Tuesday, August 7, 2012


It used to be that freedom was showing up in an airport with a single red backpack covered in carefully sewn decorative patches and a one way plane ticket.
When Ethan wasn’t actually drinking coconut water in Mexico or picking olives in Italy or staring out the window of some meandering train, he would be dreaming of other lands.  The carpet beside his bed was cluttered with travel narratives and fiction set in other countries- he thought that every place was more exotic than the west coast and he wanted to see it all: the colors of India, the ocean waters in the South Pacific, the cobblestone and dreary clouds of Eastern Europe. 
Occasionally he did go to Latin America for a few months or Europe, but it was not the long term travel he had always dreamed of- the multi-year, multi-continental voyage. The trips were short, and kindled his wanderlust rather than satisfying it.  He slept with a map on the ceiling above his pillow and, right before falling asleep (and as he woke up), he would stare at the colored mountains and rivers and all the places he hoped to see.
He always thought back to a particular fall day in Italy. The sky outside the train window was bright blue.  There was a bite to the air and all the colors of the rural landscape were shades of brown and beige and fallen twigs. Bright orange persimmon fruits hung on the naked branches of massive trees and they punctuated the world outside the window with bursts of color.
He was alone on a train going south- not alone really, but surrounded by strangers.  Without the constant jabber of a companion, he focused on the details that surrounded him. The sounds of the train on the tracks, the deep voice of the man selling mozzarella and tomato sandwiches out of a wheeled wooden cart halfway down the train car.
Everything that day was so crystalline and bright. The miles went on and the train doors opened and closed at each station, offering him the brilliant beginning of a multitude of pathways to places he could not imagine.
He knew he could choose any one of them- perhaps getting out at Taormina or any of the little villages along the way to Palermo. Each one was an option, he could simply pick up his 30lb pack and be on his way.  No need for permission or second thoughts or even a look backwards.  It was movement without obstruction, as he stepped outside, he could breathe new air and discover the tiny details that only needed a second of attention; there, a delicate gray and white feather drifting over centuries-old streets.
By a series of curious incidents and split-second decisions, he arrived in San Francisco. Six years later, he called it home. His roaming feet had sunk in some roots- those roots had coiled around gray embedded stones in the salty soil. 
His heart still reached out- enjoying television shows that depicted the people of Romania and Africa, he enjoyed watching characters running from one part of town to another looking for clues to a puzzle, but he could not picture himself in another place anymore.  The desire to hit the road with a single backpack and a one way ticket had just melted away so slowly that he didn’t realize it until it was gone, like some of the baby fat that had once held on firmly to his cheeks.
In the past six years he had begun to paint and draw and make music, all things that he had wanted to do before but never could- or never knew how.
Last Saturday he read a piece of text that he wanted to draw for and turn into a short book.  Over the course of an afternoon he read the text repeatedly and each time he imagined a different style of art. He could reinforce the poetic imagery by echoing it with visual figurative images, or, he could do something far more abstract- possibly color fields, or, something neo-expressionistic and more aggressive with thick brush strokes and possibly dissonant images.
There were so many possible directions and each one could take the same text and alter it completely.  He imagined himself standing at the threshold of a doorway that led to not one path, but dozens, each one of them branching off into scores more. 
He sat at his desk, no plane ticket or packed bag by his feet. His pencils and paper rested in front of him, the light outside the window was changing.  It was different than he had once imagined, what he had once thought of as possibilities and freedom- what had once seemed capable only through steps and constant travel and movement now unraveled, revealing itself to be many places.
The possibilities were truly limitless, they were accessible without a step. His chest ached with that familiar stinging excitement as the doors opened towards endless pathways.  

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