The Wandering Scientist

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On being away

Jan 24, 2011

En route to San Francisco

I’ve only been home for a few days, after a dash across the Atlantic and a mad time in New Orleans. I’ve gotten a bit of a somewhat regular sleep schedule – being back in Tucson after a near month absence has obligations that I didn’t expect but appreciated. It was a lovely comeback and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yet that didn’t last long – I drove to Phoenix and jumped on a plane heading to San Francisco, with only a few things, about four hours of sleep, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, on loan from my roommate. The story of a young writer bounding around the country, immersed in the road and the blues, had a certain irresistible appeal.

I’m in a bit of a conflict with myself over all this. Somewhere in the back of my mind I have the quiet desire for little more than a pair of warm rounded shoulder to lean on, the sort of embrace where you can easily miss an hour or a whole afternoon because you merely blinked… Strange that this is exactly what I’d found among all the thousands of miles. Life, of course, is strange and unexpected in its best moments.

The other part, of course, is the one jumping at the road, the side that keeps the bag by the door at all times. There is a mad allure to the road, some sort of predatory instinct to keep moving, to constantly search for new friends, places, tastes, visions, and stories. I don’t mean the stories of my adventures, but rather the stories of the people I come across. The road is lined with innumerable hearts, and each one has got words in it. In precious moments they open up and speak. Most of the time, the communication is not verbal, but much more subtle and accidental. It’s another traveler slumped on a bench. It’s a shy loner awkwardly sitting at the bar. It’s the kindness of strangers and incredible coincidences. The desire for these things becomes so zealous that sleep and food begin to slip away from me.

After several days on the road I find myself exhausted. I sometimes forget to eat, and sleep is minimized. When I do sleep, I actually sleep better than ever. The hours of rest are short, but an implicit understanding between the mind and the body make the most of the brief respite. The body finds reserves of energy that I could not imagine even days earlier. I find myself in the sort of spot where I simply have to keep moving. I feel a hard physical crash thudding right behind me. I just know that as long as I have something to do – work, conversation, dance – I can keep going almost indefinitely. So I keep standing, grinning. A great sense of freedom is to be found in this delirious exhaustion, and this sense makes all the misery worth the while.

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