Dispatch 103

I think most everyone I know has forgotten how to live, and maybe even I have, too. As I crest the hallowed hill of Annapurna Base Camp, I remember. Annapurna I, the tallest of the Annapurna mountains, towers above me at 26,545 ft. She is a great snow-capped goddess watching me from her place in the sky. If there is a physical manifestation of a supreme being, this mountain is it, and I don't even believe in god. She reaches up to the heavens like the hand of earth, grasping with wonder. A long, flat, wispy cloud dangles right below her summit, as if scared to dare block her greatness.

She is demanding of my attention; a forced presence. It doesn't matter that I currently have both Giardiasis and E. Coli or that I might not have a job when I return to the U.S. or that I am unprepared for the cold weather that awaits that night. I stumble up the stone stairs leading past the last few tea houses of the trek, their roofs mirroring the bright blue of the sky. Past the short buildings is a natural stone wall, likely pushed here thousands of years ago by the basal sliding of the glacier that has now receded so far below the wall that a sheer cliff drops hundreds of feet from base camp.

I fall down onto my knees on the top of the wall, placing my hands on the rough rocks and staring out into the Himalaya. I am suddenly and uncontrollably sad for myself, and tiny salty tears roll down my face and drop onto the ground. I am sad because I know that I am truly alive in this moment and the feeling is unfamiliar. Why the fuck don't I feel this way more often?

I came to Nepal because I read a book about a wild pack of woman who climbed a mountain here. The mountain, Annapurna I, called to them. And unable to resist her sweet song, they obliged. Two of them died in an attempt to stand atop Annapurna I, but not before several others summited, becoming the first Americans of any gender to do so. Many mountains have taken lives, but Annapurna I is statistically the most dangerous in the world. 130 people have successfully summited, but 53 have died trying. Kneeling below her on a sunny afternoon in November, I can feel her saying "I take as I please."

I tried to convince friends to come with me to Nepal, but eating Dal Bhat and walking for 2 weeks isn't most young adults' idea of a relaxing vacation. So I bought a ticket alone. Then, wholeheartedly unprepared, I got on a plane to Kathmandu with my passport and a 35L bag.

When have I felt most alive in my life? This sounds like an annoying journal prompt from a self-help seminar, I know. But I would like this question to guide my life. Is something going to either directly support the depth of my human experience or explicitly inspire a feeling of wild? If not, I’m out.

There are only a few moments that stand out when I ask this question, which is my I’m crying at the base of a mountain, alone, in the Himalaya.

There was the time a Rolling Stone photographer and I followed a live band around the mountain town of Telluride until 3 am. We skinny dipped in a frozen creek, snuck into a hot tub, and told stories to the sounds of guitar and accordion.

There was the day I climbed a sandstone tower in Moab. The wind whipping at the top couldn’t even quiet my elation as I stood on the giant red protruding rock, ready to crawl off the side and rappel hundreds of feet. I felt as if I could see the whole state of Utah.

And there are quieter, life giving moments too. Like the first time I uttered “I love you”, even though I wasn’t sure, and immediately took it back. Or the day in college when I pressed “submit” to self-publish my first book. Or laying under the stars in Oregon, feeling the presence of our galaxy and universe in myself. Stars are very life-giving if you didn’t already know.

But these moments seem few and far between. How long must I wait for the next one? Is life just a series of waiting periods until the next time I feel alive? Is it worse to have felt life rush through me like this, because now I know what I am missing?

I stay crouched on my knees until the tears stop. When my eyes dry, I see clearly that the cloud has drifted behind the mountains. I have made a significant amount of trouble for myself: I have E. Coli, an unstable job, and don’t even know how I am going to get to the airport in a few short days. I suppose making trouble is kind of what I’m best at and I must accept that.

Annapurna, in her strength and irreverence, laughs down at me. I am here. I am alive. It is enough.

Dispatch 094

Written for NaNoWriMo (Unedited)

We returned late to the campground with empty bellies and calloused hands. It was getting dark, so we made quick time in pulling out our stoves and fixing a meal. I walked around the front of my car to get water when I noticed a spot of pink on my windshield. An invitation:

You’re Invited: A wedding and dance party to follow! Where: Site #1 with the maroon Westie Bring: Alcohol, instruments, you’re beautiful self.

I was exhausted beyond belief, but a party was in need after sending Chocolate Corner. We ate fast and wandered over to site #1, fashionably late. Ten people stood around a campfire and another ten stood in groups near a dark red Westfalia. Solar lanterns adorned a canopy and music played from someone’s iPhone jammed into a bowl for resonation. All the familiar faces of Indian Creek were there. A chiseled Eastern European woman with light blond hair and an accent thicker than butter. The guy with the sprinter van, looking cleaner than everyone else and donning his bright red Patagonia puffy. People of various other eccentricities. Everyone looked out of place, but out of place together. For an hour, we watched limbs off the nearby bushes ignite and crackle in the fire pit while wedding preparations were made.

The two brides, Kat and Hannah, had spent the day concocting this theater act to entertain the campground. When it was time, a scruffy guy from Mississippi with a climbing tape (priest thing) ushered us into to standing groups with an aisle in between. Another guy played his melodica with a slightly off version of the classic wedding tune. Hannah, a red-head with the energy of a young child, waited with the priest. Kat, hair falling down her sides in loose braids, bounded down the aisle to join her.

Kat had an ease to her, a constant smile, a humility. Although she appeared older than me, she maintained the innocence of a flower child, fueled by love and the earth and all those other nice things. Hannah was infinitely energetic. She was moving so fast sometimes that she didn’t pay attention to what was going on around her. She seemed to want to say everything that came to her mind, but didn’t really care if someone heard it or reacted. She was beautifully young too, with a youth that seems like it could last forever.

“We are gathered here today to share in the union of these two lovely climber ladies,” the pseudo-priest announced. “I haven’t really got anything else to say, so let’s hear the vows.”

“Wait, first the dog! STORM! STORM!” Hannah called the dog’s name. After a brief silence, the dog ran in from the bushes and met the brides. They untied two rings from her collar.

“Kat,” Hannah started, getting down on her knee, “I am so glad to have met you during my short time in Indian Creek. You are truly my BFFN; Best Friend For Now. But on this special day, you will become my BWFN: Best Wife For Now. Even though we will part ways in a few days, our bond will be remembered forever in this union.” She placed a ring, likely made of foil or grass or some other found object, on Kat’s hand.

Kat now lowered her knee to the ground. She pulled out a piece of lined paper and read off a list of the reasons for her undying love of Hannah. “If you ever get another desert gobi, I will rub triple antibiotic on it all day, “ she finished, placing a ring on Hannah’s finger.

“The beers, the beers!” Hannah called to a guy waiting next to them.

“You may now shotgun a beer,” said the priest.

