On my cross-country bike trip
20 years ago I was on the cusp of turning 10, and I remember virtually nothing about that; 10 years ago I was months away from turning 20, and I was too self-absorbed to contemplate the future; and now I am 29 and may be too absorbed in the day-to-day to really remember what I was like and who I was in the past two decades. What’s got me thinking about that un-medicated, chaotic and doubt-riddled person is a book I just finished titled Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich. In the book, Ms. Ehrenreich uses the journal she kept during her teenage years as a springboard from which to revisit the doubts and dreams she had during that tumultuous time.
As soon as I finished reading—just hours after I began—I decided to look back through my own journal…hundreds of pages of frantic writing covering the years 2002 – 2005, when I was 18-21. Before I delve into this, let me just review some facts about me during that time. First, I was around 7 years from finally being diagnosed as, and treated for, mild bipolar disorder; as a result, I found myself jostling back and forth from unbearable bliss to the kind of depression that slows your synapses to a crawl. Second, I kept this journal while I was an undergraduate at California State University Northridge (CSUN,) meaning that for a time I was living at my parent’s house in Tarzana, CA., and for a year I lived in Granada, Spain (studying abroad), and for several months I rode across the United States on my bicycle and then fought to intergrate that experience in whatever came next. Third, I spent much of my time reading about Buddhism and philosophy; delving into the works of Romantic poets; and contemplating the nature of my existence and the meaning of it all. And finally, I was a colossal pain-in-the-ass: self-righteous, pompous, filled with illusions of grandeur, judgmental, and so on.
So let’s start with a typical entry from my journal, from February 26, 2004:
“A mystery consumes me. I pass the morning in ardent search of last night, and furrow my brows as though dreams would return in the grooves of my forehead. That is not enough. Nothing is enough, and yet I never can go faster or slower than one second at a time. My enthusiasm teeters between the unbearable and the blissful. At once I want to scale the heights of human knowledge and create art, kisses, love, peace…but then the next moment carries the enormity of my desire and I fall upon the ground of my being, like an electric charge in a puddle of amino acids. So I continue, neither collapsed nor elevated; every sight I see, every thought, however subtle, every word I read or write only adds to the fury. Nothing is enough.”
Now let’s compare that with a snippet from a more recent blog post:
“ After a 10 – 12 hour day at work, a day rife with concerns about fundraising, borrowers late on their loans and a host of other challenges, all I want to do is have some dinner, crawl into bed and watch reruns of Seinfeld or Family Guy. And you know what? Sometimes that is all I should do; there are, after all, limits to what I can accomplish and do in a day. At the same time, however, life is short. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to wring as much joy and beauty and kindness and passion out of my being as possible.”
There are a lot of similarities between the two, are there not? You can see the idealism and the passion, the desire for transcendence. At the same time, however, you can also see the strife of daily life—the quotidian grind—creeping into my words. But on a deeper level, I note a longing to reconnect with the somewhat wild, somewhat savage rushes of adrenaline through my thoughts that characterized my adolescence. Over the past five years, during which time not only did I start a nonprofit, but more significant for this rumination, I started on my cocktail of mood stabilizers, I’ve struggled to scrape up against the poet in me, the young man who wrote:
“I am hungry, deeply hungry, both in my limbs and in the whole body that constitutes me soul. I am starving. I want Life, God, music, water, greenery, stones and sand, kisses and hugs, poems: Eternity…My body is tingling as though a lover were running her fingers through my nerves, as though I had just dipped my hand into a cobweb. The trembling is for goodness, for peace, for love, for purity…”
And yet, I don’t want to return to being that person again: too much fraternizing with madness, too many walks to the cliff of insanity. Yet neither do I want to relegate him to the basement of my existence, the place only visited when cleaning or moving or making room for something else. I often spend my days trying to balance keeping Capital Good Fund afloat financially with laying the groundwork for massive scale and impact, a process that has crowded out the tightrope act that is touching both the dawn and the mystery that, somehow, must, has to, account for that dawn and my ability to experience it, and everything surrounding its luminescence.
I’ve paused to look back over what has just emanated from me, and suddenly I’m inclined to say that, though I may not be luxuriating in the opulence of Elysium, I no longer need to reach so high—for I am in love, I make time to read and write and bicycle, I have wonderful friends and parents and no need to worry about money, and I am pursuing my dreams to the best of my ability. What else could one want?