But there is no female counterpart in our culture to Ishmael or Huck Finn. There is no Dean Moriarty, Sal, or even a Fuckhead. As a fifteen-year-old hitchhiker, my survival depended upon other people’s ability to envision a possible future for me. Without a Melvillean or Kerouacian framework, or at least some kind of narrative to spell out a potential beyond death, none of my resourcefulness or curiosity was recognizable, and therefore I was unrecognizable.
True quest is about agency, and the capacity to be driven past one’s limits in pursuit of something greater. It’s about desire that extends beyond what we may know about who we are. It’s a test of mettle, a destiny.
Names for paths:
In the Netherlands there are doodwegen and spookwegen—death roads and ghost roads—which converge on medieval cemeteries.
“Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own."—Robert Macfarlane, from The Old Ways
Château du Marquis de Sade, Lacoste
1. I quit my job and went to France alone for a month. I didn’t think too much about either decision. I heard a bell toll deep and low somewhere in the distance and walked towards it. It’s good to remember how to listen for those bells. How to find your way out of locked rooms with only a bobby pin and some spit.
2. There is a moment every time in yoga when I am hip-deep in pigeon pose where every ancient, buried feeling of panic and helplessness comes bubbling up through my veins like dark carbonation. I try to press deeper, right into the sharp precipice of either wild weeping or hysterical laughing.
3. I missed how San Francisco’s weather mirrors the shift of mercurial moods in a day: fog breathes in, fog breathes out. Furious winds followed by strange humidity. Once I stood on the top of Tank Hill as the sun was setting: cold air was rushing in from the west while hot air was escaping out to sea from the east, and we stood in the place where the two currents met and laughed until we nearly cried at the feel of it.
Day trip to the end of the world.
One day some years ago we got in the car, got a literal bucket of drive-through daiquiris and pointed the car south. A stand-up bass player was driving the car, and he popped in a cd and casually told us it was an album he had just finished recording with Tom Waits the week before. These are the kind of people and the kind of strange cars you find yourself riding in in New Orleans.
We drove and drove—we didn’t care where or when. We pulled over at a bridge crossing and got out to examine all the sunken shrimping boats. Mosquitos the size of birds got one whiff of our California blood and descended. The most vivid visceral sensation I can recall from that trip, a few days later: sitting on the sidewalk curb of upper Esplanade sticky with sweat and juice from the Capri-suns a woman gave us from her front porch, covered in mosquito bite welts and bruises from riding our bikes 10 miles in 100 degree heat to hop the fence at the abandoned Playland. The kind of sweet, dog-panting exhaustion that comes around less and less after childhood’s end.
Back in the car, we drove and drove and suddenly the paved highway graded into a dirt road for about 20 feet and then nothing. The road just…stopped. We skidded to a halt and blinked. Something loping on all fours ran in front of the car. “What was that?” we shrieked. It was a cat, a cat the size of a goddamn dog. There was nobody around. We hadn’t seen another soul for miles. At the end of the dirt road, before the nothingness of swamps began forever, stood a building on stilts that just read, “BAR.” We looked at each other and shrugged. “We are either going to make friends or get murdered,” one of us said.
We eased open the door. The bar was enormous, and there were all of five people in it: two old men at the bar, a woman shelling crayfish at a table, and the bartender. We all exchanged blinks. “Well, well, well,” one of the old men said. “Welcome to Cocodrie.”
Over the next six hours they fed us fresh crayfish and gave us money for the jukebox and showed us maps of places that don’t exist anymore. They told us of all they had lost in Katrina, dryly and matter-of-fact. In southern Louisiana you get used to the ephemeral, the fleeting, the disappearing, the shifting of land and water. Nature snatching itself back. I wondered what that does to a person, how that shapes you. There’s a recklessness of spirit there—why not live as hard and wild as you possibly can since it might all be gone tomorrow? For years I refused to look up on a map if Cocodrie was real or not. I wanted to remember it as a half-dream, because the feelings in dreams stay sharper than memories, sometimes.
The sun went down as we climbed back down the steps from the bar on stilts. Had we really just spent an entire day inside of it? Time, too, felt sticky and fleeting all at once.
The five of them stood in the doorway and waved and waved at us until they were just a speck in the rearview mirror. “Y’all come back to Cocodrie soon,” they said.
I’m getting on in my years, and I suppose I’m telling this story because I crave a certain sympathy, a certain understanding. I hope you’ll truly believe of me that all of my actions since my life became knocked loose have been beyond my control. Sometimes I even wonder: am I someone else’s dream? Is that why I feel that I can’t take hold of my life? For that might make more sense than what I’m about to tell you: that all my actions feel as though they are the orchestrations of a foreign subconcious’s unfathomable puppet strings.
I was flattered to be asked to take part in Medium’s new visual storytelling project, alongside two other writers, Spencer Strub and Peter Prato. We were asked to choose photographs from Richard “Koci” Hernandez’s Instagram account and build our stories around them. Click through here if you want to read a really weird story about faceless doppelgangers, playground antagonists, and Mardi Gras hallucinations!