The other side of the adventure…..

It’s been a while again, and it won’t be long now until the trip is over – at least as far as traveling far and wide goes.  We’ll be back in Madison in only a few weeks, and I can’t help but feel like I’m squeezing a lemon for every last drop of juice.  I can feel Dave and I both sprinting at the finish line hoping for a grand finale, but it isn’t a happy sprint.  Parts of it are of course – the beautiful landscapes, watching Eli explore – but there’s sorrow and longing underneath it.  I think I can speak for both of us about this….  We’re still not happy.  I keep thinking I’ll find it around the next corner, or I would be happy if only X would get out of my way.  I’d exercise more if only I had more privacy, I’d tent camp if only it weren’t so cold outside, I’d feel more loved if only Dave would blah blah blah.  The list goes on…

But it’s all a bunch of somedays with no action or commitment.  I’m holding myself back, or paralyzed, or both.

It’s more clear to me now, and I’ll tell you why.

Eli and I went hiking today in Canyonlands National Park, about 30 miles outside of Moab.  Well, not hiking really… Eli found a puddle about 100 feet from the parking lot and that was that.  That’s not the point….  I saw a camper on our way into the park that caught my eye.  It was an old class C camper, so it was a single unit smaller RV with a truck front and a camper that overhangs the top of the cab.  It was probably 20 feet long at the most and had company names plastered all over it, race car driver jacket style.  I didn’t pay much attention to it until I saw it again at the hiking spot.  I got a closer look at the labels and one of them had a website, “,” which I assumed (correctly) was the travelers’ website.  As I walked by I saw the small, cuddly cab where the driver and passenger chairs were, so low to the ground.  The bed would be above that in the overhang, and behind them would be a simple living space.  They left their windows open and I could see curtains blowing in the breeze.  A young woman sat in the passenger seat with her sunglasses on resting.  And later as Eli and I puttered in his puddle, I overheard the young pair chatting with other hikers, so knew that they were on the road full-time.  My curiosity peaked, and I couldn’t wait to get home and check out their website.

Go ahead and check it if you want, obviously 🙂

I found myself jealous and sad as I looked through their site.  For one, they were infinitely more motivated and organized about pretty much everything about their website and trip.  They’ve only been on the road for one month, and they have a beautiful website, frequent blog complete with all the pictures and stories like Dave and I hoped to do, a link to instagram (I don’t even know how to use instagram), a detailed itinerary of their path to see all the national parks, and a shabby-chic renovation of their quaint and quirky camper.  In some ways, it’s what I thought this trip would be for us…. organized, colorful, compact, creative.

But instead it’s all the same.  We have more clutter than we want.  We spend more time of screens than we want.  We don’t know what to do with ourselves in our downtime.  We feel disconnected from ourselves and each other.  We live in a camper that suites our needs as a family of three, but is double the size of what I initially had in mind.  We feel like ghosts in our own bodies.  The spectrum of our emotions is minimal, if we feel anything at all.

Now, of course, who knows what goes on behind closed doors for Cees (pronouced “Case” – don’t even get me started….) and Madison (uh…. again, don’t get me started).  These 20-something fresh-out-of-college newlyweds probably have no idea the shitstorm that is just around the developmental corner.  Or what burdens they already carry…  But on paper?  On a blog post?…. It all looks so great.

And I found myself thinking, “I’m so jealous.  Look at what they are doing…. That’s what I want to do.”

Can you believe it?!….

Could I be any closer to doing that than I am right now?!  And still, it FEELS like I’m not.  Like it’s so far away.

And that’s when I saw it that much more clearly…. What is GOING ON (with me)?……  How am I looking at things that keeps me feeling so sad?…..

To my credit, I realize…. Dave is working full-time, and we have Eli here.  These are 2 huge variables.  Dave and I are both flying solo so much of the time, and it keeps us from doing things we want to do together.  We’re tired, and obligated.  This couple is NOT working, as far as I can tell.  Chacco and whoeverelsethefuck is sponsoring their trip.  It’s like an HGTV hipster nightmare, and I’m falling right into the abyss of comparison, envy, and shame.  I’m not young enough, cool enough, clever enough…..  If only I’d done the trip like THAT, I’d be happy now.

There’s a lot at play here, and I don’t even know the half of it I’m sure.  Emotional, spiritual, psychological, social, biological, transgenerational, you name it… Nothing seems to be quite balanced.  Again, I think I can freely speak for both Dave and I about this.  We play off each other’s imbalance like that wooden labyrinth game with the metal ball…. We just can’t seem to get past number 5 before we are back at the beginning again.

