Toad Tested, Toad Approved

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
Crossed the deserts bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere.

– Johnny Cash

An essential part of the Toad’s great adventure is an insatiable desire to wander, to see, to experience as much as possible in the short time any of us has on this earth. And there’s a lot of Earth to see.

I want to share my travels with you, in the hopes that you might find as much enjoyment in them as I have. So, I’m databasing (which is healthier than free basing, and safer than base-jumping). If you’re interested in food, culture, and the best back roads around, check out my new page, “Toad Tested, Toad Approved,” for some ideas and ideal destinations, Toad-style. I will be updating it as the journey continues, so take a look from time to time, and see what’s new.

Life is short. Live it well!

Walkabout

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Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
– Dylan Thomas
 

Okay, enough with the “wise old Indian,” Grasshopper bullshit…

This Saturday, I will “celebrate” my 36th birthday. (If one more 50-year-old jackass tells me it’s “not a big deal,” I’m throwing down.) And here I am, to paraphrase a rather asinine song, stuck in the middle with me. I have no earthly idea where to go or what to do. I spout inane philosophical drivel again and again–generally the same drivel again and again–like I have a clue what the hell I’m talking about. As it turns out, this is not a Shaolin temple, and I am not Kwai Chang Caine. So, this is me being real: I’m completely clueless about most of everything, and I use great big words and half-baked, grandiose ideas to comfort myself in my hour of ignorance.

There was a time when I thought I knew what was going on, when I thought I knew what my calling was, where my life was headed. I had a mission, for cryin’ out loud! I was set to save the world (and its soul) or die trying. So I left my theater program (which I was quite enjoying, by the way) and jumped into ministry school–because what else does a good little former missionary kid do, right? In other words, I set aside any actual chance at a marketable resume to chase ghosts and fairy tales. By the time I realized what I was chasing, it was too late: I had eight years of ministry under my belt, and absolutely no practical skill-set at all. Imagine spending your whole life preparing to hunt the elusive Jabberwocky, only to discover the damn thing never existed in the first place. Then imagine yourself at a job interview or filling out a job application: “Well, no, I have no experience in customer service or management, but I can hunt mythical creatures like a son of a bitch!”

Here I am, at the midpoint of my life, at a mother of a crossroads, without an inkling. I have become so enmeshed in the “daily grind” that I seem to exist in an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep. And that doesn’t cut it for me, see. Before, when I believed that my time here on Earth was simply a prelude to the “real life” up there in the sky somewhere, just getting through the day didn’t bother me so much. I mean, this world’s not my home, right? Wrong! It most certainly is, and my mortgage is running out (as is everyone’s, day by day by day). There has to be something more to this life than clock-watching. There HAS to be! If not, then why the hell bother?

Having invested so much time in a hollow pursuit, and now that that pursuit has been revealed as hollow, I am adrift, caught up in the undertow known as anomie. As Adrian Monk would say, it’s a gift and a curse. The death of the nomos, the governing worldview, the meta-legitimation, can be a liberating experience, allowing you to see the world again as if for the first time. But it is also a traumatic one, forcing you to face that world for the first time alone, on no pre-structured terms, with no one to blame but yourself. It is exhilarating; it is devastating. It is wondrous; it is loneliness redefined.

I have no doubt that there is a bigger picture out there somewhere. I just don’t know how I fit into it, what part I’m meant to play on the somewhat poorly-lit stage of human life. Until I’ve found an answer to this question (an answer; the answer may be beyond me, beyond all of us), the uncertainty and perpetual lack of equilibrium will continue to wear me down until I eat myself alive from the inside out. I’ve said in former posts–like the self-deluded ass that I am–that I’m content to be none other than who I am. Which is all well and good, except for one teensy, little problem: I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. I don’t know who I am anymore. And not knowing is killing me, slowly. I’m edging my way toward the day I wake up and just don’t care anymore. And I refuse to let that happen…

So, I’m going walkabout. For those of you who don’t know, the walkabout is a commonly referenced though unconfirmed ritual in Australian aboriginal culture, in which a man removes himself from the regular routine of life and sets out across the wilderness to experience himself in solitude, a process similar to the Native American vision quest. On the sci-fi television show Babylon 5, Dr. Stephen Franklin, an adherent of the fictional religion of Foundationalism, adds an intriguing detail: the man on walkabout is actually in search of himself, having lost his own identity in the midst of the hectic demands of everyday living. He walks until he meets himself, and when he finally does, he sits down and has a long talk with himself, in an attempt to rediscover the identity he has lost.

All the gobbledygook I’ve been posting on this blog over the last couple of years has been written for the sole purpose of figuring out who I am, here in the ashes of Grand Design. Along the way I have encountered many wonderful people, and some of them I now number among my friends. I have enjoyed trading thoughts and commentary, and it has been a pleasure to share a little bit of me with them. With you. But at the end of the day, I write for me. Please understand that I mean no offense by this; you have no idea how much your support and forbearance have meant to me; if I told you how much, it would probably just scare you all off. At the end of the day, though, I write for an audience of one: myself. This blog has been something of an escape valve for me, the place I go to let off the steam that builds up throughout days of meaningless monotony–here’s a book to catalog; oh, here’s another; yes, and for the sake of variety, here’s another one! I write to dump the inner boiler, to give the inner voices something to do besides scream inside my head.

But the farther down the road I get, the less I get out of good old Toad. Or rather, the less time Toad has to figure out what the hell he’s after. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not leaving the Toad behind–but he needs something to add a little flesh to his bones, a little fiber to bolster his diet, if you will. So, I’m going walkabout. Well, drive-about, really. As much as I’d like to do the whole Michael Landon, Highway to Heaven thing–grab a rucksack and an army jacket and hit the shoulder–it’s really not practical. So, drive-about, then.

I have always identified with the back roads, the roads less traveled. I am convinced that somewhere out there, down some two-lane to nowhere (and everywhere) my self is lurking, lying in wait to spring itself on me when I least expect it. That moment of recognition is what I’m out to find.

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In a few days, I’ll be climbing into the trusty Dustmobile II (every good road trip car deserves a name) and heading off to who knows where. Beyond that, the plan is fluid, and simple: Just drive. Move. If there’s a byway, I’ll take it. If something intrigues me, I’ll stop and take a closer look. And I’ll be back when I’m back. With any luck, I’ll get just lost enough to find myself again.

Until then, this is my last post. I’m turning the cell phone off (except for when I call to let my wife, who is understanding enough to sponsor this bit of lunacy, know that I’m still alive), and I’m going off the grid. I’m headed…somewhere. North, south, east, west–yep, one of those, almost certainly. Or perhaps, all four.

I leave you with an old Irish blessing that I just made up: May the face you see in the mirror every morning be a face that makes your heart smile…

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