a life unconstrained

i had breakfast in the diner across the parking lot from the motel i stayed at last night, partly because it was such a Place that i couldn’t pass it up and partly because that’s what my dad would’ve done. he has a thing for diners. i don’t really know what to do with the recent realization that i am much more like my dad than i had even known (i discovered that i make decisions that echo decisions of his that i didn’t know he’d made as a young man – which is…A Lot), so when the urge to embrace it comes along, i’m just going with it. there’s plenty of time for that identity crisis to play out; i see no need to rush it.

like…this is a very place-y Place right? it has a lot of Place Presence

also part of why i keep going to diners is because they’re part of the Great American Road Trip aesthetic and i’m a slave to that. unashamedly a slave to that. see me in the crappy motels and in the kind of diners you can find in every fuckin us town drinking their shitty coffee i’m so down

while i was there, nursing a bad cup of coffee, i called my grandmother. it’s the first time that i’ve called someone while on the road, since i was busy doing the thing i do where i don’t communicate with people. i just get so swallowed up in my internal life that reaching outside of that takes a great deal of effort, often more than i have to spare. i have been texting people though, which honestly is such a Feat that i should get a medal. (in truth, it’s been delightful to get to share this trip that way. well worth the effort.)

but i’m talking to her and she’s missing me and, unlike her, i’m having a hard time getting a handle on the permanence of this situation. i’m moving, isn’t that wild? this trip isn’t just a trip, it’s a move. i know that, but i don’t really Know That, y’know? i’m happy to be moving, don’t get me wrong; it just doesn’t feel real yet.

today is the last day of soultrip – tonight, i’ll be in seattle, my new home. which is of course bittersweet. this road trip has been one of the best times of my life; i haven’t felt as much myself as i have while on it. living life completely unconstrained by anything is going to be very, very hard to give up.

so i’m gonna try not to.

seattle is brand new territory for me. it offers me a life completely free from any of the expectations implicit in a place that knows me. i have a couple friends there, but they’re the type who will let me be as many versions of myself as i need to be before i find the one i like the best. nobody else knows me and therefore no preconceived notions of who i am exist.

i am trying to keep myself from having preconceived notions, too. life can be anything. it doesn’t have to look the way i’ve always thought it would, or the way society expects it to look. since i have the opportunity to build a life from scratch, i’m damn well going to make the most of it. i know that this is a rare gift – one i might never get again – and i don’t intend to let it go to waste. god or the universe or whoever gave this to me and i’m too grateful to squander it.

yesterday, i was in a portland bookstore: powell’s city of books, which takes up an entire city block in downtown. it is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the best bookstore in the world. i spent hours there, feeling faint among the towering stacks of books in color-coded rooms.

this is only PART of ONE ROOM

the purple room housed a christianity section that was four aisles large that in turn housed a mary magdalene section, the presence of which nearly knocked me off my feet. in the rose room in the ya section, there was an end display of lgbtq ya books, with a sign reading “i ❤ queer lit” – the heart was colored in rainbow; i had to work very hard not to cry. in the queer-specific section, which included queer theory, i found a shelf dedicated to bisexuality. seeing the word in print is always such an experience.

FOUR. AISLES. OF BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY goddddd. (also not to self-plug like an asshole, but to self-plug like an asshole: there are more pics of this bookstore on my instagram @ky_cochran just sayin’)

the store is so big and so wonderful and so completely captivating that i got lost and definitely thought about living in the literature section for the rest of my life, curling up to sleep on the hard floor near wuthering heights.

since the trip is nearly over and my being employed again is a close reality, i told myself i could spend too much money on books. once decided, my trip through the stacks became an exercise in self-creation.

i grabbed a queer ya novel because i’ve been out of the fiction game for a long, long time and the only place to start there is in queerland. (i confess to having very little interest in het…anything.)

i picked up a mary magdalene book that my other mary magdalene book had recommended (and one of the few on the shelf that portrayed her as a woman of color on its cover and like…if you’re portraying mary magdalene as a white woman on your book i’m…not gonna buy it…because you’re wrong from the get-go). i got a couple books of poetry — ross gay, for joy, and sappho, for queer — and a book about bisexuality that i’ve been eying for two years.

