I casually awake; although there are some days when waking does, even on one of my many uninterrupted mornings, feel more forced. It might be nine in the morning (that’s early for my schedule—unfortunately), and suddenly I’ll be awake, without reason or explanation. In the last year and half the only mornings that I’ve been ripped awake have either been because I needed to catch a flight or if the hotel’s overnight phone, a cell phone in my charge for hotel guests to call if an issue arises after hours, rings in the earlier hours of the morning. Holding on to the overnight phone, and the fifteen hours a week that I work at the hotel’s front desk are the conditions for living in the historic and famous Murray Hotel. Otherwise, my mornings are my own. A passing memory on the occasional morning reminds me of being in my early and mid-twenties when I would practically demand myself awake early every morning and be out the door eager to meet the day head on. It’s been years since I have felt that kind of optimism. That, however, there is reason enough for.
I roll around in bed—I’m not yet prepared to surrender my comfort— I don’t want to fall back asleep either. Fig, my large black and white tuxedo cat, rests on the pad of a “flower bed” scratching post I was gifted, with his forepaws dangling over and between two pink flower petals, his black tail thrashes about behind him slamming against the wall. My body aches, stiff as it’s pulled from the warm comfort of the hotel’s queen bed (mine has been in storage for more than a year). Being pulled from bed is a decision my subconscious mind is making, and I’m learning about it as it's happening. Standing, I immediately make my bed, a habit I fell into years ago and continue to reinforce. Dinah, my little Calico, rests comfortably on a heavy, brown thirty-five-year-old blanket my parents bought in Japan, and she listens for the quiet of my footsteps to crescendo, and meows as I say good morning. Every morning, I stretch, there’s a book I discovered—it’s the best book of stretches I’ve found, The Genius of Flexibility by Bob Cooley—I negotiate two or three stretches before the water of my shower is hot. I made an agreement with myself to process all of my more immediate negative thoughts and emotions while in the shower. I go back to those conversations, those that I feel like I should have said “that,” and I’ll reimagine those missed opportunities. I metaphorically wash them away. And by processing that crap in the shower, I don’t waste large parts of my day ruminating on evil $hit. Eventually, I started running out of frustrations to revisit. My clothes are laid out on the bed, and I set my water to boil, and prepare what I can for breakfast—my breakfast is often cereal, usually something “crunch”, healthy, and less sweet. I feel the best later in the day after eating organic yogurt mixed with healthy granolas and an assortment of organic berries. Cereal is less to maintain, and I’m living very minimally right now. I dress, and my water is now at a boil. I set my tea to steep. I prefer to eat with music playing in the background, and while I sit and look out a window, and then to preferably enjoy my tea on the porch or balcony. I’ve stayed in three different suites since moving into the Murray, and the only room of the three that I can’t enjoy my breakfast and tea the way I prefer is the suite that I spend the most time in. The windows are west facing and set high and in the center of each room’s wall. Instead of the window, I’ll watch something on TV—I don’t know what, I don’t particularly care; recently, I suppose I’ve been watching House M.D. or Once Upon A Time (it’s just a coincidence that Jennifer Morrison is in both).
My tea is nearly empty when I start to feel the itch to write. It’s already afternoon and I haven’t yet started writing. I work fairly late into the night and, in this most recent decade especially, I have learned that I am a solid eight hour a night kind of person—I need my sleep. I also need to write. The writing process, especially this last year, has become so much more fun for me. I’ve learned how much I enjoy writing and rewriting a sentence until the sentence has been thoroughly unraveled, and compleat. I enjoy exploring the different dimensions and perspectives a story might take. The idea is one that I think about a lot. My writing, and how I am developing as a writer; my portfolio, and the story that it tells; my content, and how I feel like it’s never enough. Once I finish my tea. I open my laptop and start writing. I don’t struggle to come up with content, I struggle with having too much content, and how sometimes an idea that I want to express is so layered I’ll struggle then with figuring out how to express it—that’s also a part of the fun, the process. As a writer, I’m less interested in the content than I am in how the content is crafted. That’s an interesting artistic riddle to explore, because most readers seldom notice the writing, especially when something is written well.
