Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The King's Highway

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

– Freya Stark

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

– Bill Bryson

A friend asked me the other day if I ever got sick of writing essays about myself.

That was kind of a humbling question…

Years back when I started this blog, I wanted to explore the relationship between laughter and healing as it relates to psychology. I wasn’t even a psychologist then, but it was a subject I was immensely curious about. Now as a licensed psychologist and the author of 15 books, I know a little more, but not that much.

But I never know where these little essays will take me now. I write when I feel I’m “on” to something. Sometimes that happens a couple of times a month, and sometimes it’s a couple of times a year. I never really know.

But let me tell you about the King’s Highway.

Specifically, it’s a song by Tom Petty. I found myself thinking often about a couple of lines that described my longing for travel and to see new places, it went-

“Oh, I'll await the day
Good fortune comes our way
And we ride down the King's Highway”

I kind of got stuck on it. I wanted good fortune to come my way sometime as I hit the open road without a care in the world. It sounded so cool. Yet every time I traveled I felt like I was kind of out of place. I’d go to the airport and my luggage didn’t quite look right compared to other people. I didn’t have kids to travel with and I was no good at mindless chitchat in those little rooms they serve the continental breakfast.

I was missing something, I was sure of it.

It bugged me so much that I decided to find the real King’s Highway and go there. At the time I was a 20 something dude managing a large nightclub in Chicago, making more money then I deserved. I bought the best luggage I could find, flew down to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and rented a red convertible.

I found the King’s Highway and I was off. Wind whipping through my hair, cool leather bags, and nothing but open road ahead of me.

I almost had it.

But still, it wasn’t quite right. I watched the groups of men smoking cigars and playing golf, and I still felt, well, not quite right.

What was I missing??

I kind of forgot about this obsession for awhile and decided to just enjoy my time off as much as I could. For a while the exotic vacations took a backseat when I went back to school to become a psychologist. Still, that song remained on my playlist, and the elusiveness of the King’s Highway lingered in my mind.

Years later I found myself as a psychologist in New Zealand. I’ve been all over the world since then, and had plenty of cool experiences.

and yet…

As with many unanswered questions, this one came back to me recently. I drove ALL day to get to this spot.

Beautiful isn’t it? It’s a spot called the “12 Apostles” in Australia and it’s part of the great ocean road. It’s one of the ten great drives in the world, and the third one of those I’ve done this year.

And yet.

What you don’t see in the picture is the dozens of Asian tourists wielding selfie sticks in the air and the overcrowded parking lot and the flies and the car with the air conditioner that stopped working an hour ago.

But it’s always something.

But it was right then I took stock, breathed the ocean air, and saw what was stretched out before me. One of the most beautiful things in the world, and I was being pissy and irritable.

Then it hit me. I knew what the King’s Highway was! Finally, after all these years, I knew what it was. It wasn’t a place, or a fancy bag, or a ride in a convertible.

It was a state of mind. A way of thinking. Of enjoying the moment in its’ entirety without surrendering to the weight of the past or the uncertainty of the future. It was a break from your worries. A moment of pure mindfulness. A kind of gratitude for getting to be here. Whatever here that might be at the time. Maybe it was the open road, or maybe it was the end of a long journey where we truly got a chance to start over again.

I proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable days I can ever remember. I hiked down to the beach and enjoyed every second. Later I found a little pub in the country and learned some insider stuff about the area. It was awesome.

But I looked up at the clock, and realized I hadn’t checked into my hotel yet.

Then came the worry again. My moment and my day was slipping away. They always do. We just can’t bottle that feeling no matter how hard we try. Life creeps in and we forget.

But I feel better now, and until then,

I’ll await the day
Good Fortune comes my way,
And we ride down the King’s Highway

Friday, October 2, 2015

We Blew It- Guns, Violence, and America

One movie I enjoyed a great deal from my youth was “Easy Rider” by Peter Fonda. Two guys go out in search of Freedom, connection, and a better understanding of their own country and people.

In the end, they realize they have been nothing but a pair of selfish drug dealers, and they missed the whole point all along.

“We blew it",  Peter Fonda’s Captain America says to his riding partner Dennis Hopper.

They thought the problem was with America, or “society” or whatever convenient “them” we all use to rail against in these moments of righteousness.

But in the end, it was them. THEY blew it. 

And in America. It was us.

We blew it.

Yesterday in Oregon was the 297th mass shooting in America this year. That’s more than one a day. 

And what happens? The same stupid head shaking.  The same stupid speeches by presidents and congressmen and politicians, whose speeches do nothing, say nothing, mean nothing.

We can’t have an intelligent dialogue anymore. We have two sides that have lost the ability to listen, to compromise, to reason. We’ve lost the ability to solve our own problems. We’re too invested in being right. All of us. For some taking guns is the most obvious solution in the world. And for every one of those there’s probably someone on the “From my cold dead hands crowd” on the other side. Watch these people talk on Facebook. They usually can’t even get past a couple sentences before their conversation devolves into personal attacks, name-calling, and disrespect.  

We blew it. 

But let me back up a second.

In the early 90’s, I myself was a young community college student in the sate of Oregon. I’d dropped out of school once already. I was pretty good at chugging beer and playing Nintendo, but otherwise didn’t have much of a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life.

I did like being in school though. It gave me a chance to begin to answer that question. Sometimes it takes a while.

Yesterday ten people who were probably at a similar stage of their lives got up in the morning, stuffed some books in a backpack, and went to school to try and figure it all out. 

They had no idea it would be the last day of their lives.

Why would they know that?

I think back and wonder if that could have been me. I would have never eventually grown up, traveled the world, and become a psychologist, an occupation that has allowed me to influence thousands of lives. My family would have been heartbotken, and who knows how this heartbreak may have influenced their lives.

Yesterday all that potential died in those ten students. The world will never know what they might have become, who they might have fallen in love with, or how they may have changed the world.

I’m not going to go into all the arguments about gun control, mental health, and the 2nd amendment here. What’s the point really?

All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

I do want to make one point about the way we talk about school shooters. To do so I’ll use the chilling words of yesterday’s shooter.

I have noticed that so many people like [Flanagan] (SC shooter) are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.

For one day, because we make these guys celebrities in their deaths, they go from being ineffectual nothings to a Kardashian all of a sudden.

It’s enough to make them shoot innocent people who wanted nothing but to go to school for the day.

Again and again and again.

When the drive for 15 minutes of false and fleeting fame has reached that level of absurdity, then we have reached the point of insanity.

And we all know the definition of insanity, right?

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

In the meantime, I’ve settled in to my new life in New Zealand. In my heart of hearts, I’d rather live in America, the place where I was born, shaped, and raised into the person I am today. It’s the only home I’ve ever known.

But I can’t live in an insane place anymore. It’s not getting any better.

We blew it.