these books all address facets of the person i’m working to become – or to embrace. i’m finally in a place where i feel free to really be queer in a way i didn’t feel like i had the opportunity to before and i’m also finally at a place with my faith where i can shape and build and express it any way that i want and feel with surety that it is mine. the faith of my childhood and teen years was prescribed to me more often than not and i struggled, in the years after the death of my aunt, to get a handle on what it meant or might mean to me. and to be queer and a woman of faith at the same time? goddamn revolutionary.

i know that it is going to take a real effort not to fall back into old patterns or paths — which is why the books. i don’t want to do what is familiar; i want to do what is right. but i know that the pull of familiarity is strong as shit (how many diners have i eaten at while i was on the road???), so i’m declaring seattle my “try it” place, the land of new experiences. and i’m gonna make my friends — and my books — hold me accountable to that.

i want to be happy, goddammit. i deserve it. i won’t let my potential for happiness be overrun by apathy or fear. while i don’t know what exactly my happiness might look like, i do know who i want to be. i want to be good and compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic, i want to be hopeful and encouraging, to be someone who believes in kindness, to be a person who loves unreservedly and to great lengths – both herself and others. i know how much work those things take, i’m more intimately familiar with that than ever, and i am willing to put that work in. and i am willing to cut out anything that hinders those things.

i also know that i have been dying for the chance to be my full self in a way the midwest and my life trajectory therein were not allowing. now that that chance is within reach, i will not waste it.

best yet, i know now, with an absolute certainty, that i can lose damn near a whole goddamn life and still come out better afterwards. so what’s to stop me from reaching for everything my hands might grasp?

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low tide high time

[there are other people on this beach, sand crunching between their teeth the same as yours but what the ocean says to you, she says only to you.

from me, she is requesting silence, but her tone brooks no room for argument. i let the waves lap over my feet and swirl around my ankles. graciously, she does not take me into her undertow.

instead, she sweeps the noise in my head out to sea with the other sharks. she likes things in their place.

it is hours before they swim back.]

the comeback kid comes back

i have finally made it back to santa cruz, california, which i first visited exactly two years ago (i accidentally timed this trip perfectly, which i’m seeing as god letting me know they’ve got my back). this is the part of soultrip that i have been looking forward to the most.

santa cruz is the place of my dreams; i have missed it ever since i left. i wasn’t sure, though, until today how much of my love for this place was actually love for this place and not just my love for my best friend who i was visiting the first time i came here. i hadn’t seen her in years and it was overwhelmingly good to be with her again – you can see how those feelings would be easy to confuse for love of this town.

but as it turns out, i do love santa cruz!! like a whole lot!!! i took the ramp off highway one into town and found myself saying “i missed you i missed you i missed you” out loud over and over to this town that i knew for four days two years ago. i…am in love.

downtown santa cruz, the love of my life

i perused downtown some today, where i spent hours upon hours each evening during my last visit while my friend worked. the bookstores (it has TWO bookstores in only THREE BLOCKS) are every bit as beautiful and wonderful as i remember. the religion sections in them are ginormous and i remember crying over them the last time i was here because they have books about religions which are not christianity. that is decidedly not something that happens in the midwest.

i wanted to buy SO MANY books, but kept it to just the meaning of mary magdalene: discovering the woman at the heart of christianity by cynthia bourgeault, which i have wanted for weeks and weeks. i can finally close that amazon.com tab on the chrome app on my phone, leaving only the 75 other tabs open. (that’s a literal number, btw, not hyperbole.) i love mary magdalene so much and tomorrow i’m gonna read about her on the beach. life is the damnedest thing.