My cats wander through and around my legs, they prance on my coffee table, and curl up on the couch next to me, and cry for attention while I write, for a few hours I write—I write until I have trouble thinking. And then I wander out into the world. Halfway through the day I step out into the sun for the first time. This is the context of my life now. My life was completely different this time last year and I aim for it to be different this time next, with a few notable similarities to now. The biggest difference in my life now is that for the first time I am working toward what I’m actually passionate about—I’m following my bliss, as Joseph Campbell eloquently suggested. The sun is almost blinding, and I shield my eyes by looking down until I acclimate. Livingston’s Main Street is picturesque, particularly standing on Park Street and viewing Main toward the east, with the Livingston Peak in the background. I like that most of the buildings are the same simple late 19th century red brick double story vernacular, each with subtly unique facades and intricate hand carvings on the pediment. I like the faded ghost signs that read things like, “Coca-Cola” and “Purity Bakery,” and “Livingston Lumber & Coal.” The world here is very different from where I grew up. I like walking up and down Main Street. I feel a bit of a rise inside of me listening to candy wrappers and coffee cups caught in a twister under the awnings of passing businesses, watching cars make rolling stops, if they stop at all at intersections, people walking thoughtlessly into the street in front of oncoming traffic. It means I care about this community. Granted, I don’t care so much for the escalating, needless and thoughtless behaviors that are turning up everywhere, while we’re all simply trying to navigate our own absentminded lives. We’re caught in these fables that we’re producing, and unconsciously living clueless to the reality of our untamed feelings effect on a subdued mind. I like walking up and down Yellowstone Street, with Livingston’s oldest and most elaborate residences. I walk on the sidewalks and imagine living here, on this street, passing and acknowledging my neighbors on their afternoon walks, and I think about what life might have been like more than a hundred years ago, here in this newly bustling town with dirt roads and horse drawn carriages, and top hats and bonnets, when Livingston was a new and wealthy tourist hub for people stopping here from all over the world, the last stop on the passenger train before boarding a carriage to Yellowstone, the world’s first National Park. There’s a bridge on the farthest east side of Yellowstone Street that separates the old residential part of town with the parks. The crossing is over Sacajawea Pond, the bridge divides the pond from its fork. Montana has adopted the spelling of Sacajawea with a “j,” while the most widely used spelling of her name is with a “g,” I’ve wondered why that is, but haven’t yet dived deep enough into it to know. I love this bridge, an old stone bridge, with three symmetrical arches at the bridge’s center. Crossing the bridge, I’ll walk along the banks of the pond until River Street, and then cross and walk up a small set of stairs directly across the street where the expansive free-flowing Yellowstone River just appears as if from nowhere. I walk the path along the river, there are a number of benches along the path, a few that I like more than the others. I sit and listen to the river. I feel the wind on my face, and the coarse uneven edges of small rocks beneath the weight of my feet, the smoothed splinters of a Carmine Red paint finish, and the less than smooth shards of wood gently peeling from the bench. It’s too coarse in places to run my naked palms across the surface, still I like the feel of it: the warmth of the sun-soaked wood, the swellings of the stained grain that’s been smoothed by the paint. On the hills across the river there is a herd of cattle, they stand clumsy, yet fearless on the cliff’s edge, and the peak of the Livingston Peak in the near distance jutting out from the closer hills. Nearly a mile upriver, exactly beyond eyesight, The Yellowstone, free-flowing and nosy, sends feelers, like fingers flowing anywhere they’re able, and it’s only right ahead of me—when sitting on my more recent favorite bench—the Yellowstone River once again meets itself; flowing whole, and gently with the sun shimmering over the white and clear blue rustling waters.
