Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Since I've Been Gone

I guess I wasn't really going to know how I'd changed during my Joshua Tree trip until I got back. I feel like I'm still reentering society, a week since my return, so I'm trying to cut myself a break. But I'm having a hard time.

I miss my car. Not my car specifically, the Nissan Versa whose "Check Engine" light was ever-lit, and whose hard plastic hubcaps took suicide leaps off my wheels. I just miss having a contraption that's mine, a little bubble that's private enough for quiet phone calls (something I cannot achieve in New York City, not even in my apartment) and for some highway scratching of places only truck drivers can see from their birdseye view. I miss walking a few feet, turning a key, feeling a machine start and knowing that I was going somewhere, and if I didn't get there, it was my fault.

I'm so dependent on other people here.

I'm also so proximate to other people. There's always someone around, unless I'm in my apartment - the one place I'd probably like somebody. Solitude in New York is dangerous, because you're never really alone. If you find yourself in the middle of Prospect Park and no one's in sight, you can be sure that there's some kid in the bushes on his bike, watching you. Somebody is making out. Somebody is selling drugs. Somebody is trying to figure out if you're carrying any money. At the very least, someone is checking out your ass.

The rain here is a far bigger impediment than I ever remember it. After I left New York, my friends told me, "It has rained every day here since you left," and I revelled in the harsh sunlight that weathered my skin and rendered me a golden color I've never seen on myself before. There were thunderstorm warnings for Joshua Tree and Palm Springs for a week straight. But it only rained one day, during a portion of a movie, so little that it was nearly all evaporated by the time I returned to my car, bearing tiny droplets that disappeared the minute it pulled out of the parking lot. I hiked under the treat of more rain, dark, ominous clouds hanging low over my trail, but releasing nothing. I wished for more rain, not only for the sake of the plants and the thirsty animals, but for mine, too. I sought water like a true desert dweller. I also hoped to get out of watering the plants for a day.

Now that I once again face the rain, I don't want any part of it. Today's drizzle was enough to send me back to the movies and to inhibit all nature-seeking efforts.

But that's not enough to make me a New Yorker again. The city is crashing down on me, its mountainous high-rises blocking the sun and making me sleep more than ever before. Every coffee shop is cramped and crowded. Every meal is communal and close. Every move is hurry, wait, shove, weave, bump, pull, grab, tsk, sigh.

During my Joshua Tree trip, I was least lonely when I was all alone. The worst was being around people and being ignored. When that became unbearable, I would go find some nature preserve or peak I hadn't climbed yet, or I would go back to The Desert Lily and hang out with the bunnies while the sun set. In New York, I don't have a choice. I can't run away here. I am forced to face other people, and worst of all, myself.

Why am I compelled to compare myself to other people - professionally, personally, physically - when I'm here, when I was so comfortable being me out there? Had I become so completely desocialized in the desert that those things just did not matter? That the only meaningful comparison was to my own self?

Is that a bad thing?

I could use a good session of deprogramming, and although a month in the desert isn't going to be enough to do it, it may provide a good start. I'm too young to become a hermit or a crazy ol' eccentric agoraphobe, holed up in my rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment tapping away at a book that's never to be published. New York has its own brand of wilderness, and while I'm here, I've got to find a way to explore it, live it, love it for what it is. And if I can't, then I've got to find someplace else.

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