~|~

the everyday traveling part of soultrip is a week old today and i am potentially the happiest i have ever been. i’m so happy, in fact, that i don’t even have the, like, capacity to handle or process it. it’s hard not to let it be encroached on by the fact that this trip will eventually end though. i feel – meant for this in a way i didn’t expect and am unsure what to do with. traveling constantly is tiring, as is to be expected, but it invigorates me, too. it brings to life parts of me that were not being brought to life before.

maybe it’s less that i’m meant to be a vagabond as i’m good at it. i mean, obviously a week is hardly long enough to know whether it would work as a lifestyle (and i’m not sure it’s a lifestyle i would want, tbh; i like people too much not to get to build relationships with them) but as a hobby? i’m fantastic. i’m calm and confident, at ease with ever-changing situations and unfamiliarity. my frugality is an asset, as is my self-discipline (something i wouldn’t have even described myself as having under different circumstances, though i think it’s always been there). and i’m learning to assess my limits and react to them accordingly; i spent most of the past weekend curled up in a hotel room in lake havasu, arizona, working on writing projects for the fun of it.

that break was exactly what i wanted to do at the exact time i wanted to do it, which is the greatest luxury of this trip. the opportunity to do as i please when i please is intoxicating – and enlightening: this trip is showing me that my wants are worthy of being carried out simply because they are my wants. “i want to” is a good enough reason to do most anything, so long as it isn’t harming anybody.

it’s a lesson i really thought i’d already learned, but i think sometimes that the easiest things to know are also the easiest things to forget. i’ll admit though that that lesson remains hard to live out right now – i still feel this weird pressure to meet some unnamed somebody’s expections for how i choose to spend my time and where i choose to go on this trip. but i’m getting better at ignoring that and remembering that this trip is for me.

~|~

caffe pergolesi is a paradise

i’m sitting on the deck outside my favorite coffee shop in the world (caffe pergolesi, situated one block up from the main drag of santa cruz’s downtown) watching the sky become this captivating shade of deep blue. caffe pergolesi is housed in an old victorian home and merrily esconsced in foliage – the decks hold small trees and climbing vines and the yard is cornered by towering trees, including the palm tree which is my favorite. altogether, these things make the shop feel like a pocket universe for the well-caffeinated.

i had a huge crush on the barista who was working here when i came two years ago. she was tall and friendly and had tattoos on her calves and she remembered me each night which was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to me – i cannot, absolutely cannot talk to women i’m attracted to to save my queer little life. at the time, i’d only been acknowledging that i was bi for about a year, making me a baby queer. i am, in multiple ways, much older now than i was then. when i think about that ky it’s almost impossible to reconcile that she was 23 and i am only 25. it seems like there’s a lot more distance between the two of us than there is. i’m pleased with how 25-year-old me is doing, most especially because it led me back here – and alone this time, which was unthinkable back then.

before i left, i was wary of being alone on this trip – not so much because i had doubts about my ability to do the trip; traveling doesn’t scare me and neither, as it turns out, does solo traveling, momentary panic beforehand aside – but more because i expected to feel sad if left by myself and to discover that my mental health issues are even vaster and more overwhelming than i thought.

it has turned out to be the exact opposite. i love myself, i enjoy my own company, and i really am so fucking ecstatic to be on this trip that sometimes i can’t breathe. doing something that makes me this happy makes me really proud of myself, as well: look at me go fulfilling my dreams! i have so many positive emotions about and towards me right now that i’m fighting tears as i type. and i haven’t changed! i’m the same me who left central illinois two weeks ago. or – maybe i have changed, but mostly in that i recognize more of the good things in me than i did before. i feel settled in myself again.

as much as i would have loved to have company on this trip and would be enjoying company now if i had it, i definitely needed to do this on my own. i needed the reminder that i am capable of making good decisions and of doing so quickly and confidently with only myself to rely on. i am enough. i can trust myself. this trip proves that to me every day all day long. so those mental health issues i was worried about? entirely manageable. i mean, will i still need therapy when i get to seattle? you bet your ass. i have a lot to work on and it’s going to take work; it’ll be hard as shit. but honestly what isn’t?

and god knows if there’s one thing i’m good at, surviving’s it. i am a comeback kid.

~|~

if i have a hope for my life after this, it’s that i can figure out how to take all of the best parts of life on the road and transcribe them to fit life off the road. i want to always be confident and full of self-love and in the pursuit of adventure.