I think a lot while sitting on the bench, sometimes my thoughts are targeted, but most of the time they are free flowing, like the river. Well, free flowing to a point, there are only a small handful of things that have been on my mind as of late. People will walk by me on the bench, and I can’t help but note their behaviors. Some are walking for walking’s sake. These people seldom look over at the river, up at the birds in the sky, at the mountains in the near distance. They walk more hurriedly than most, thinking about their next worry or recycling past worries, often consumed by bitterness and confusion. Others walk simply to meet their quota of steps for the day. Neither of these people notice me, and if they do, they rarely let me know. They trigger a vague memory of me: until my late twenties, I was the guy that would always say, “hello,” first. I was the first to acknowledge, the first to say something, I never hesitated to share a thought, a laugh, and a story. If there was something to be said, I was the first to say it. I rarely am anymore, for very real-life altering reasons. Less than a minute later, after someone hurriedly passed me by, another passerby notices me sitting on the bench, from a distance, and they start to prepare themselves, boosting their own morale, and in the meantime, they make an effort to not glance in my direction. In those few brief seconds as they pass me by, they finally look in my general direction, and with a nod, they say, “hello,” and then quickly walk by. A few minutes later, an elderly couple walks by, and they meet my gaze yards away, and they hold it, their smiles widening the closer they get. “Hello!” they say, happily, “how are you?” “It’s a beautiful day!” They’ve stopped walking, even; they don’t know me but, at that moment, there is nothing that matters more to them than a stranger on a bench. I mirror their pleasantness, smiling, and engaging, but only after the couple invited me into their world. My response is very real, it’s not manufactured but it is measured. I often wonder, as much as I’ve been through in the last fifteen years, if I alone haven’t changed, but if people, in general, have changed. The way that we relate to one another I think has changed. Perhaps out of fear, anxiety, and/or contempt, but regardless, it seems that more people than not are more disinterested; a disinterest that comes off as imposing. It’s also more deeply rooted than simple, “disinterest,” but I don’t want to get into all of that now. A surprising number of people go through life never really knowing themselves. Most of us think we do of course because it rarely occurs to us that getting to know ourselves requires more than living in our own heads. We are living in a simulation, but it’s not what people think, it’s not so black & white, like the Matrix. We’re likely not all in one massive simulation, but we do, however, each have our own simulations playing in our head. And we’re reacting to the “real world,” in respect to our own simulations. On a similar note, I know that, for me, the person that I am when I’m narrating my own life is not the same person that I am when engaging with other people, and that’s just the very tip of this iceberg. I suppose quite a few people can relate to that, to seeing themselves differently than the people around us do. I think that I made the conscious decision, at least to some degree, fearing that people wouldn’t understand the real me or that being vulnerable about who I might actually be posed too great a risk, and so I developed an image of what I thought other people wanted me to be. I didn’t become that image, not completely, but I would play the role. Perhaps that has something to do with why many of us replay our interactions in our heads after the fact, so that our narrator would get involved.
I’ve been sitting on the bench for a while, it’s easy for me to do, to allow tens of minutes to pass sitting here, even in the winter. Eventually, I gather my things: my notebook, phone, keys, whatever I might have on me. I often journal while I sit, jotting down thoughts, and allowing others to come and go arbitrarily. Some of those thoughts found their way here, others will find their place in another post, while others, although never forgotten, will remain hidden in that notebook. I walk to the end of the path, it’s not too much further, tens of yards further. The Yellowstone River runs a bit wilder at the end of the path. On the walk back I often feel sad, I don’t know why, not really. It’s strange to not know why, so I’ll sometimes attach some worldly files to it. It’s a deep sadness, and it’s one that I know isn’t a part of me. I can let it go, and I’m working on it. In part, I think I’m actually missing a piece of myself, one that’s necessary to become whole. Life can be full of things that will rob parts of us, important parts of us, and we never see it coming. In an instant, one focuses on something else entirely, and it’s so sudden that we may never be able to place it when it happens. And so, we lost those parts of ourselves. As I’m walking back, instead of crossing the street and walking along the pond and back over the Yellowstone Street Bridge, I continue on the path next to the river, where the river has separated and flows, like fingers exploring and reshaping the earth. The path is thick with trees. I’m starting to hear voices and laughter from people in the park ahead.
