7. What Do We Sing Now by Leslie Seaton

Upon my return from my winter trip to Arizona, I stocked up on some new music and fell in love with the song "Deadline" by Young Fathers.

This line from the song seemed to dovetail into the thoughts my winter trip had started in me:

Don’t you turn my home against me/even if my house is empty.

My good years were good for a good reason. I got happy within my means. I made 15-second videos where nothing happened and arranged tiny bouquets of free weeds.  I put on a jeweler’s loupe and focused on small accessible pleasures. This is good. It’s not a bad thing to find happiness within what’s readily available. Sometimes this character trait will save you.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be enough.

There are bigger things I have wanted for myself that I haven’t truly worked towards. Partly for standard reasons of poor self-discipline. But partly because on the occasions I have made little efforts, I sometimes failed or was met with at best indifference and at worst outright scorn.

And, of course, has so nearly every human being who has ever taken a risk. The possibility of a negative outcome is precisely what makes it risk instead of a comfortable nap in a couch made of marshmallows and surrounded by compliments.

After my road trip and seeing and hearing the stories of these men who pursued their own visions for their own lives – Forestiere digging his underground mansion, Knight building a mountain, Corliss flying off them, the men of The Big Year chasing birds – I’m left circling this one question:

What does it take to be loyal to your own vision above all, to not be tossed away by setbacks or failures or scorn or rejection or indifference?

And I have a follow-up question for myself: why have I shown such loyalty to the story of failure, to scorn and indifference, welcomed it in, given it a seat at the head of table and let it make the decisions for me? Why have I asked my own bigger vision to please go sit down and be quiet because the adults are talking here?

What am I getting out of that disloyalty to myself? And I know I’m not unique in this behavior. Why do any of us do this? 

next part:

8. mr initiation

5. Salvation Mountain by Leslie Seaton

From the Salton Sea, I drove on to Slab City. I didn’t intend to spend long, just wanted to have a look.

On the way into Slab City, you pass by Salvation Mountain, a three-story manmade hill constructed of adobe and straw and covered with bible verses and colorful paint.

Leonard Knight, the creator of Salvation Mountain, was a New Englander, Korean war vet, and jack of several trades who had a religious awakening at the age of 35. He became focused on the Sinner’s Prayer: “Jesus, I’m a sinner, please come upon my body and into my heart.”

Eager to spread the word, he became convinced a hot air balloon printed with the words would be perfect. For ten years, he prayed for a balloon. When praying didn’t work, he decided to sew it himself.  He worked odd jobs and bought fabric when he could.

From the Salvation Mountain website:

“It became a wonderful patchwork of colors with big red letters proclaiming ‘God Is Love’ on a field of white. Alas, his enthusiasm betrayed him. Over time, the balloon became much too big to manage and, after an endless amount of attempts to inflate it, the fabric and its stitching began to rot and fail.”

He finally gave up on his balloon while he was staying in Slab City. He intended to leave the area but…

“Forever trying to promote what was burning so deeply inside of him, Leonard decided to stay one more week to make a ‘small statement’ before he left for wherever his van and his faith would take him. Armed with half of a bag of cement, he fashioned a small monument. One thing turned into another - days turned into weeks and weeks turned into years.”

The Salvation Mountain that exists today, though, is not that original effort. After four years of work, his original hill made of sand, cement and junk collapsed.

“Instead of being discouraged, Leonard thanked the Lord for showing him that the mountain wasn't safe. He vowed to start once again and to ‘do it with more smarts.’”

next part:

6. bird dream



2. Hubris by Leslie Seaton



  1. a bad year

I had been resistant to the idea that 2014 could be anything but another solidly good year. Of course, who wants to have a bad year? My resistance, though, wasn’t only out of natural human pleasure-seeking, the normal desire to feel good, not bad. My denial had the flavor of evangelical zealotry to it because I simply no longer believed in bad years.

Like many zealots, I was only recently converted. I had had many bad years, had nothing but them for long stretches. Then in 2012 and 2013, things changed for me, and I finally had the bright and shiny pleasure of good years. Years that were not devoid of challenges and sadnesses, but were, overall, full of solid, grounded, true happinesses. Friendships. Accomplishments diligently worked towards. Deep connection with nature. Progress on personal goals. Creative expression. I felt breathless with gratitude for this good fortune, especially because I knew that years aren’t necessarily always like that.

The night before my first (and so far only) half marathon, I sat in a hotel room in Leavenworth with that same friend Heather who had come to run it with me. (Aside: what great fortune! A friend who will come all the way to Paris to see you! Who will do a half marathon with you at your pudgy snail’s pace even though she can run it in literally half the time! Who’s your friend even after you petulantly, childishly, stopped speaking to her in your 20’s, who forgave you completely even though she had no reason to?)

I told her how the older I get, the more deeply I identified with the poem “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska. I pulled it up on my phone to read it to her and become a little weepy as we sat in our beds the night before the race.

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

So you’re here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

My breathless gratitude for the holes in nets I’d slipped through, for the pleasures and little joys  I’d collected around myself, ones I’d not expected to have…this was what I’d begun to cling to with my zealotry.

I’d made it, shocked and speechless, through those bad years, and I felt certain that if I just maintained that gratitude, and focused on those small pleasures, I would be fine. I had inoculated myself against bad years.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d started thinking of this poem as a fixed point I’d passed, instead of what it is, which is the constant, daily truth of life: there is always a new net to slip through until you don’t.

I had convinced myself that I’d insulated myself from the kind of net of badness that had caught me before, that I’d developed tiny rituals of accessible happinesses, and that had created some kind of protective bubble around myself.

Our rituals can make us feel better; unfortunately, I forgot that I don’t believe they actually control how anything turns out.

next part: 

3. Underground Garden