It all sounds so bleak, doesn’t it?  I don’t mean to be so bleak, but at the same time I want to put words to the stuff that has filled so much of my heart and mind for so much of this trip.  This undertone of longing and sorrow, of numbness and absence.  What is it (really) about?….

Dave might not use these words exactly – come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever heard him use the word about himself – but I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we both struggle with some depression.  It seems like too simple of a word to try to capture it, but it’s the only one I can think of that captures the absence of feeling and lack of fulfillment.

Dave said to me today he feels a lack of purpose.  And that’s certainly a part of it.  We both thrive on helping people and using our skills to make things better than they are.  It doesn’t happen much these days for us…  Of course there’s always Eli, but it’s not the same.

So put two depressed people together and what do you get?… 2 people in a hole trying to get out with no one at the top.  Standing on each other’s shoulders only works some of the time, and only if the other one is “strong enough” to hold you up.  So I think we just sit there much of the time at the bottom looking at each other (or, more honestly, just thinking to ourselves), “How do we get out of here?…”

And on our “good days” where we feel connected and positive and hopeful, I think, “Oh, maybe we’re finally out of it!  We figured it out! We’re a team now!”  But just as mysteriously as it came away it goes again and then back to the drawing board as though someone erased all our notes and we don’t even remember what worked before.

Don’t get me wrong.  Dave’s a great person.  I’m a great person.  And other people in our lives get the best of us.  We just don’t get it much with each other these days.  We want to.  We talk about wanting to.  But it’s with blank stares.

There’s good news.  Well, it’s going to sound like bad news, but it’s actually good news.

I had the exact same problems in my first marriage.

As a side note, I want to remark that it feels very strange to even think that I had a “first marriage” for many reasons.  It feels like a lifetime ago, I don’t think about it much, and to say the words “my first marriage” seems strangely pompous to me.

Anyways, the good news is that I had the same problems in my first marriage, which to me means that this is something that I bring to the marriage table – so to speak.  There’s SOMETHING GOING ON HERE and it’s not just bad luck or bad partners or something random.  There are patterns, which means there are variables and predictability, things that can be named, identified, manipulated, changed.  It’s hopeful to me.  “Ah, I’ve felt this exact discontent before!”  “I’ve thought this exact thought!”  “I’ve behaved this exact way!”  And even when it feels like it can’t possibly be me – it must be DAVE!  What a disappointment he is!?!  But no, it’s not like that at all.  If anything, I’ve been a horribly cold fish – at least as cold as he is.  So where will the warmth and fire come from?….

You were probably expecting to hear about Zion or Bryce Canyon….  Or Eli’s new words…..

All those things are happening to.  And they are beautiful, and amazing, and precious, and priceless.  And I am grateful.  And I am sad.  And I haven’t “figured out” whatever it is I am trying to figure out – which I’m not even sure of – what it is I am trying to figure out!

They say if you are “in the moment” there is almost never something to feel badly about… That we feel badly about things that we wish had been different in the past or worry about how things might go wrong in the future.  I think this is very true, and I certainly do more of the former than the latter if I have to choose – but more than either of those I look at the present moment and compare it to the present moment I think would be better than this one.  The thinner body, the more actively loving partner, the more active adventure…. And I feel inadequate and unloved.

Dr. Freud?… Paging Dr. Freud?….

And when I feel inadequate and unloved I shut down and recoil.  And what might that cause in my partner?…. And when my partner feels inadequate and unloved and he shuts down and recoils, what might that cause in me?  Resentment, self-righteousness, irritation.

I can SEE it.  Sometimes….  But as any good therapist will tell you, seeing it does not make it go away.  If it goes *poof* lucky you.  That’s rare.

And here we are…. Madison right around the corner.  We’ve learned so much on this trip, and yet… are we right where we were when we started?  Are we looking for something that can’t be found?  Are we just in a rut that will just somehow go *poof?*

More good news…. Things are changing in me that I can’t explain.  I woke up one morning unafraid to play my guitar and sing in front of Dave.  This might not sound like much, but my fears/insecurities about my music have been so strong over the years that I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know I played at all.  Most of even my closest friends have never heard me play, even my family members might have only caught a song or two, mostly recorded.  I’ve been playing for 15 years and I’ve almost played for no one.  My “first husband” only heard me play once in 5 years, and he was drunk.  And Dave’s only heard me play once or twice in 7 years.  But all of a sudden, I just didn’t care.  I didn’t care if my songs were mediocre or if it annoyed him.  I wasn’t worried about people hearing me.  I just felt like playing so I played.  Even Eli gave me a little applause at the end.  Until he shook his head and said, “No more.  No more.”  God bless the little one’s and their unbridled honesty…..