Hannah and Kat took two PBRs from their friend, linked arms, and shotgunned them in seconds. Holding hands, they ran down the aisle and everyone erupted in applause. And I thought about nothing else but the ridiculousness and playfulness of it all, happy to be apart of something both meaningless and perfectly worthy of my time. I think these kind of things only happen out here in the barren and unforgiving desert where fun has to be made.

I feel something surrounded by this ridiculous group of misfit climbers. I feel alive. I feel like I am human, like I am experiencing the deepest feeling of being human. Why does it seem that this feeling only exists out here in these far away wild places?

The next day was a hard one, mostly because I pushed myself to climb more pitches than any other day and the sun was jealous. It sucked my energy and left me crisped by the end of the day. Back at camp, I ate something nutrionless and felt like I didn’t really know how to take care of myself. Everything seemed hard and tedious. I cleaned the dishes, but there was still so much oil and crust left on them. I washed my face, but looked in the mirror to see my skin upset and rough. I tried to clean out the bed of my car, but by the time I put everything back in it, it looked the same as when I had begun. I suppose I was growing fatigued of everything taking so much time, of nothing being efficient or easy. I felt all these activities were a waste and not adding much value to my life.

How the fuck am I going to do this until 2016? And what exactly is it that I’m doing until 2016? Being unemployed? Camping? Climbing? I know I will need to spend some time in Boulder on couches of my friends to cure some loneliness. It also seems like I might have to spend a month in Oregon to save or make money during the summer. I worry that this might sacrifice the purity of my trip or somehow disrupt the learning. If I don’t camp and climb the whole time, I’m afraid I might just be a homeless person in disguise. I hear a soft cover of a Beatles song from the camp next door and my friends invite me to join their fire. Now is not a time for questioning. Now is a time for complete giving in to the life I have chosen to live based solely on a well-timed impulse and a set of circumstances.

Dispatch 093

Written for NaNoWriMo (unedited)

Sam told me one of the most flattering things a male has ever said to me. He said that the other day, when he say me running towards him from Reservoir Wall, I looked beautiful and at peace and like I was meant to be here in Indian Creek. 

I started to see beauty in a way in which I fit my own definition of it. Beauty became about this delicate balance between strength and tranquility that I saw in the women climbers I looked up to. Their strength wasn’t attained by some routine or exercise, but instead was pulled forth from within by experience. It was a strength that exists in all but is exposed in few. A sort of quiet, unassuming power. And to equalize it is a deep sense of peace and understanding and openness. I felt myself slowly revealing these qualities in myself, and I found them beautiful. 

I am a person, like most, of irrational contradictions. I am not scared by dangling 100 ft on a 9.7 mm rope with only two bolts in a sandstone cliff holding me up, however I can barely drive in the rain without having severe anxiety.

Yesterday I climbed a long, astounding crack line known as the Jupiter Crack. Every variation of red and taupe and brown is streaked across the faces of this climb, from which its name originated. I didn’t lead it, but since the route traversed left, I was faced with some hefty falls even on top rope. It was beyond my level. I struggled up a few feet, rested on a good hand jam, and then struggled some more. When I reached the traverse, I moved inches at a time, flexing every muscle in my arms and shoulders to hold me into the wall. There was only one piece of gear in this section, which I scooted along as I went to keep me from falling far. I scraped off the skin on my right elbow and one of my fingers. For what seemed like hours, I jammed my knee into the horizontal crack, moved the gear slightly left, and sat on the rope, over and over until I finally reached the last piece of gear and a blocky ending to the route. My partner had warned me that one of the bolts holding the rope up was also an old style (place by the first person to climb there, Steve Hong) and wasn’t very trustworthy. But even dangling on a less than perfect anchor, 100 feet in the air, thrashing to move inches in the crack, I wasn’t scared. If anything, I was more focused and calm than I’d been all day. This, to me, is calculated and manageable risk. So long as I did everything right, and at least one anchor bolt was good, and my partner was paying attention, I would not get hurt. Unmanageable risk is what rules my life.

It was less than a year ago that I got into my car accident. My last semester of college was so devoid of purpose and pleasure that the only thing that got me through was planning a post-grad road trip with my best friend from Oregon. We spent countless hours looking for the jewels of the American West and making a plan to hit all of them in three weeks. We made a poster for the trip and sent it to an athletic bar company, who agreed to sponsor us with gas money and food. We left for the trip on a shy June morning, unhindered by stress or expectations or obligations. The first three hours of the trip were downright romantic, filled with freedom and laughs, music and joy. But it all ended in seconds. An endless blue sky suddenly turned black. The air and road was filled with pellets of ice, sheets of hail blinding us and everyone else on the road. Before we had a chance to slow down or pull over or even think, the back tires of the car slipped and we careened into a semi truck to our right. For a brief moment, the hood of the car stuck under the semi, but as it dragged us along, the car dislodged and was pushed into cross traffic and off the other side of the highway into a ditch. Not even a scratch, either of us. I didn’t have words for the feeling I had as we stood for an hour and a half in the rain waiting for the police to arrive. I felt empty but at the same time filled with something – a need for explanation, a need for someone to tell me it was okay. I didn’t cry until later when I realized we were one second or turn from being obliterated under a semi-truck.

I build my fears based on experience. For the last year, I have had uncontrollable anxiety when faced with driving in weather. I’m not talking about a gentle anxiety that makes you need to take a deep breath before something. Mine destroys me. It makes me dizzy, unable to converse, even nauseous. 

Rain is coming to the desert. I feel restless, like I need to do something about it.

Dispatch 088

Written for NaNoWriMo (unedited)

Chapter 3: That feeling when you're going everywhere because it's better than going nowhere.

I can go anywhere. I find this freeing but surprisingly exhausting and overwhelming. I want to be somewhere anonymous and desolate so that I might be forced to face my thoughts. I yearn for a sort of desert mirror, somewhere I can climb but can also be reflected back to myself in a devastating way. This trip has to be productive, I tell myself.

I decide on Utah, specifically the mars playground surrounding Moab. Leaving Vegas feels good. I love leaving. I hope that my sickness will stay to play with the slot machines. Moby and I don’t even have to pack up because everything is contained in this little blue car of mine. I don’t even make the bed. I leave at 9 in the morning without changing a thing inside the vehicle. I drive through busy highways, wishing I would’ve left before the morning commute, but I make note of this and avoid the morning commute for the rest of my trip. I feel bad for the poor souls stuck in traffic on the way to shitty jobs that barely pay them enough to live. I feel bad for them and I want to roll down my window and call to them: I have been you! That is not all life has to offer! Please, come with me!

Maybe they would turn their cars around and caravan to the desert with me and I could teach them how to climb and how to spend the whole day doing nothing but admiring the way sandstone changes colors as the sun moves across the sky in it’s blissful arc.

I was less than a year out of college when the banality of daily 9 to 5 life got to be too much. It was dismal. I’d left college an optimistic martyr, and less than a year later, turned to a lifeless zombie.