I have been spending a great deal of time examining my mind and my emotions, and trying to reorganize the clutter and heal what needs healing. My mind has always been a bit of a cave, with rooms and passageways no one has set foot in. I have come to view my mind as Microsoft Teams meetings. Rooms that are crowded with abstractions, reflections, and perceptions, these advisements will serve as the people, in this example, the individual screens with heads and bodies. Each meeting is communal, with many heads and bodies offering input, and there are at least two separate meetings concurrently right now—really, I think there are a few paused meetings about my family and friends and health that contribute to my conscious mind daily, but not actively—two laborious meetings are conducting the forefront of my conscious thoughts. Writing: what I am presently working on, the ideas that have been stirring, and the process of writing/becoming the best writer—there is one article in particular that I have been writing and rewriting in my head for several months—I think a great deal about where I want my writing to take me, what I want it to develop into, my voice and styles. The other ongoing and effective meeting that is in my mind is centered around the emotional healing that I am actively working through, and all things involved in that. I often ask myself questions while I’m walking that will force me to explore my deeper self, issues that I’ve been working through for several months, and others that might arise as I lay many traumas to rest. I’ve learned the hard way, that while the process of living, and building new habits might make us stronger, it only allows us the illusion of growth. We have to actively work through the traumas of our past if we want to lay them to rest, otherwise those traumas are being built into whoever we might be becoming. Most of us are not healing or growing, at least not in the way that they might believe we are. I know that I wasn’t, after several years of being in a very dark place. I believed that I was, simply because I removed myself from those situations, but those scars continued to present themselves, and continued to influence who I was. My work has granted me countless epiphanies. This afternoon, lost in thought, I looked up and realized I had taken the set of stairs leading from the walking path, and then crossed River Street, walked along the creek—the tributary—that feeds the Sacajawea Pond, and took the footbridge over the creek to seventh street. I wasn’t fully aware of where I was until I came to walking briskly along Callender Street, several blocks from seventh, and I had no memory of getting here. I noticed I was feeling a little shaken, not with anxiety, but more like concession. I also realized I had crossed at least four intersections, and one of them was as busy as the busiest intersection in a residential area might be. I had no recollection of walking into traffic whatsoever. There’s an apple tree next to a bench that overlooks the creek, mallards often camp there, perching on unmanaged fallen branches and logs from the previous year’s floods, there are sometimes turtles sunbathing, and a family of beavers built a home under a bank of floating tree roots, all of which I missed because I was lost in thought. I remembered that I was thinking about anxiety. I didn’t know anxiety before my late twenties, not really; I’ve been processing that fact a lot, hoping to relieve and abandon my developed anxieties. I went back into my memories, focused and encompassed, being there as though I was in that moment again. I realized that I got lost in thought reliving the moment of the first time that rage completely overwhelmed her—at least since I’ve known her—and she was, suddenly, no longer the person that I knew—or thought I knew—she had become something entirely different. I was shocked; I was feeling overwhelmed trying to maneuver this new behavior. Not once did I think about the shock that my nervous system experienced and would continue to experience over the following weeks, months, and years. Her behavior became routine, and as normal as waking up every morning. I had spent years, after escaping that situation, processing the uncontrollable rage and overreactions that would erupt from this otherwise reticent woman, and what might have caused it to become the common happenstance in my daily life. The first time that it happened was the most disquieting, and before now that memory was buried and hidden among so many other demanding experiences. The revelation of something like that is profound, what your body feels is powerful and uncomfortable, opening the hatch to an array of closeted intense feelings is freeing and unburdening, and most people never actually want to (or know how) to suffer something like that. At the first sign of discomfort, we don’t want to explore it, we more often shake it away. We need to explore those opportunities.
It’s easy to overanalyze those moments of emotional release and then to be consumed by them, while never actually allowing them to pass. Which of course is the whole point. So, I allowed for the feelings to pass, recognizing too that this was a trauma that I would need to actively return to and explore and let be. In the meantime, while allowing my body to process the feelings without me, I let all coming thoughts pass. I stopped at Coffee Crossing, a block from the hotel, and ordered a Chai, a bagel with cream cheese, and I sat at a table outside. I could genuinely spend hours people watching if the location was right. The intersection of 2nd and Callender Streets is an interesting intersection. There’s a bank, a post office, there are two bars, a twin screen movie theatre, and a Chinese restaurant, and it’s a block from downtown; Main Street’s most prominent intersection. The 2nd Street intersection is great for people watching. I took a sip of my Chai and noticed a truck pulling into the post office parking lot. A single one-way row of spaces on