fun. I literally commented to my partner yesterday that if I could have gone back and told myself how long it would take and how painful it would be, I would have just given up. Because honestly, the fight for a place to live with the people I care about was way too fucking difficult. I’m almost 29 and this is the first time I’m living in a stable place, with an income that modestly pays the bills. I haven’t even been able to save up to own a car in years, but I’m grateful to have a co-signed lease that allows me to know where I’m going to sleep every night. I’m so thankful for the many gifts you’ve all sent to make our little apartment into a home. Some people would see my writing and painting from home in a pandemic, disabled and taking care of two other disabled people, as “sitting around and wanting free stuff,” but I see it as just wanting to live, and getting by through asking for help as needed.

The reality of being a millennial who has trauma from growing up queer in a fundamentalist family, deprived of a proper education and career path, is that I’m extremely lucky among my peers. I have so many friends and people in my broader network who didn’t make it, who aren’t making it, to finding a home. I worry about the other survivors of abuse, of things that were worse than what I experienced, because speaking up has helped me to survive, and there are so many who don’t have the privilege of being able to speak up about their abusers. I am helping others as much as I possibly can, but we desperately need for the vast inequality in the world to be addressed, because looking back on this post is saddening. I had more hope then than I do now. I had no idea how many people we’d lose, how much of my mental health would be compromised by exploitative work environments, poverty, and stress. Life is an exhausting slog through a dark and thick swamp, and I’m struggling to see it as anything else for people like me, unless something drastic changes in how the resources are being funneled away from those who most need them.

Anyway, I found this draft and realized it hadn’t been published, probably because I was saving it for a time when I could write about it with some perspective. Begin post from 2014: 

“It sounded very…melancholy.” The man said, about what I’d written on my 22nd birthday.

He was right, but I knew he wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain the depth of my hope that also resided in that blog post.

He had a home.

I’ve always hated every variation of the phrase, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.” Destination matters. Goals and ambitions matter. I thought those lines came from complacent people, content people, and contentment means getting stuck without motivation.

I didn’t see value in the sentiment, “Just ride.” Not that I didn’t love road trips across my beautiful country. I was on a spontaneous road trip when I deeply longed to know what it was like. My road trip companion played the music video for Ride by Lana Del Rey for me, and I didn’t understand it.

The singer narrates, “There’s no use in talking to people who have a home. They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people, for home to be wherever you lie your head.”

I had a home. There was no use trying to explain it to me.

That road trip was, for me, a turning point toward a more spontaneous lifestyle. I didn’t know this girl, she didn’t know me, but with a few days’ notice, we traveled across state lines together. It was an adventure, but it was safe. I had a home to return to, parents who I felt supported me (though at 20 I needed to lie a bit to get permission), and the promise that I’d be back in a few days. Lana Del Rey’s questions haunted me, though: “Who are you? Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies? Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?”

I wanted a life like that. One full of spontaneity and living on the edge, of digging for my darkest dreams and not denying myself the pleasure of making them real. I love the way Amanda Palmer talks about couch-surfing, and the way Mac Barnett talks about bringing fantasy into reality. I wanted a life that’s crazy and unique and risky, and I knew from watching that music video that I didn’t have it.

The night my parents kicked me out, I lay on an unfamiliar lower bunk, with my sister sleeping above me. It takes a lot to get me to cry, but I’d managed to do so several times that day. I needed to go to work in the morning, and school the day after that. Adulthood said I had obligations. I pulled up that music video again, and I understood it a little more: “Just ride.”

My world was more hostile than I’d known. I no longer had a family and a home. The world was also more inviting than I’d thought – friends had offered me a bed and a way to get to school and work. I’d sought safety in other people, and trusted in the kindness of strangers, and they had not dropped me.

Trust the process, because some nights are too dark to see the destination and there are too many steps between the dream and the next action. When the place you’ve left behind no longer exists, and the place you’re going to doesn’t exist yet, all you have is the road. You cling to something that can’t be held – pavement racing by at breakneck speed.

It’s an entertaining paradox: Don’t fall asleep, because driving at 80 mph down desert roads is a dance with death. Drive when you have to, even if it’s midnight and the radio’s broken. Rest when you have to, even if it’s on the floor of a stranger’s house. People with homes don’t know this edge-of-a-knife balancing act. You can’t explain finding comfort in cognitive dissonance to people who have homes. I can no longer speak in the same terms as those who still have a home.

Paradoxes work, though. The smell of a lemon candle is an acidic scent that’s relaxing, though acid stings. Glimpses of massive pieces of the universe combine logic with awe. I cannot explain it even to myself, because the world of explanation is the one I’ve left behind. I probably lost it with my home, left in a pile alongside my insistence on religious superiority, in the dimension of black and white divisiveness.

“I belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone,” Lana Del Rey continues, stepping out onto the stage and looking with profound loneliness into the audience, meeting their individual faces. I write to bless children because I’ve lost my own children. I’ve sought out intimate relationships, but people have just taken advantage of me in my weakened state, and I’m single again. I still don’t know what “love” is.

Melancholy? Perhaps. I’m not sure if there’s much difference between criticism, lamentation, and satire. I analyze what I see and I put it into the best words I can manage, and the words fall short, and still my blood reaches my fingertips and begs them to keep typing. If all you see is melancholic, you’ve missed the fierce hope with which I manage to keep publishing these words.

I know what it’s like to lose people and to trust strangers, so let me be your stranger. I’ll take your hand for this part of the journey. It’s enough for me that I’m helping people ride, and that I might not get to see the destinations for which they’re headed. I’ve found welcome among friends, and my current home is one I’ve only known for a short time, a mere stop along the road.

I keep writing because I’m not the only one who has lost my home. I state facts and search for beauty, and it looks melancholic, but it’s the most hopeful thing I can conjure. When there is too much to process, I just ride.