The Road to Paradise is Paradise.
Embrace the journey.
Red lights for miles, stuck in traffic. One of those lovely days. I’m tired, hungry, and the last ten hours were a complete regression of the last seven years. Seven years, time slips so fast and these moments only make it worse.
It feels like my time has been hijacked and I am miserable.
Today, Facebook kindly notified me via email that my rival from high school just bought my childhood dream home and married my crush from summer camp. Naturally, I never had the balls to tell her how I felt.
That is just the cherry on top of a shit cupcake my boss gave me today, he of course is five years younger and sixty pounds lighter than me. The jeans I recently purchased to promote some weight loss made me feel stupid all day. Sitting behind my desk with them unbuttoned was the only way to keep the sharp pain away. They are unbuttoned now, just another fat guy commuting home to a sink full of dishes and a stale half bottle of wine.
Each step that brought me here feels like a blunder, a series of stupidity. Everything is stale, like the traffic spread forever in front of me. Just meandering amongst the masses stuck in an ever flowing stream of monotony and bullshit, chasing that carrot. This is life’s slog played out as a metaphor each night while I inch my way down a freeway toward the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.
The shimmering metropolis that emerges from the smog ahead of me isn’t where I live of course. I can’t afford to live in a skyscraper, but in a tiny apartment somewhere in the swampy base of those buildings with a wall out the window and a constant smell of urine.
In the car next to me are people richer, happier, and prettier out for a night on the town. I imagine they have a city view and will likely have a glorious rager of a night full of fun, friends, and sex. All the while I get closer to the microwave dinner and crippling sadness awaiting me in my small dwelling. It is that rotten feeling and it only gets worse. The city I slowly pass through is dirtier, the smog thicker, and the junkies more threatening.
A pestering little voice inside my head keeps saying,
“You are not seeing the city through the cars.”
I try to ignore it, smug bastard. That’s not how that saying goes and I know it. But still it keeps coming.
All the while I cuss myself, I’m missing my girlfriend’s footprints on the windshield, backlit by a beautiful sunset. The new song on the radio that I know has the potential to cheer me up, If only I would just let go and listen.
Why am I so unhappy at work and amongst my friends? Why do I feel like I’m constantly losing some unspoken competition? That beer at lunch and that bottle of wine every night is a crutch and it is not going to make anything better.
When in a downward spiral of negativity it is best to realize, only you can control your world.
Maybe being trapped on four wheels, isolated from the masses surrounding you, is the perfect time to enjoy solitude. Focus on life’s positives, get into an audiobook, get into a podcast. Flip on the mariachi radio station and jam out. Take life as it comes and enjoy everything.
I laugh at myself. That is a novel idea, wouldn’t that be great. I want to enjoy everything but those soulless assholes that merge at the last possible second keep delaying my exit from this nightmare of a freeway. Getting angry in traffic is worthless, no one can hear your screams and punching the steering wheel will accomplish nothing. Yet I continue to do so until I wear myself out, sitting in an even thicker cloud of self loathing, anger, and sadness.
Then that little prick of a voice in my head chimes in.
“Instead of judging your traffic compatriot and blocking them from getting over, practice kindness and appreciation.”
Even traffic can be fun if viewed through the right lens. Each car you pass or passes you tells some form of a story, a patchwork of souls that make up the place you live. It is simple, really, once you take the bad emotions out and begin to let go. Like all things, even the traffic will end and you will be left with a memory of an experience. It is up to you to dictate what that memory will entail.
Maybe lack of success at work is a direct cause of my inner competition with everyone around me. I might blame everyone else for my problems, but perhaps if I worked on my craft each night rather than binging Netflix I could make moves in my career and quench that competitive angst. Why do I escape my life each night? Is my job a scapegoat for my problems? Am I even on the right road?
I had dreams once, I had goals and now it feels like I am on the losing side of twenty five, caught in a rut that is only getting deeper. I used to be like a lion, fierce and eager. The passion that brought me to Los Angeles has seemingly dried up, leaving me tranquilized and captive. My dreams have fizzled out, paradise is lost and the stale wine I’ve been looking forward to for the last hour and a half commute tastes far worse than I’d hoped.
Wincing with each sip, I look out my dirty window at the brick wall beyond it. The window opens to a six by six alcove that has no access to the outside world except for the lack of a roof ten stories up, two windowed walls from my apartment and two brick walls from the other building. It is wasted space and due to the lazy occupants of the windows it has since turned into a pit of trash. There is no way to access it without emerging from my window or the one below me, so there the mess sits, slowly getting added to. Two weeks ago a pigeon fell down with a broken wing and has since been on its journey of decomposition which I occasionally checked on.
It was in that moment, peering into a mess of trash with a flashlight, that I realized that my life was a complete nightmare. I was the farthest away from anything I had ever wanted, cheap wine and a dead pigeon was what finally broke me. The tears began to fall.
What was It I even wanted any more? I had come to California to make it in the film industry and now I hated the film industry and California. My dreams were shattered and I was sitting in the mess not doing anything, just crying because I had a mess. I had no back up plan, no place where I could find happiness in my life. The paradise I had always pictured for myself was lost.
I needed to find my paradise.
