Showing Me The Way

December 30, 2017

If you’re not the poetic type, you might describe the road to Pai as “winding.” However, those of us who delight in the taste and the sound of words would more readily describe the road to Pai as “winding as fuck.”

The trip began, as so many do, with me having absolutely no plan whatsoever. My traveling modus operandi seems to be “don’t have an idea of what’s going on, and wing it when you get there”. Or to be more pithy: yolo. The general strategy is to ask cool people where I should go next, and then follow their advice. It usually works out.

Well, it used to usually work out. I didn’t realize that not only is Thailand the land of smiles, but also of babby’s first backpacking adventure. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve met on this trip have been aged 18-22, (wisely) taking a gap year between whatever bullshit societal expectations have been thrust upon them. This is an age that I refer to (in private) as “pre-pubescent”. What I mean by that is that your brain is most-of-the-way there, but you’re lacking the experience to really do anything with it. In the same way you can tell if someone is going through puberty, you can tell if someone is going through this sort of mental-puberty too.

The point I’m laboriously trying to get to is that as much as I like early twenty-somethings, the places they recommend I be are generally not the places I end up liking. More and more frequently I find myself idly wondering if I’ve secretly become an old man without realizing it.

I mention this because I’m on the road to Pai on the recommendation of some lovely twenty-somethings. I’m trying not to shit on the place before I get there, and so my mood is one of cautious optimism. Also, I’m on the road to Pai because there was nowhere else to be.

So anyway, the road to Pai is winding as fuck. I find myself in a small minivan with twelve other souls as our chartered driver works those pedals as though he’s playing a particularly difficult harmonium piece on a head full of methamphetamine. We are all literally holding on for dear life, out of some reptilian instinct that the coat hanger on the back of the seat in front of us will somehow protect us in the seemingly-likely event of an accident.

Probably as much as a defense mechanism as by being a gigantic nerd, I find myself thinking about acceleration – proving theorems about it in my head. That leads to graphing this winding-as-fuck road in my brain, and attempting to determine the length of it, which of course requires deriving some sort of continuous integral of Pythagorean triangles over the curve. I’ll spare you the rest, but apparently this is the kind of shit that flashes through my head during a near-death experience.

Who am I kidding? It’s the kind of stuff I’m always thinking about.

Thankfully we make it to Pai in one piece. There would have been much rejoicing if we weren’t so hopped up on adrenaline that we could do anything more complicated than navigate the endless luggage in the van’s corridors.

The mind has a remarkable aptitude for narratives. Everywhere we look we find ourselves looking for meaning, and more often than not, this meaning comes in the form of stories.

A friend I met a few weeks back told me her life philosophy over too-strong Long Island ice teas. It’s been haunting me since then.

Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.

This has really resonated with me. Most people I tell it to say “oh, you mean like, ‘when in Rome’?” Which I suppose is one interpretation of it, but, that’s not the takeaway that I feel here.

Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. You can look at this as “you should go to tourist attractions”, but you can also interpret it as “figure out what it is you’re supposed to do next in your life, and then go do that thing.” Go to the place you need to be, and then do the thing you need to do.

My literal, science brain is shouting at me that this is all fatalist bullshit, but I think it makes sense in retrospect through the lens of storytelling. There isn’t really any sort of fate-driven fundamental physical force drawing me towards places and people, but fate is a perfectly fine narrative device for when I look back and try to figure out what this life means to me.

I think you know what I mean. These are the experiences you look back on years later, and can point to as a deciding moment in your life. Things would have gone rather differently had you not been there and done that.

The reason I bring this up is that in retrospect, I went to Pai for a reason. I went to Pai because it was where I was supposed to be in order to do the thing I was supposed to do.

The thing I was supposed to do was to meet somebody. Let’s call her V.

Because you’re wondering and childish, and you’ll be distracted if we don’t clear things up, no, it wasn’t like that. We just talked.

It’s hard to articulate exactly why this conversation was so meaningful to me. It was scintillating, and cut through a bunch of the everyday get-to-know-you bullshit quickly, but that wasn’t what did it.

V is ’s dissatisfied with the status quo of western society. If I had to guess, she has been for a long while, but only recently has she been aware of its ache. Many people are disappointed by life, but V was different about it. She emanated a willingness to actually do something about it.

It was cool. Honestly, it was pretty hot, too.

There was raw, unadulterated lust behind V’s eyes when she spoke of the future, and as we discussed strategies that might help her shape it.

For longtime readers of my blog, it probably won’t be earth-shattering to learn that I too have flirted with strategically designing life. But, check the timestamp on that (and related) post – they’re not exactly what you might call “recent”. I had this same fire, but its intensity has burned down these last few years.

Meeting V was so monumental not because I got to spend an evening chatting with a gorgeous woman about things that tickle my toes intellectually. It was powerful instead because she showed me a glimpse of the man I want to be, and, more importantly, the fire I need in my soul to make it happen. Her hunger for more reawakened mine, and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.

Expect a post early next year detailing the exact plan for how this is all going to cash out. I’ve got some uncomfortably exciting things in the pipeline.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I like:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Baghdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

-Donald Miller