I moved from school in Boston directly to Boulder, CO and took the first job I was offered, a Marketing and Donor Management role at a nonprofit. It felt like a real adult job, but the salary was not. I made 17k for 30 hrs a week and hustled other mountain-related gigs on the weekend. In hindsight, I should’ve been patient for something better. This was a job with meaning, I thought, a job that wasn’t just for making money.

And in many ways it was. The nonprofit helped people with disabilities participate in outdoor adventure sports. I regularly got to go on trips where people who thought their lives were over got to rock climb, ice climb, hike, and more.

I used to be that very same person sitting in the car, but I snapped.

I walked to work like I did every day. From my apartment, it was two blocks to the main street. I walked usually alone, but bikes might pass. It was winter, but the sun was warm and thawed my nose and toes as I moved along. I walked quickly, not looking up. I didn’t need to. I walked the same way every day. A giant truck careened past, spewing a black cloud right next to me on the street. I held my breath until I was past it.

Like every day, I turned right to walk diagonally through a parking lot, saving myself about 20 seconds from the right angle of the sidewalk. The parking lot was always empty at that time in the morning. Only two more blocks straight and I was at my building, all in all, 15 minutes of walking.

I walked into the brick building and unlocked the door to our office. It was small, with two rooms. There were massive piles of climbing gear stacked to the right. We had organized it once but it always got disorganized. One room was for out Executive Director, and the other I shared with our third employee. I liked to get there early before the others arrived. I could get a lot of work done. I put my shitty homemade lunch our mini fridge and turned on the hot water heater. I sat down at my computer. It was my own laptop from home. The nonprofit couldn’t afford to get me a work computer. 

I opened my email. It was a Monday and my inbox was full. I looked out the window onto the street to see two homeless men fighting over some frozen pizza. The water heater beeped, letting me know it was ready, and I filled a cup and dropped a ginger tea in the top. 

As I sat back down to start answering emails, I felt a deep sense of malaise fall over me. I realized that I could not distinguish this day from the other 100s of days I had walked to the office on the same path and made the same tea and opened my email the same way. For that moment, I felt time had in fact lost it’s meaning because the moments were indistinguishable. I’d spend another day in front of a computer and then I’d go home to eat and then I’d go to the gym and then to bed. The routine left no meaning. As I attempted to sip my tea, it spilled out onto my lap. Was this it? Was this all there was to life? I could not believe that.

The idea of a road trip was planted into my head by various people I look up to who have also spent time living in vehicles. The weekend after my existential crisis at work, I researched building platforms in cars and pretty much decided I had to do it. Maybe I would come back and work a similar job one day, but at that time in my life, I needed to search outside myself. In hindsight, this is an extremely privileged position. I had no student loans or family to take care of. I was able to drop everything.

I quit the job. I felt guilty because I hadn’t even been there a year, but I also felt compelled beyond reason and no feelings of guilt could stop me.

I spent a month selling my things, rounding up my savings, and telling people goodbye. I spent a short trip in Thailand, and then Belize, and when I came back, I packed everything in my car and drove to Oregon to drop it off.

Goddamn it, I love leaving. If I could be a professional leaver, I would. And so, after a brief stint in Vegas, I was off to Utah, another place to visit and search for meaning and leave when I couldn’t find it.

Out of Vegas I practically flew to St. George. A few hours in the car was nothing. I stopped to eat but only briefly because I had places to be! I shot some messages to Southern Colorado friends and they were planning to be in Indian Creek (1 hr from Moab) that weekend. The stars had aligned. Driving through the middle of Utah, I played my radio as loud as it would go, signaling to the world that Madeline was capital F Free!

I arrived in Moab early and decided to look for camping because I knew things tended to get overcrowded. I drove along the river and stopped at every campground, finally finding a spot at the third. It was something like $12 and that felt VERY ritzy for a single night. I didn’t have enough cash, so I put $10 in the envelope and wrote a quick note: “I’m unemployed so this is all I have”. No one ever said anything about it. I backed my car into the camp spot so that I could open the back hatch to face the river. It was only four, but I decided to make dinner. I snacked on red vines while I chopped veggies. My mom had gifted an entire bucket of them upon my departure. 

The most wonderful thing about camping is that you can't do anything fast. Try. I dare you. A small stir fry could take an hour. The gods of camping just drop this cloud on you that forces you to relax and slow down. As I chop veggies, I slice each individual piece so that, in the end, they are frighteningly uniform. I put them into the one bowl I brought with me. Then I put some rice on my single burner stove and kind of stare off into the river until 30 minutes have passed and the rice is ready. I heat a cast iron, throw the veggies in, and stare at the river again. When you have nothing to worry about, your mind just kind of settles into life and becomes, well, still. The small current of the river drifts by, sparkling the sun's receding reflection outward. The long grasses sway just enough to make a sound, but the sizzling of the vegetables is louder. I wish only that someone was there to feel the stillness with me. That is the only thing that could’ve made the moment better.

It’s not as if I didn’t WANT a partner to join my road trip. My boyfriend at the time was not the type to go on such an ambiguous journey and the rest of my friends wanted to stay working at their jobs. Plus, it sure would’ve been hard to FIND myself if someone else was around. Traveling alone also forced me to meet people, which was terrifying and necessary.

My veggies finished cooking and I spooned them on to some rice and ate each bite like it was the only bite. It was nearly an hour and a half later. There were various other campers around me, but I didn’t notice. When I finished my food, I rinsed my dish, lazily without soap, and ate some more red vines. I got into my bed and read a few chapters of Infinite Jest as the river’s breeze passed through the hatch and teased my hair. When it got cold, I closed the back of the car and stared up into my moon roof to the galaxy above. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel so small. I watched until a shooting start passed by and wished that I would never have to go back to my old life.

The next day I woke to the sunrise but snuggled my face into my pillow until it got too bright to manage. Have you ever slept so well that you feel as if you’ve just exited a long-contained cocoon? I reached over head and cracked my neck as I moved my body or the first time that day. I didn’t have service on the river, so I hastily brushed my teeth and left to go into town. 

———

I should probably take a shower. I mean, no ones going to judge me if I don’t, but I can smell myself, and that’s never a good sign. In town I find the Lazy Lizard, a hostel-looking place that seems to house other dirtbags like myself. I have to dig in the bottom of my car to find shampoo. The shower costs $2 and I take my time letting warm water sanitize my body until it is red. When I am finished I feel even more like a butterfly than when I woke up that morning.

I charge my phone while I shower and find 3 messages, all telling me where to find friends once I get to the Creek (Indian Creek). There is no service there so they have told me to look on one of the message boards. I go to the grocery story and then I am off to the Creek.