It was inexplicable and yet the most beautiful surprise.  I felt free, and I just cried and cried, both in gratitude and happiness, and in awe.  I hadn’t/haven’t cried in so long…..

So here we are in Moab, which is clearly one of the most remarkable places on Earth, if not in the entire universe.  It is unthinkably miraculous and genuinely awesome.  Expansive views of snow-capped mountains in the distance, canyons towering everywhere, grand rivers cutting through, red and orange stone and earth painting the landscapes, and deteriorating stone structures defying gravity and reason.  It all reminds me of how small I am, and of how big…. How nothing matters at all, and how every move makes a tremendous difference.

Seems an appropriate way to end the trip….  An appropriate lesson for 2 souls trying to simply get out of a hole in the ground….

Nothing matters, and every move makes a difference.

It reminds me that it doesn’t have to be so serious.  It doesn’t have to “matter.”  And yet, one thing leads to the next thing, and in every moment you are doing something.  So what do you want to do?  Where will it lead?  What’s “next?”

Whatever I’m dreaming of, I’m hoping I can make it real in my daily life, so that I can take down these imaginary barriers and see what’s behind them – so that it’s no longer a question of “if only….”  And not because those things will make me “happy,” but because the dream of them makes me unhappy, and something in me knows that that is just a distraction.

But now I’m getting serious again, and we wouldn’t want that…

Eli’s latest new words are window, black, van, cherry, and – unfortunately – cookie.  He seems very concerned about whose things are whose – not possessive really as much as mastering the art of recognizing ownership.  He’ll point to things and claim, “Daddy,” or “Mommy,” or “Ee-ii,” depending on whose thing it is.  If anything he shares too willingly, insistently offering things to other children that they don’t want.  To say it’s endearing is an understatement.  He’s obsessed with buses of all kinds, especially school buses – maybe because they are “ye-whoa.”

Our final days “abroad” should be beautiful and full and bright.  Good weather is ahead and we are surrounded by unimaginable majesty – and I hate that word, so….

Thanks for listening, reader.  If you know me well you know I don’t open up often.  I’m an unshakable and loyal listener, but somewhat of a closed book.  Maybe.  I guess you would know better than me.

Let’s leave it at that for now.  Just, thanks.

10 Responses to The other side of the adventure…..

  1. Mom


  2. Dad

    Your writing is like your music, absolutely beautiful and soulful and, because it’s so rarely seen (the closed book thing), a special treat.

  3. Diana Eiler

    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Jason

    Thank you for your honesty, and thank you for letting us tag along!

  5. Louise ennis

    Susan I will always be in your corner. Learning how to be loved and be lovable is a challenge. I believe in your wisdom. You will figured it out one piece at a time. That’s how life works. I love you (and Dave). Loving Eli is a given ?

  6. Teri woods

    Come home, Susan. Come home to those of us who care about you and for you. You’ve learned the essential lesson of life; that none of this matters. Therefore each moment is unspeakably important. The years spent earning my grey hair have taught me not to give one thought to what comes next. It’s better to be curious, I find. To let next reveal itself and just observe it with a “huh, will you look at that!” Kind of stance.

    In the immortal words of that great philosopher, Sonny Liston, “Life a funny thing”.

    Come home.

  7. Sandy Patnode

    Know that you are not alone in many of your feelings….I for sure, (we, I think it’s safe to say) have felt a number of the same things you have described so well. Life always seems to be a question, and at times, unanswerable but what I found to help is spending time with family and friends. To them you are most important and valued…and bring them happiness. Don’t forget that. Look into Eli’s happy eyes and see yourselves. We don’t always have to move mountains to feel adequate or worth something, we just to have to see their beauty and know that we are worthy. Love to you all! You have a great summer back in Madison to look forward to and we look forward to having you back as well! Love, Mom Patnode

  8. Naomi

    Inadequacy is my word of the month! Seriously, I’ve been realizing just how pervasive that feeling is in my life and wondering how to fill the hole. Wondering if I ever really can. I think maybe…but I also think it will be a lifelong practice. Your words resonated a lot with me. Thanks for honestly and eloquently sharing. <3

  9. Allison Byars

    Thank you. That book of yours is just that– yours, to open and close as you want or can. When you open it, beauty flows out. Beauty isn’t often happy, it’s just honest and real.

  10. Nicole Meidinger

    This was so real. Thank you Susan for your bravery to share. You two are amazing.

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