The Dream™

i watched the sun set at the edge of the grand canyon last night. which doesn’t feel like a true sentence even though i have pictures to prove it. other unbelievable things about the canyon include: how huge it is oh my god and how anybody ever in their life thought that going to the bottom of it was a thing that should happen. if i had stumbled across it in the way back, i’d have turned my ass back around like “no nope nuh-uh i’mma pretend i never even saw that by never going that direction again in my life.”

the canyon doesn’t look like how i pictured it, you see, which was as one sheer cliff directly across from an identical sheer cliff with a river at the bottom that you could conceivably get to if you had a burro and a death wish. instead it’s more like a matryoshka doll: one big canyon that holds a lot of other littler canyons inside it. and if there’s “another side” i couldn’t tell you where it was, because the thing was just too vast and too full of canyons. and you’d have to actually be dead to get to the river – as a ghost is the only way i’m pretty sure.

see what i mean? soooooo many canyons

the experience was awesome, though, of course, and terrifying, too, because i am really fucking afraid of heights lmao. people were getting out and walking on the trails which ran along the cliff’s edge and DID NOT HAVE GUARDRAILS and i nearly had a heart attack on their behalf. i am one hundred percent a person who prefers that the ground not end anywhere in their vicinity. that i summoned the guts to sit and watch the sunset near one such edge is truly a testament to just how much i love the goddamn sunset.

amazing??? indescrible??? i have 1,001 more of these and a lot of them will probably be popping up on my instagram, @ky_cochran, just as an fyi

after taking approximately 1,002 sunset pics, i hightailed it to the shuttle bus, because the last thing i needed was to be at that place in the dark, and ended up on one that was full to the fuckin’ gills. this meant that i got to stand up for the ride, hand on the grab bar above my head, pretending like i know anything about remaining upright under the best of circumstances, much less on a bus snaking around the grand canyon. i jibed with a couple slightly more southern than me (i’m not actually southern, but i know i sound it sometimes what with the “y’all’s” and the way my vowels tend to linger on occasion – too much true blood). he saved me from a bug, god bless him, while teasing and being teased by his wife.

at one of the stops, the bus driver made to apologize to the couple standing there waiting for not being able to take them, but before she could get the words out (or even started), the woman said, “it’s too crowded! i’m not getting on that bus!” and she put her significant other between her and it, shaking her head like we’d proposed painting an elephant purple. she patiently turned back to her bulky old flip phone to await a less populated option.

i love people a whole fucking lot.

honestly, the trip’s felt surreal this whole time – not just at the grand canyon (where i was again this morning. now i am where the palm trees start. which is. so weird. days are so long and can hold so many miles). it feels, well, like it’s too good to be true even while i’m living it. but it is true??? this level of happiness is achievable??? you can fulfill your dreams??? incredible. i’m so thrilled by this experience that i find myself laughing down the interstate, unable to hold all my joy. even tonight when i was so tired and finding a place to stay was a hassle and a half that ended with me having to drive for an extra hour. the whole ordeal put me cruising down i-40 west at sunset, which, let me tell you, is actually The Dream™.

The Dream™

i could live like this forever, i feel like. and if i didn’t desperately want to adopt a whole gaggle of kidlets someday, i’d probably try.

santa fe musings

in downtown santa fe, i spoke to a man wearing a bolo tie with a red clasp who had stunning cerulean eyes which were only matched for noticability by his thick white beard. he manned the entrance to one of santa fe’s hundreds of art galleries and recommended a mexican restaurant and the bookstore i’d gone to an hour before. he told me about a jealous man who threw away his briefcase with a decade’s worth of his writing work in it when he learned that i was a writing major and explained that what he liked about santa fe was the mix of cultures, the nearness of the outdoors, and the art scene when i asked. we talked about my weird hair and whether my old bosses liked it. they didn’t; he wasn’t surprised – we’re both from central illinois, so he gets it. he shook my hand and introduced himself as steven.

at mcdonalds, i listened to a group of men agree with the one among them who preached about god’s love and the attention he pays to small rescues and the burning that waits for some of us. i find myself unconvinced that those two ideas can coexist. next, he’s talking about hitler and his murders. there’s no segue. but i guess he didn’t need one because then he’s back to evangelism, although his audience seems already won. he talks about being stared at while he walks down the street, too. “have these people never seen a white man?” oh honey. oh darling. his audience isn’t white.  i’m unsure of all things.