I drive south out of moab along a single lane highway and get stuck behind someone who has nowhere to be, noodling along in an old ford truck that used to be blue. I also have nowhere to be, but for some reason I feel the need to move with speed and efficiency. I ride close to the Ford’s bumper for no other reason that to signal to the driver that he is going slow, but he doesn’t seem to notice, and eventually I back off.

There is nothing out here south of moab except an occasional lonely house and and odd rest stop hiding next to a large rock face. This is how I like it. I turn right about 30 minutes later. The sign says ‘Canyonlands’ but that’s not where I’m headed. I pull off in a gravel area to send one less text message before service is gone - it goes to my mom to tell her to not expect to hear from me for a few days. I power down my phone, which causes a sort of jolt of adrenaline because it feels dangerous. 

Moby and I wind along the road to the Creek. Sometimes I slow to peak out my window up towards red cliff faces to see if there are any climbers out. It is the middle of the day but only in the mid-60s. Before too long, I am at the message board. Various pieces of weathered paper are pinned to the back with cryptic messages.

“Holly - we’re at the usual spot. Dan & Taylor”

“Jojo and Yarn! We are at Supercrack for the day. Meet us here around 5?”

“SLC crew. We got a spot at Super Bowl in the back but not much more room.”

I read almost all of the 3 dozen messages before I find one with my name in it.

“Maddie, Greg, and Jules - We’ve got three spots in the Bridgers. Out climbing today but look for the red truck and the two spots next to it. - Sam & friends”

I get back into my car and drive the rough, rutted road the the Bridger Jack camping area - the only camping area without toilets. My friends choose this area because it usually keeps out the city slickers. Sedans can’t make it through the river crossing and banked turns. Moby does well, but I scratch her bottom once.

I find the truck and the spots. It’s only 1 pm, so I take a solo hike up toward some red towers and wander around the backside of the camp spot. I’m nervous to see Sam.

I met him a year ago around 1 am in Salt Lake City at the Outdoor Industry Convention of the year, Outdoor Retailer. He was passing around copies of a book he wrote and the end of a music performance. He was jittery and jumping around as he talked to various people. My friend and I went with him to another bar and he tried to climb the brick face out front. He was way older than me, but he seemed innocent in a way I found endearing.

He came to visit me from Southern Colorado a few weeks after and then we met up in Crested Butte a month after that. I just didn’t feel anything that strong, but I was attracted to him because he was attracted to me. Since then, we’d just been friends.

Dispatch 085

Written for NaNoWriMo (unedited)

Chapter 2: That feeling When things don't go as planned. 

IMG_1891.jpg

Adam and I finish the 800 ft of Frigidaire in a couple hours. I only hold us up one time when I can't get a piece of gear out of the wall. I fight and fight until I realize I just need to slide it upwards, and it immediately falls out. Adam and I laugh about it. I think this is the highest off the ground I have ever been, but I don't tell him. I want to let out a big howl. It's motherfucking scary but also not, because if I do fall from this height, it's not like I'm going to be paralyzed or down on the ground writhing in pain. I will 100%, assuredly smash into smithereens and never feel a thing, except for the impending death as I fall through the air.

Rappeling often scares people more than climbing because you're just dangling over the abyss, not moving upward in a controlled manner. When I say rappeling often scares people more than climbing, I really mean it often scares me more than climbing. Adam ties our climbing rope to another rope I carried on my back on the climb. By tying two ropes together, we can save a considerable amount of time. The crazy thing about tying the ropes together is that he just does an overhand, regular, normal knot. He does another to back it up. This is the standard knot for rappeling, but is sure as heck does not make me feel secure. Apparently, the opposing forces on the ropes as we rappel actually makes the knot tighter. I pretend to understand why. Adam feeds the rope through the rappel rings, which are screwed deep into the rock. We take turns attaching ourselves to the ropes and slowly sliding down on out ATCs. When I reach the first ledge, my ATC is hot from the friction.

Now we have to pull the rope, and Adam is unsure of which side he put the knot on the rappel rings. See, the knot won't fit through the rings, so it sits to one side or the other, and you have to pull the correct side, or else you may get the knot lodged into the rappel rings. This would result in being stuck on this ledge until someone came to save us. Adam pulls one side, but the rope doesn't move. It must've been the wrong side, so he pulls the other, but it still doesn't move. He does this about three or four times. We THINK the knot was on the blue side. We are 87% sure. So we decide we will both pull with all our strength, and hope it's just a tough rope. It doesn't budge. We decided to do it again, but this time we won't just pull, we'll actually hang on the rope with our body weight. We adjust our footing. He puts his hands above mine on the rope. We are tied into the wall, so we can't fall. On the count of three, we jump up and let our body weight pull the rope down. Finally, it budges just a foot. Now we can pull it through, but slowly. It's still not clear why this happened.

Once the rope is pulled, we rappel again, and eventually we find ourselves safe on the desert floor. We look for my sunglasses, but they are nowhere to be find. I'm sad, but I pretty glad is was just my sunglasses that fell.

I am that exhausted kind of euphoric as we drive back to camp. What we just did was truly amazing as I think about it. Moving up an 800 ft vertical face in a few hours, with little more than rope and a bunch of metal gear. I let a big deep breath out and I feel satisfied. But also, I want to take a nap that lasts the whole weekend. I feel unusually tired, but I chock it up to the adrenalin and excitement of it all. We eat and lounge and I fall asleep very early. I think since time is different out here, it is okay to fall asleep at 7pm.

---

I wake up 12 hours later.

I hug my rust-colored fleece blanket close to my clammy body. I am perched on the wooden sleeping platform my friend built in the back of my Honda Element. Snot drips down my raw nose onto the thin mattress below.

I didn’t care. All that occupies my mind is the pressure building in the cavities of my head.

Outside my car window, the desert sun lowers slowly behind red cliffs that surround the campground. “So much for exploring the ‘Wild West’, finding myself, and all that romantic stuff that is supposed to happen on road trips,” I think.

Dispatch 081

For NaNoWriMo (unedited)

Chapter 1: That feeling when you jet out of town at the beginning of a very long trip and the wind tangles through your hair and whispers in your ear that you are finally free

I leave undulating burnt orange hills behind me at 80mph, creating a constant but wavering line in my peripheral vision. I haven't seen a car from either direction in 20 minutes. I don't know where I am, in the specific geographical sense. Somewhere in Nevada between gas stations. I've put complete trust for my wellbeing and safety in the  GPS application on a small handheld device that my mom pays the bill for - still. I'm 23 and I don't even pay for my cell phone. Blindly, I have followed this GPS application to what appears to be the uninhabitable portion of the SW USA. Sweat drops down either side of my face because I refuse to use the air conditioning. I am a homeless, jobless, partnerless vagrant and AC seems like a luxury that a homeless, jobless, partnerless vagrant is unworthy of.

