Hard Times

Things have been rough lately, or longly, for about two years now. I don’t think I wrote much about it, keeping difficulty to myself here and there, not wanting to bring anyone down, but now that I can see some kind of end, or at least some kind of change, I thought I’d write a few things down.

For those who don’t know, over the last four or so years Anna and I have been mostly living in remote places, far away from friends, community, and support. We were living in such a way to come close to what interested us, and also because we didn’t know the answers to the questions we were asking: where is home? How to live? What really matters? Through trying life of different kinds in places ranging from Washington to Maine, we arrived at some of these answers. We also encountered hardship, loneliness (a rather new feeling for Anna, who grew up surrounded by family and friends), abuse, and rejection. Everyone wants there to be a good side, a light side to the difficulty people encounter, and there usually is. But something I think that people maybe don’t want to hear is sometimes there isn’t a bright side. Sometimes there is no silver lining. Sometimes things just suck for a long, long time.

When things suck for a very long time, one begins to question themselves. Is it me? Is it the choices I’ve made, that have driven me to loneliness and despair? And of course the answer is in part: yes. It is you. Especially if you’ve had the wherewithal to make choices (some people don’t have such a thing as choice). This realization of responsibility for one’s choices is maybe one of the most difficult truths I’ve encountered in life. The reality is: we don’t know where our choices will lead us, or what the questions will cause to work within us. What seemed like an honest thought or need can be endlessly elusive. And I find the closer to the grain that I cut the more the point of my action eludes.

What things sucking for a long time does, however, is create a kind of tarnished wisdom about life. If you want, though I’d rather not refer to it this way, you could say that this is the “silver lining.” But the reality is that it’s only a positive in retrospect, and the marks of hardness and difficulty maybe never leave a person. That’s why the lesson sticks, and that’s where the wisdom comes from. When the pain is driven so deep it can never be forgotten. The old adage: one thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.

About a month ago, Anna and I moved to Santa Fe, figuring it would be an easy move, just an hour and a half south, a few friends, lots of jobs. Instead it took about two months (of searching beforehand and while staying at a friends) to find a place that then was more expensive than any place either of us had ever paid for. Anna interviewed for a month before finding a job, feeling worthless, judged, and ignored in the process. The friends we had, apart from one, have been so far hard to understand and not very inviting or supportive. This would have been alright if not for it coming on the tail of three or so years of hardship and loneliness. Being on the back of that, and also receiving rejection after rejection from many publications in my attempt to publish writing and photos (and also this book I’ve written), this final push in a place we hoped would be welcoming has been an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” kind of experience.

I think in many cases what people are driven to do in this situation is to try and get rid of the difficult part of life immediately, by whatever means possible. However, I still think experiences like this are valuable, and they shouldn’t be discarded as though worthless. I think that experiences of our essential loneliness are profoundly important. But they are very hard to bear.

I sat outside a few nights ago, feeling more depressed than I have in a very long time. I started crying and by some strange circumstance it also started raining. Little events like these happen to me often. I often feel like the world outside of human constructs is my true home, and that in a strange way it listens and holds me no matter what happens. It will always be there.

Sometimes it really does feel like the entire human world is conspiring against you. The core of my feeling on the patio was a complete lack of being valued. Things have been rough at work lately, and also with certain very important interpersonal relationships. Feeling a lack of value, like a piece of trash to be discarded by the rest of society, is basically the lowest a person can go. To feel unwelcome, unwanted, and uncared for brings about the deepest depression a person can experience. I think this is how people who are far less fortunate than me, such as the houseless and the incarcerated, feel on a daily basis.

Thankfully, I have things that I love. I love to walk. I love music. I love to cook. I still love taking beautiful photos. I love Anna. I love my family, and Anna’s family. I love the friends I have in distant places. I love technology. I love Thom Yorke. I love the taste of the bread Anna is getting better at baking. I love this tea I discovered called cota, that grows in groves along the Santa Fe river near where I live. I love my sister. I love my brothers. I love rain after sun and sun after rain. I love the pine-scent. I love the lizards that gulp down ants and live in the bushes on the patio. I love learning and reading. There is so much I love. And in this, I find value. And the value is reflected back at me: what I love, loves me, even if it is a rock, river, or tree. The world itself loves me back. And feeling that love, I will never be alone.