the west side of the building that circles around the southside to the east where the road will either meet the city library's lot or Callender Street. The truck didn’t pull through the lot, the driver was trying to use the road to turn around and park in the handicap spot on the street in front of the post office to the north. An SUV started to pull in behind the truck and the truck was forced to continue around the building. I enjoy people watching, in part because the practice allows me to quiet my mind, it’s very rare for me to not be aware of my thoughts and my present surroundings, in fact I’m usually hyper aware of what’s happening in and around me, and it’s exhausting. Swallowing the last bite of the first half of my bagel, the same truck pulled around again, and again made the maneuver into the lot adjacent to the post office, this time the truck is able to back out and reposition into the handicap space in front of the post office. I shuffle in the black metal mesh chair and sip at my Chai. A middle-aged man steps out of the truck one careful leg at a time, he slams his door, and…oh, what a piece of $hit! He crosses the street toward me and stands a moment on the sidewalk before walking into the Chinese restaurant on the corner of the block. All that effort, and going out of his way, when there’s plenty of parking on this side of the street closest to the restaurant, to park in a space that doesn’t benefit or ease his situation at all, as someone in a handicapped position might, and for no reason other than that he can, so someone else cannot. I have been people watching for decades, I’ll be forty later this year, and over the last couple of decades I have witnessed more people than not, and regardless of their politics, age, or gender, adopting selfish, and/or thoughtless, and even cruel behaviors to the point of normalizing them. I rewatched the movie, Walk the Line, fairly recently, and there’s a scene where June Carter (played by Reese Witherspoon) is shopping at a hardware store in small town while on tour, and a woman walks up to June and says, “Your Ma and Pa are good Christian people in a world gone to pot.” There’s a line or two of escalating dialogue before the woman says, “I’m surprised they still speak to you…” and June responds with, “I’m sorry I let you down, ma’am.” Which is likely exactly how June Carter would have responded in the situation. I would eat my hat if anyone today—or over the last fifteen, maybe twenty years—responded in even a similarly thoughtful way. Many people think that because we’re “evolving,” socially that we’re headed in a progressively healthy direction, I’m not so sure.
In my suite, back at the hotel, I’m sitting on my couch with a couch pillow between my lap and my laptop, there’s music playing—lately it’s been a variety of meditation music, I’m thinking of switching to African djembe music. The Murray Hotel was completed in 1904, there have been some renovations throughout the years, but the building is still very much like it was then. In the winter, the metal piping that intrudes from the floorboards below, and through toward the rooms above, rattles as hot water and steam flow through the building, heating the 120 years old radiators. Voices, and music—at the moment “Uncle John’s Band,” by the Grateful Dead—rise from the Murray bar directly beneath my room and the sounds get louder as the sun gets lower in the sky. And I’m writing. I have created and am developing something through my writing, for myself, and for you. Sitting here, I’ll write about my experiences traveling, the restaurants that I happen upon; and I write about music and movies and some television; and I write about my thoughts; my thoughts about people, and the world, and behaviors and attitudes, and I continue to explore new perspectives and push boundaries, and different ways to share my experiences with you. The sun goes down, and I lay my computer on the coffee table and give my cats attention, and I think about my cats experience, and if they’re happy, and if I’m doing too much for them, because I worry that moving them into a hotel suite after living in a two-bedroom house with a yard that they would go to and in from at leisure, might have been a difficult adjustment. An R. Carlos Nakai, Native American flute song is playing, and the rattling of the pipes has stopped, but just for a moment; I listen to my big, tuxedo cat snoring, and I lay down on the couch and close my eyes and breathe. I allow my thoughts and feelings, anxieties or triggers to flow, and acknowledge as they get stronger, and more intense, as if I were playing Hunt the Thimble (maybe better known as ‘Hot or Cold’), and then I work on working through it. Whether that means that I will attach a past moment to the feeling and to explore that moment somatically or I find an uncomfortable comfort in the feeling; for example, as if I were imagining myself wading alone in the middle of the ocean and drawing the very real feelings of dread and control as though I were actually there in order to face the fear. It gets dark early in the winter, much earlier than I’m used to. I have made a nightly ritual of yoga, stretching, and various home workouts. I packed a cloth bag that I just kind of have now, I couldn’t tell you where it came from, there’s a book in there, a water bottle, an advanced glossary of grammar terms to study, and sometimes my laptop. Between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM—Wednesday through Sunday—I sit behind the front desk of the Murray Hotel. I spend the final few hours of my day reading, talking to guests, and sitting in the lobby, sometimes I’ll stand up on the rooftop patio in the darkness looking out for the Northern Lights. I’m not exactly in the place that I want to be in my life, not just yet. Nevertheless, I am lucky, and grateful to be where I am. This is an example of a typical day for me over the last year, and I like the style, and it’s a format that I’m excited to repeat in future posts.