I'm feeling angry and kind of half-assedly glaring at nothing in particular. I'm upset because I want to be everything, and right now that seems impossible. I want to be all things at once without any sacrifice of quality or depth. I want to be everything and my inability to do so is causing me a great deal of angst. I guess I'm so angry about this because how dare the universe show me its complex infinite self and not allow me to be each part of it? God damn it. God damn the universe. I glare a little harder at nothing in particular.

Today, this very day right here, I have decided that one of the things I am going to be is a rock climber. I've gathered from various magazine articles and Instagram posts that in order to become a rock climber I need to quit my job and move into a car and live in it. So this is what I have done. I'm going to travel the American West in my Honda Element testing the limits of freedom and climbing in all the wild places everyone keeps telling me about.

The midday sun hits me directly in the face and sneaks into the gap between my sunglasses and my forehead. It doesn't really bother me because there is nothing and no one to watch out for. Perhaps during the previous 14 hours of driving, some apocalyptic forces have wiped out the rest of humanity, because I am feeling an undeniable sense of existential and physical aloneness as I traverse the arid lands of Nevada in my vehicle. Not even the muffled country tunes, nor the once-in-a-while generic desert bush, give me hope that I am not suddenly the last poor soul on earth.

Shit - what have I done?

Despite questioning life and it's meaning and etcetera, etcetera, I keep driving and eventually end up on the outskirts of Las Vegas at a gas station that charges entirely too much. I buy gas anyway, because what other option do I have, and glare, this time in the specific direction of the man chewing gum and reading a shitty magazine behind the counter in the gas station's little store of processed foods. I stand outside my car and pretend to stretch while I attempt to call my friend Adam, who I hope is waiting for me with a camp spot in Red Rock Canyon State Park. He doesn't answer, and I wish he had so that I would have an excuse to take a longer break from driving. I've never been so physically tested by an activity that mostly involves sitting and occasionally raising my arm to change radio stations. I'm feeling a little tired, even though it's only 5 pm, so I go into the little store of processed foods and buy a coke. I am addicted to coke, and not even the sexy, businessman kind. I get back in my car and on to the freeway before I chug half the bottle and spend the next ten minutes burping as loudly as I can.

It takes two hours to go 50 miles because The State of Nevada is doing construction on the highway and I am all but royally irritated until I remember that I have paid good tax money to drive on smooth, safe roads and The State of Nevada is fulfilling that promise. Well, in reality, everyone else has paid good tax money - I don't think I made enough last year to pay taxes.

I've never been to Las Vegas and I don't care to visit. Red Rock Canyon State Park is on the outskirts, and since I have approached from Oregon, I get to avoid driving through the City of Sin. It's that time right before the sun sets and I debate whether or not to stop to watch the sky change before going to find my friends, but I decide that risks finding them in darkness which is something I'd rather avoid. I cruise the campground at 4 mph with my head out the window, trying to look friendly. The road winds between a large patch of dirt that contains about 30 spots.

"Adam!" He is sitting at a picnic table behind three cars.

"Maddie, you made it!" He says, getting up from his dinner to walk towards the car. He leans on the passenger side door and sticks his head in the window. "How was your drive?"

"Long, but easy."

"Good, good. Look, we're a little full here. Christina's got a site too, across the road. Would you mind asking her first before we try to fit another car?"

Red Rock Canyon State Park campground is ALWAYS full this time of year because every dirtbag and all their friends want to climb in The State of Nevada before it gets too hot. It seems a lot of other 20-somethings are trying to become Rock Climbers too.

"Sure, yeah. I'll let you know." Adam goes back to dinner and I drive the quarter-mile down the road to where another climber friend is setting up an auxiliary cooking table.

"Hey Christina! How's it going?"

"Madeline - you're here!" She says, and abandons her set up to come chat.

"When did you all get here?" I ask.

"We got here this morning but we went straight to x wall and just got back to camp 30 minutes ago" she says. The people she was with don't look familiar.

"How was the climbing?"

"Oh, amazing. It got a little warm but the rock was so good" she says. This is a phrase climbers like to use, the rock was good. I think it means the rock is solid and doesn't crumble in your hands, but I honestly just avoid saying it because I'm not sure I know what good rock is. 

"Any chance you have some extra room?" I ask.

"Dang, we've got three more friends coming around 8:30 tonight, so we're pretty full." Her camp had 2 more people than Adam's did.

"Okay, just figured I'd ask! I'm sure I can stay with Adam."

"Great - well I hope to see you around. We'll let you know if we go cragging!"

I reverse my car all the way back to Adam's camp, because it's more fun that turning around. 

"I'm back!" I say out my window. I try to pull my car out of the way, but I end up nose in a ditch. I pretend like it was on purpose and get out of my car.

"Cool-" says Adam, "we may have to rearrange the cars tomorrow morning."

"No problem, I'm happy to do it whenever."

"Want to join us for dinner?" he asks.

Grateful to have arrived at my first destination of this capital-A Adventure, I make quick time in bringing some food over to the group table and getting to know the rest of my campmates. All three of them have brown, dirty hair and various Arcteryx or Patagonia jackets and pants on. They are eating Pad Thai and spraying (climbing term: to talk relentlessly about a recent climb). It doesn't seem as if they have anything else to talk about, which is fine because I need to absorb all the lingo and narratives they tell so I can use them later, in case anyone needs to know that I am a Rock Climber. They seem like caricatures and I wonder for a moment if someone is playing a trick on me. 

We talk and eat and play cards until one of us yawns and a wave of tiredness hits us all. Adam agrees to take me climbing the next day. We will leave the site at 7:30, so up at 6:45. I make the bed on the platform in the back of my Honda Element (named Moby because she is a big blue whale). I clean up my kitchen stuff and change my clothes. I have brought along one set of sleeping clothes and intend to keep them nice and clean as to not be sleeping in climbing filth.

I get into my bed and close the back hatch. I open up my moon roof to let some cool desert air into my bedroom. I breath in the air in big gulps until I start to get woozy. I lay down my head, and only then realize that because I've parked in a ditch, my bed is at a -20 degree angle and not the least bit comfortable. But I can't move my car now because everyone else is getting ready to sleep, and it would be embarrassing, so I grab a handful of sweatshirts and try to prop up my pillow.

I can't sleep because of the anticipation of finding out who the fuck I am. And also because I am parked in a ditch.

---

By 6:30 AM I have slept roughly 2.75 hours. I spent most of the night listening to the mating calls of desert bugs, who apparently really like to get-it-on by the light of the moon. My bed situation was more comfortable than I imagined. My platform is a long sheet of plywood with an iron frame, which a past lover welded for me out of the kindness of his own heart (or because he was trying to get laid). He also welded a hinge onto the clasp on the side of my car that usually holds a seat. This way, I can fold up the platform, including the legs, and push pack the passenger seat so I can drive a friend somewhere. It turns out I will only do this one time during my entire trip, as solitudinarian lifestyle precludes me from ongoing engagements with humans, aside from climbing.