the miracle staircase of the loretto chapel

i was in two churches today, which is more than i’ve been in in the past year, if not three. i walked into the loretto chapel and nearly cried, facing a statue of christ whom i love. i would have cried, in fact, if other people hadn’t been in the room. it’s a beautiful church with a miracle staircase, said to have been built by a mysterious carpenter who just showed up to do the work when the sisters needed it done. the staircase doesn’t have the supports it should as it spirals to the second floor and yet it still spirals.

i’m…completely down to compare myself to a staircase, especially one in a building that moves me to tears.

a mosiac of the risen christ on the santuario de guadalupe grounds

the other church was less emotionally moving – or it was until i started walking around outside it. i wandered across a mosiac of the risen christ on the side of the building next door and was almost too stunned to actually look at it, so compelled was i to take as many pictures as possible to keep this sight with me. it was colorful and gorgeous and portrayed christ as a man of color, which is probably my favorite thing since he wasn’t, y’know, white. i hope that someday every portrayal of him as white gets stomped the fuck out.

(i love yeshua a whole lot you guys. my beautiful, radical, revolutionary, loving, take no shit god-on-earth. it feels like falling in love to get to craft and embrace and live my faith in the way that is true to the sound of god inside me. i tried to shake jesus but i just couldn’t and now he’s mine mine mine. and as the best bonus ever, this time i got mary magdalene, too.)

santa fe is very beautiful and very full of art. i can definitely appreciate why steven likes it here. the high altitude is kind of giving me a headache, but that’d pass given time. the view from this mcdonald’s is even good, a thing unheard of in my experience. i can see the mountains from here, situated just outside of Tourist Central, on the main drag through town: st. francis drive, named for the city’s patron saint. there’s a lot of catholicism here and a lot of budha and i even saw a really big ganesh statue. though i find myself particularly drawn to jesus, i, too, love this mix of cultures and religions. i live for the day when we’re all equally well-treated by this country and each other.

just an example of the public art in santa fe

soul trippin’

a little over a week ago, i started the first leg of soultrip – my name for this roadtrip that i’m taking from my hometown in the midwest to seattle, where i’ll be living when this trip ends. (you’ll notice that it also doubles as the name of this blog.)

i spent the first nine days of this trip crashing at my siblings’ places – first my brother’s and then one of my sister’s – and today was my first day on the road in the truest sense.

what i’ve learned so far is that kansas is really wide; i’ve been in it for what seems like forever. it’s not flat though, or at least not all of it is, and as you go farther west in it, you start to see these trees that look like they’ve been transplanted from a swamp somewhere and aren’t gonna make it. i think that’s what they’re supposed to look like though because people line their driveways with them, which is a thing you do with purpose. they provide no shade – because they don’t seem to have leaves? or they only have a sorry few which appear to be sloughing off – and they really do look like they’re gonna fall down dead on you so overall i’m not sure i understand the decision to use them as driveway décor, but as it’s not mine to understand, that’s cool.

it’s been a beautiful day for a drive though: sunny and marvelous, windows-down temperature and manageable traffic. i love driving more than pretty much anything else and the freedom i have to do this trip however i want to is both exciting and calming. i can drive for however long i want each day and take whatever route i want and grab some wifi wherever it’s available whenever i want. before i left, i played the “if you knew you were gonna die, what would you do before you did?” game with myself and discovered that i would do exactly this. which feels kind of like crossing over into whatever the opposite of the twilight zone would be: the place where everything is good and sweet and soft to the touch.

i have wanted to go on a cross-country roadtrip since i was maybe 19, if not younger,and i’ve tried unsuccessfully to plan several. those plans always included travel companions, either in the form of friends or a german shepherd that i have yet to own. a solo roadtrip was always too frightening for me to consider – until my life caught on fire last year, at which point a roadtrip across the country on my own became a significantly less terrifying option than staying where i was. however, in the last days that i spent at my sister’s house before leaving this morning, i started to feel fear lick coldly at my insides over this trip. it is, after all, a big (and somewhat risky tbh) endeavour.

the fear was surprisingly short-lived though. now that i’ve spent the day driving down a two-lane highway, surrounded by semis and strange trees, the trip just feels like the thing i should be doing. i feel safe and alive and capable when i’m behind the wheel and i want this in a way it’s been hard to want things in these past several months. and, god, how amazing it is to get to do what you want.