Have you ever looked up at the sky? I mean really looked up into it – past the tops of homes and government buildings and skyscrapers; above the tops of trees and tsunamis and mountains. The vast, empty reaches of sky between civilization and the stratosphere, just below cruising altitude. The cold, lonely pockets of sky where only the the bravest birds fly, alone.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life marveling at the sky. The sky, and things that fly in it: Butterflies, birds and bees. The sky, and the many dresses she wears: morning mauve; afternoon periwinkle; evening clementine; the deep indigo of the witching hour. The sky, and all the ways the clouds dance through it. The sky, where it begins and whether it ever actually ends.
And I’ve spent a lot of my life up in the sky, the past five years especially: In pressurized tubes that shield me from its frigidness; on exposed mountain tops and exclusive rooftops; in my head as I’ve dreamed of escaping the gravity that holds me down; and in my heart as I’ve floated away from the heavy ghosts of lost lovers and friends.
Like the brave birds who soar so high up they almost disappear, I have just as happily coasted along tail winds and I have flown into the convection of Category 5 hurricanes, always looking forward and upward in search of a more distant horizon, in defiance of the asphyxiation that awaits me if I ascend too fast or too high.
But inevitably, and invariably, even the bravest birds make the mistake of looking down.
I used to travel for months at a time, alone, in places where I spoke only a bit of the local language, where I had nothing in common with any of the people I met. Alienation proved a reliable source of inspiration, my creativity a reliable antidote to the suffocating solitude I always refused to acknowledge, even when I was gasping for air.
I gained a reputation as a tireless, fearless, wantless explorer, one who transcended the trappings of a terrestrial existence – for a short while I honestly believed I had become this person. But repeated cycles of love and heartbreak, wealth and poverty and sicknesses of body, heart and mind forced me to accept that my ability to fly was contingent upon my willingness to rest my wings on the land it was once my life’s mission never again to walk upon.
Recently, an alarming number of readers have reached out to me to express what I can only describe as disappointment.
Thailand again? What do you mean you aren’t going on another trip for three weeks? You used to write such epic rants and diatribes, now most of your posts are just photo essays or sample itineraries or product reviews. What gives?
Look, even I sometimes bore of seeing the same places over and over again, but the reason I visit countries like Thailand so much is because they help to fill in the holes my strenuous travel schedule leaves in my head, my heart and my creativity.
My home city of Austin is largely populated by people who will never understand what I go through when I’m not here – people who will never understand me – but also happens to be where it is easiest to keep a bank account, pursue a regular fitness regimen and reside legally.
I detest reading most Internet “content,” but I also hate trying to force out something profound and compelling about a destination or experience that left me with little more than information.
I don’t plan on traveling to Thailand again this year, spending a significant majority of my time at home or publishing less than my best work on this blog. But if I have to – and I probably will, probably enough times that even I will scold myself for it – know that it reflects nothing more than the same humanity and mortality you have to contend with every morning you’re lucky enough to open your eyes.
The humanity and mortality you, too, can rise above, if you ever really look up into the sky.