On top of the piece of plywood is one half of a full-sized ikea foam mattress. I cut it with a saw, so one side is very un-straight. I wrapped a full-sized fitted sheet around it and tied it underneath with hair elastics, which hold the sheet in place. On top of that, I have a rust-colored fleece sleeping bag liner, and a 0 degree sleeping bag, which I have pushed to the side because it is nowhere near 0 degrees. I have one pillow, and of course, underneath it, about 3 sweatshirts. I feel this sleeping setup is a luxury given my hope to become a Dirtbag Rock Climber. 

Adam and the other brown-haired, Patagonia-clad climbers are all up by 7. Coffee seems to be of prime, urgent importance. One of them heats water while the rest get out filters and mugs and french presses, sitting around the table watching the water slowly heat. I rarely drink coffee because I go nuts when I do. I read somewhere that children who grow up in stressful situations grow additional amygdala synapses, which contribute to a lifetime of increased amygdala activity, particularly related to overwhelming sensory experiences that turn into anxiety. I think my amygdala is HUGE and ACTIVE. Coffee only accentuates this by blocking adenosine receptors in the amygdala. When I drink coffee I fell like there are several people inside me all trying to do different things, and that doesn't work well. If I'm not trying to get shit done, it can be kind of fun. But today is the first day of my capital-A adventure and I wouldn't dare sabotage it with a cup of coffee. I pass on coffee each of the three times it is offered.

Adam and I make the day's plan over mushy oatmeal. I don't even taste it. I'm thinking about the awesome pic I'm going to get of me as a Rock Climber when we top-out* later this afternoon. I rely on Adam to know what the hell we are doing. He is a certified climbing guide and I literally bought my first trad climbing gear one month ago. I ask if we can take my gear so we can get it a little scratched up before I have to meet strangers, other Rock Climbers, who might think I'm a gumby* if my climbing gear it too shiny.

We jump in Adam's car right at 7:30 and drive to the park's entrance. Because it's before 8, there is no one waiting for us in the kiosk, and we drive through unhindered by State Park oversight. We are the second car at Frigid Air Buttress. I take specific pleasure in the word buttress. It feels like a perfect combination of buttocks and empress; I always picture a royal, lady-like, derriere when I hear the word. As we put on our heavy packs and follow a thin path towards the base of the climb, I imagine a 21st century Mt. Rushmore, but instead of presidential profiles, first-ladies' butts are carved into a giant stone face. A buttress of buttresses, if you will. I choose not to share this ingenious idea with Adam because we have to spend the entire day together and I don't want to start with the annoyance meter already nearing 50.

When I finish thinking about butts, I finally look around us. We are surrounded by walls of sandstone. The rock is red, hence the name of the park, but only parts of it. As the two-thousand-foot faces rise in the air, the redness fades. They look like they've been sanded down by the hands of God, and only the most forward, protruding parts reveal the deep brick red of the park's namesake. The flora that surrounds the rocks is so plain and ordinary that against the land, the rocks seem extraterrestrial. By what spirit or power did these magnificent rock beings erupt from the depths of the earth? They are eons more powerful than I am and that is part of the pleasure of climbing them.

"Here we are." Adam drops his bag 10 feet from the base of the climb. I can't even see the top from where we are standing. We start dividing up gear. I will carry a small backpack with snacks, water, and our phones. Adam will lead the entire climb, meaning he will go first and take the brunt of the risk; I will follow on a rope he has secured above me. Someday soon I hope to be the one leading. We are trad climbing, which means we hold ourselves and the rope up with expandable gear we wedge into cracks, called camalots. Adam will carry all the gear, and I will collect it as I follow him. We will climb 7 pitches - essentially 7 rope lengths - stopping at each pitch to rest and swap gear. I also carry another rope on my back, for what will be a long, frustrating decent. 

We are ready. I have been climbing for about a year and a half now, but each time still feels surreal. You mean to tell me that these two minuscule humans, using only a bunch of camalots, some rope, and carabiners, are going to move 2000 ft upward to the top of this buttress without falling? How can this be a thing we can do? We both put on our harnesses and I organize the rope to be easy to feed up to Adam.

"I'm all tied in." Adam shows me the knot attached to his harness. We always check each others knots. I slide the rope into my belay device and lock the carabiner that holds it to my harness. It is second nature.

"I got you."

Off he goes. I realize I have never climbed with Adam before, even though we have climbed next to each other and worked together for months. I trust him because, honestly, everyone I know who climbs knows more than I do. This is both an excellent place to be in for someone who wants to learn fast, and also an anti-confidence boost because I am literally the worst climber I know. I feel I am perpetually the worst, but most enthusiastic, at most things I do. I wonder if I secretly like being in the weaker position, or if this is instead a result of my courageous spirit willing to try new things at the first suggestion. I choose to believe the latter.

The first pitch is easy to follow. I stick my hands and feet into cracks and also use some holds on the wall. 

"We're doing it!" I say as I come over the ledge of the first pitch, where Adam is waiting. Adam is less enthused than me. This climb is like a gentle stroll for him and a hilly marathon for me. I don't want to make him uncomfortable by thanking him so I just smile. I look down and see our bags, now as little patches of color below. As I do, my sunglasses, which have been tucked into my shirt, fall the hundred and ninety feet to the ground. Goddamn it. I got them for free at my old job. They were worth $200, and now they're down in a bush somewhere, likely in a few pieces. Maybe this is a sign from god/gods/spirits that I should let go of all my worldly possessions? Or it might just be a sign that I am a knucklehead.

"Oops," Adam says as he watches them disappear in a sea of desert shrubs. "Let's get this show on the road".

I hook my belay device to the center of my harness and thread Adam's rope through it. He's off in an instant. I watch him climb methodically and solidly upward. He is tuned in to the rock. I keep a close eye on the rope and how much slack I am giving him, but I can't help but take a peak out toward the expanse of red land behind us. As I watch a few cars roll through the landscape, I imagine the passengers looking up at Adam and I and being amazed that these two small figures are climbing up the vertical plane of this buttress. I imagine the passengers slowing their silver Honda Civic, rolling the window down, and looking up at me, seeing the woman I am, seeing the woman I want to be. She is strong and daring, but assesses risk with rationality. She is curious and ambitious, but never makes another person feel inferior. She is kind but honest. Most importantly, she is a capital C Climber.

Dispatch 070

I kiss Lola approximately 100 times a day and not a single one of those smooches feels any less important than the rest. Because love isn't a grand gesture, it's a collection if itsy bitsy nothings that carry it through, like making someone their favorite tea in the morning or meeting them for lunch during their work day or reading them a poem that made you think of them. I only realized that about 2 months ago, after searching for grand gestures for so long and not finding them to be satisfying. 

She is the first being that has really let me detach the shadow of my ego and act in pure purpose of another. I supposed that is part of growing up. For so long I was the child, the loved one, the person whom inspired others to act selflessly - now I have become the mother, the nurturer, the one who loves without condition.