No, it sure as hell is not a tropical beach and a margarita.
Where was I supposed to start? What I had not realized is, somewhere along the way I had lost myself. Like a friend you lose connection with over time, I drifted away from who I really am and ignored the warning signs. Once that dawned on me it was easy to start, I just needed to find myself again.
Soul searching is one of life’s greatest tasks. Visualize that life you always wanted. Now find the ways that make it happen. People will judge your dreams, but to hell with them. If you reinforce your dreams with education and practice, people will eventually respect you for it.
Starting small and applying gratitude instead of resentfulness will lead to a happier and more successful life, break though that shell of negativity and smile at life’s adversities. It is too short not to.
There I sat, suddenly changing the way I was looking at my life. At least I had made it out of my small town, I had worked hard to get here and just because it wasn’t working I was allowing my myself to go down this dark path. Negativity flourishes when you are bored and unproductive and I had let it consume my life.
Everyone gets stuck in a rut eventually but the only one that can repair it is you. Every challenge life gives us is an opportunity to learn, adapt to, and eventually grow from. One day, you are gonna get there. The sun will rise and you’ll know it was all worth it. Until then you must work, trust me you will miss these days eventually.
“Wonderful!” I thought, I’ve just solved one of life’s puzzles. But how to I get myself unstuck? After a moment it was clear. I emailed my boss and told him I would not be coming back in tomorrow then I called my Girlfriend and we went out, both of us ready to let go.
Over the course of many drinks we reached a drunken epiphany. Both of us were at a wall, there seemed no way around it and neither of us could chip away at it any longer.
As we bitched loudly in a bar a bar fly overheard us and chimed in, rambling about a road trip he’d just returned from. A very long road trip. With slurred confidence, he recommended we do just that before meandering off in search of a urinal. For us, the rest of the evening was spent giddily planning our exodus from Los Angeles. We were going to move into a van and explore the world beyond the city that has enslaved us.
Even with splitting headaches the next morning, we were still resolute in our plan. But the question remained, When were we to start? Now?
Time is always running out, each day you don’t at least commit a little bit of time to your dreams is one less day of celebration you’ll get afterwards. The rebuilding and eventual rejoicing is the best part, never settle. Everything in life is about momentum and each action of yours sways it in either a positive or negative direction. Today or someday. Make or Break.
I put in my 30 days notice at my office job and my apartment, my jail sentence was over. In two weeks we bought a 1988 Ford Econoline van and before I knew it we were chasing the sunrise, running east away from California at top speed.
Life reacts to you, set the standards for what you expect and get excited. You are lucky to play a role in this great show we call life. The only way to break the monotony is to be spontaneous and optimistic. The world should never stop being your oyster. See where the night leads you.
Let go, find your nature, free yourself from your habits and comfort zones. You are never as old as you think you are.
As the granddaddy of ski films, Warren Miller, always said:
“If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.”
Free yourself from the unrealistic perfect lives you see on television and social media, escape your life’s burdens and get lost. Death comes to us all, be sure you’ve lived the way you wanted to. Looking at the big picture is key in moments of duress. See the art of life, understand that roads have narrow bridges and flat tires. These strokes of life help paint a masterpiece, it is how we let events affect us that solidifies for our view.
We were on the road for a year and a half covering over 36,000 miles. When our savings ran out we got part time and odd jobs to keep us going. Eventually we found ourselves working for a ski area in Lake Tahoe, living in our van stuck in the snow behind the lodge. It was there that we finally decided to return to Los Angeles. We’d been living off ramen and doing our best to save money, it was just like before but at least in the city we were pursuing something.
As soon as the snow melted we were off this time chasing the sunset back to California. We couch surfed with friends and slept out of the van while looking for work. It got rather bleak, our resumes had a large hole in them and the idea of returning to an office with three hours of commuting in traffic each day was not appealing.
Leaving again was on the table, the city did not want us back. We were at our absolute lowest point when I received a call from a friend. There were two open spots on a lucrative film project and he thought we could do it. We jumped right in.
Like a passing storm, hard times eventually come and they eventually go. Over time, the erosion paints a beautiful landscape. Life is beautiful, experiencing the lows are just as important if not more so than the highs.
Change is the only constant in life. Two years since our van trip we’ve since married and are both working freelance in the film industry, back home in Los Angeles.
The van trip not only toughened us up but forced us to take a good look at what we want from life. With our return to the city we now have an end game. One day we will leave, dreams accomplished and smog in the rear view for good.
We found our paradise on four wheels.
Do you view your life as a story, or journey? Is it a series of events? Just a bog of bullshit that occupies your time and energy?
Take time everyday to be grateful and appreciative of the smallest things. Notice the moon, the shapes of the clouds, catch every sunset and rejoice with every sunrise. The snow isn’t as thick, the rain isn’t as hard, the sun will eventually warm you up, and the traffic will clear.
Life is a beautiful symmetry, a work of art and you are the artist.
Now up get off your ass and catch that train, hop that jet plane. Foot on the gas up that freeway on ramp.
Sometimes all you need is to drive with the windows down. Keys in the ignition, heart on the dash, long may you run.
“The Road to Paradise is Paradise.” — Mexican Proverb.
Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash