Everyone is doing their end of year/decade musings this week and I suppose I need to get the same out on the page. Some combination of exorcism and release and thanks and hope is forthcoming:
A decade ago I was 19, a linguistics student living in a dorm room with 9 other guys and somehow not being driven mad by that circumstance. In fact many of them are still dear friends of mine, even though I am desperate now for a kind of solitude that I neither coveted nor sought back then.
When I graduated Ohio State in 2012 I had exactly a month to enjoy post-college life before I hopped on a plane with 27 other teaching volunteers bound for the Marshall Islands. For 11 months I floundered and triumphed, embraced life and hid from it, and became at once more worldly and more firmly American. It was my first teaching job--1st grade through 8th grade English on Aur, an island of 200 people--and somehow I came out on the other side firm in my choice to continue that career path. This despite the most bizarre contradiction of them all: a love of teaching and a real understanding of the damage that imposing an industrialized Western-style education on other people can do. It was a desperately lonely time for me and I grew to understand and love the feeling, in a way, love that deep ache of the soul that cries out for the people and places one knows best. That will always be at odds with my need to explore and adventure and make myself uncomfortable trying new things, I am sure. One more contradiction that lives within me.
I felt it again very keenly in 2016, three years after moving to Seattle with my then-girlfriend (now wife) and finding a home there in the emotional sense, though our apartment was a cramped shoebox of a place. I struck out on the Pacific Crest Trail in April of that year a schlubby, kind of broke novice, and I returned just shy of five months later made of iron, with over 2,600 miles of hiking under my belt. (My belt, for those five months, was a shoelace.) Of course these tidy few sentences also do not do justice to the people I met along the way and the people I left behind, all of whom veritably carried me across the finish line. Again, I did a long and difficult thing because I know of no way to moderate my intense longings and passions. I have sometimes been too temperate in my loves and desires--a victim, I think, of a profound anxiety--but the few times my soul has cried out clearly for adventure I have listened. It has humbled and sharpened me, and I am glad I’ve listened; I am even more glad that others have listened and believed in me, too.
In 2018 I was blessed enough to marry the woman that I got engaged to in Montana a week before setting out on the PCT two-and-a-half years earlier. She is not a side character in any narrative I am fortunate enough to tell, she is the axis around which all other things in my world turn. (I have been in love with her since 7th grade science class, and that love has grown and strengthened with the years rather than diminished.) None of my adventures and exploits would be possible without her capacity for understanding me (and for funding me), and it is her, rather than any of the places I have traveled this decade or small achievements I have marked off, that make me feel immeasurably lucky even on my bad days. Of which there are also plenty, I think it is important to note.
And then there is, finally, this newsletter. It has been a joy to put something out into the world each week that so many people have been kind enough to subscribe to, read, and engage with. It makes me feel a sense of community, truth be told, and I plan to continue this exercise for as long as I feel like I have things to say. It has made me a better writer, a more committed teacher, and a more passionate socialist organizer--in large part because I am now answerable to others when I have strong opinions on things. So I owe you all a great deal.
As Oliver Sacks wrote: Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.
And as W.H. Auden wrote: Let your last thinks all be thanks.
Happy New Year.