Three weeks ago, a large brown box appeared from Ruffwear. I unwrapped it like a Christmas present. Lil Lo, my 1-year-old Catahoula, laid on the couch watching but not concerned. I unearthed the beautiful bright blue doggy life vest. I don't know why I thought it would help her. Would it make her feel safe? Or did it just make me feel safe? I called her over and wrestled the thing over her head. Something was off.... the stiff front of it pushed into her neck and her tail stuck out the back hole uncomfortably. I looked at the picture online and realized it was backwards. I took it off, turned it around, put it back on, and tightened the belly straps. She looked unsure.

4 days later, we took it for a test run at Coot lake. Lola had never really liked the water. Understandably, she was scared by it's mystery. Usually when we passed the lake, she stared into it and then looked back up at me as if to ask if it was safe. When she saw other dogs jumping in after balls, she would sit at the bank and whine. This time, I tried to coax her in my standing in it myself. She got one paw wet, but then retreated. We stayed for 30 minutes. Mothers are supposed to be patient, right? I tried forcing her into the water but that only seemed to convince her of the terror. I waited more. She whined on the shore. And suddenly, she jumped in after a dog lunging for a soggy, oblong toy. She didn't make it far. Upon realizing she was now immersed in water, she quickly scrambled her way back out of the lake, but it was a start.

We drove from Boulder to Fruita in the mid afternoon to avoid the hellish traffic that is I-70. The problem with Colorado is that everyone comes there expecting to be alone in the wilderness and they find themselves with everyone else in the wilderness. I stopped to pee at a rest stop and tied her up outside because the car was too hot for habitation. When I came out there were three kids rubbing her belly.

The next day I spent $90 and two hours renting an inflatable kayak for two. The guy who blew up the boat for me asked who else was riding in it. I point to Lola who was feverishly trying to chew off the life jacket. We put in the river at about 11 o'clock - Lola and I and 6 other friends. 

The Colorado is magnificent, not for its powerful surge between stark red canyons, but for it's ability/fortune/destiny to sustain life. Water is this humble, boring liquid that in reality makes possible every last thing that we do - cooking, working, living. Lola doesn't see it that way. This river is a great unknown and she kicks her feet as I throw her into the kayak. Managing to get her in and myself and kick off from the shore proves to be a multi-step process, but once we are in, the world becomes calm.

Lola sits in front, the captain of the ship, keeping track of each bird that passes in front of us. She leans on my left leg, with all of her weight, and I can tell that it makes her feel safe. I have a paddle in hand, but our purpose on this trip is to do nothing. To float as the river takes us. I let go control. Of many things.

We ride like this for hours before stopping on a pebble beach along the way. We are surrounded by canyon walls that tell us of hundreds of thousands of years of this rivers power, carving away it's own deep path. An eagle sails from one side to the other. Lola keeps a close eye on it. Its fourth of July weekend, and I can't think of anything more patriotic than floating the Colorado with my dog and eagles.

Dispatch 068

Free write for book idea

There are always cars pulling in and out of Juniper's place. I guess taxidermy is a booming business these days. There are a lot of trucks, big mud covered ones with deer or elk hooves sticking out just over the edge of the truck bed like a haphazardly placed tree limb. There are a lot of Cadillacs too, and fancy sports cars, and I've often wondered what business those people could ever have in visiting Juniper. Maybe they've come to buy a stuffed chipmunk for their elderly grandma. That's her specialty: chipmunks. Not a lot of taxidermists have the patience for such a small creature, but Juniper's got abnormally tiny elvish hands that help her glue the black beads into the eye sockets with a delicate ease. There is a colony of chipmunks living in the north corner of her ranch and she harvests them at just about the same rate they are born so the population never grows or diminishes either. She sets up live rodent traps under the hollow of a dead tree to catch them and then puts them to sleep to kill them. She's never had any problem with the putting to sleep, except when she caught Olive. Olive is Juniper's only pet, an albino chipmunk she caught when it was a baby. She could've sold the thing for damn near enough money to quit working altogether, but there was something about Olive that wouldn't let her. They're sort of family now, Juniper and Olive. The chipmunk can usually be found on Juniper's shoulder, watching her work or cleaning her own paws.

I came to live out here about 8 months ago when I moved in with my dad and step mom. I'd pretended to do college for a couple years in the city before realizing that my morals were disintegrating each day I spent listening to another vapid conversation about a list of girls some guy had tried to get with over the previous weekend. I hadn't made a single real friend during my 4 semesters of studying business. I had pseudo-friends - people who I could relate to just enough that we would get dinner together or play frisbee in the quad, but whom I never questioned about life or tried to build any sense of depth with. I was really good at pretending to be all these people I hung out with. Sometimes I even convinced myself and for a moment, I forgot that it was all just an act of self-preservation. I was relieved to get out. The city sort of disgusted me anyway, in the way it seemed to coerce everyone within its boundaries into becoming completely self indulgent and absorbed, leaving the whole mass of people both eager for affection and lonelier then they'd ever been. I came to yearn for a very particular living situation that I knew my dad could offer. I wanted to live in the country, but without the isolation. I wanted to live on a large piece of land that happened to be just a 15 minute drive from a medium-sized city so that I could have full control over my solitude. When I wanted to turn down the volume knobs, I'd go into the garage (my bedroom) of my dad's house on his 120 acres of land and sit at my desk, which looked out across a quarter mile of grazing land at which point Juniper's house and yard interrupted the view. If I wanted some stimulation, I'd drive my little truck along the country road to where it intersected with 87 S and I'd take it the few miles into Crescent City, NV where I was sure to find a slew of interesting people and things. I suppose what I loved most about this set-up was that I had control. My dad was happy to take me. I'd lived with my mom in Big Sur and the surrounding tiny towns since they split and he hadn't gotten much of a chance to get to know me. He also needed help with his metal smithing business and I figured it would be good for me to take a year to learn something completely unnecessary for the rest of my life just to get my head out of it's normal, over-thinking, pretentious state.

Dispatch 064

Free write for a book idea

People have been calling me Charlie ever since I realized that parent-given names are a formality. They in no way dictate what you ask to be called. The name on my passport and birth certificate and other such necessary documents is Violet Ann Straiden. Turns out it was a pretty ridiculous name to pick for me, seeing as my eyes are also violet. And only pets should have names that describe their physical traits. I suppose my parents had probably picked out the name before I was born and so were left in an odd situation when I popped out with purple eyes. I'm glad they have accepted that Charlie just makes more sense.

I like the way Charlie sounds and also that it is somewhat gender neutral, because, although I am happy to be a female, I don't want anyone to think I can't choose to attain masculine-associated skills if I want to. Like dunking a basketball. I can't right now because I've only reached about 75% of my height potential, but I can one day if I want to. Charlie also makes me sound playful, which I can be. But sometimes I get so bogged down in seriousness that it's nice to hear someone call me Charlie and remember to "chill out", like my sister says. 

I'm 11. It's an excellent age because it's a prime number AND also the first successive number with three syllables AND my lucky number. I'm going to be sad when I turn 12 because 12 is kind of a bummer number. My dad says I'm "11 going on 60" because I like to spend time with old people, like my neighbor Edgar and his labrador Titus, who are 67 and 81 respectively (in human years). Edgar and I get along well because he doesn't mind if I come over to pet Titus and don't say much at all. I have a lot of thoughts in my head but mostly I don't like to say them out loud. A lot of people don't get them or don't want to. I can have a normal, pleasant conversation, but I have to quiet my brain to do so.

I always wear my hair in a long braid down my back. I've learned to do it myself because mom and dad are busy in the morning. This way, I never have to decide on a hairdo and my hair is out of my face, making it easier to do things. I don't understand why other girls in my class are always changing their hair. Seems like a lot of work. 

Enough about me. My sister Nadia is 3 years older and never wears her hair in a braid. She rides her skateboard a lot at the skatepark down the road, which I think is cool, but doesn't appeal to me. I have a low risk tolerance, and anyway, most of my afternoons are spent running and reading. Nadia doesn't like to run or read. I sometimes think Nadia might like to replace me with a different kind of sister, but I can't do anything about that.

My dad runs a lot. He says "running runs in the family", which he laughs at because he uses both meanings of run. He owns a store that sells all the things you might need to go running - shoes, little shorts, various containers to hold water. Mom says he wanted to be a professional runner but he got hurt, which I think is a good thing because fame goes to people's heads and I like my Pop how he is.

Just today, I started Middle School. I was excited because in Middle School they let you take classes that are above your grade level. I'm super bored with math, so I was interested to see what geometry would be like. Geometry was my first class of my first day. The teacher's name is Steve Marshall, but we call him Mr. Marshall because this isn't elementary school any more. Mr. Marshall wears wire rim glasses and a polo shirt, like a stock photo math teacher would. He seems kind in the way like he might teach the class even if he wasn't paid to do so. I sat in the third column of desks in the very back row, because I could see the whole room from there. I don't like when people are sitting behind me and get to see what I'm doing. The desks we have in middle school are two person desks. No one sat next to me, which was nice because I got to spread out my school stuff.

One of my favorite days of the year is when we get to go school supplies shopping. My dad always takes me. And we have a list. I like how new erasers smell and how perfect they are, how untouched. We always have to get new erasers even if I haven't used up the ones from the year before. Has anyone in the history of the universe ever really used up an entire eraser? I mean, what would you even do with it when it got to be the size of a pea?

I run around the store and dad follows with the basket, and we pick out new folders, notebooks, and mechanical pencils. This year I even got to get a new calculator especially for advanced math.

Mr. Marshall showed us how to used the calculators today. We started to learn about different kinds of triangles and then we used our calculators to find out the lengths of the sides. One thing I especially love about math is that it is made up of so many patterns. Once you learn a pattern, you can apply it to roughly infinity number of problems. It makes the world feel more clear, like there are things that are definitely and wholly true 100% of the time.

My best friend Rowan lives in Florida. We met when she was visiting Denver with her Aunt. We were both at a book signing for our favorite other Morgan Thieron, who writes the Dragongirl series (it's way cooler than it sounds). I've wanted to meet her pretty much since the minute I read her first book, because I think we have similar minds. So mom took me to the signing. It turns out she didn't really have time to talk, but Rowan and her Aunt sure did. We talked about all the books and I told her how I'm reading them a third time because I don't want to miss any details. She's only read them twice, but she said that was enough. My mom got Rowan's Mom's email and when we went home, I made sure she sent her a message so I could give Rowan some more book recommendations. Ever since then, my mom will write emails (on my behalf) to Rowan, every night. Then she prints out Rowan's responses so I can read them. I keep them in a folder in my bookcase that is getting quite full. Maybe one day when I have a cell phone, Rowan and I can text each other.

Rowan is pretty much my only friend. There are some girls from when I used to play soccer who sometimes invite me over. I don't really want to go, but I do anyway. I think it's nice to give my mom a break. Sadie and Tricia are the main two. We actually do a lot of things together, but it's usually our parents organizing everything and we just kind of go along with it. We had lunch today at school, but it was interesting because neither of them paid attention when I tried to tell them about how I was teaching my dog to play dead. They were kind of looking around at everyone else. But I told the story anyway because it is an interesting story and I wanted to hear it. And at the end of the story I took Tricia's cookie from her lunch because she wasn't looking. The bell rang and she didn't seem to notice it was gone.

Rowan is 12 but also in 6th grade. She started school three days ago so she's already told me all about her first days. Her classes are really similar to mine, except she is starting French this year and isn't in a very hard math class. I told her that she has to teach me some of the French words she learns so I can have a head start for next year.

Dispatch 045

I want to be everything. I want to be all things at once without any sacrifice of quality or depth.

I want to be everything and my inability to do so is causing me a great deal of angst.

I want to be what the sun is, a giant burning ball of energy. And, at the same time, be what the stars are, the twinkle in the dark, the far away symbols of more existing, always more. But I also want to be roots in the dirt, grounded to the solid, unchanging certainties in life.

I want to be in love. I want to be in love, but I also want to be in control.

I want to be hydrated and fit and nourished, but I also want to be so resilient that no lack of sleep or activity or nourishment can stop me.

I want to be mother fucking good at what I do but not married to what I do, and I just can't figure out how to get mother fucking good at what I do without marrying it.

I want to be dynamically flexing forward, always, but also, stable and secure.

I want to be the way a toddler looks at planes in the sky, but also the way a grandma watches her toddler look at a plane in the sky.

I want to be a musician and a climber and a runner and a designer and a writer and a mother. And I want to be relaxed, while being all of that.

I want to be everything and my inability to do so is causing me a great deal of angst.

I want to be the way mud feels squished between your toes but I also want to be the way an empty white gallery feels.

I want to be the girl who stays up until 3 in the morning just wandering and wild and listening to stories of people she doesn't know and I also want to be the girl who gets up at 5 am and runs through the mountains before the birds even wake.

I want to be proud of what I've done and sing myself from the rooftops and I also want to be humble and delicate and unassuming.

I want to create things that matter without getting lost in my martyrdom. 

I want to have a carefully curated place, a nest that supports rest and creativity, and I also want to be unattached to anywhere, free and comfortable in myself without place.

I want to believe I'm beautiful and I want to feel that doesn't make anyone else any less beautiful.

I was mad at the world because I thought it wouldn't let me be everything, and how dare it show me this complex magical universe and not allow me to be each part of it.

But then I looked within myself a little deeper. So deep that I got lost for a while. And when I came back out, I realized, I am everything.