There are many times when I feel so uninspired to do anything creative, and at these points, seeing someone else knock out of the park the very thing I am desperate to create is both humbling and vital.
Like the other night, when I stumbled across a video essay on YouTube called The Answer is Not a Hut in the Woods.
The creator and author, Exurb1a, is confronted with writer’s block and takes to the Appalachian Trail. Even as he describes his inability to write and decides that the only cure is 200 miles of wilderness, he does it in such an eloquent way that I find myself thinking, “Sure, I’m so sure you have ever experienced writer’s block. You probably made it up just so you’d have something to write about.”
But I believe him (his descriptions are too familiar). And the real problem is that now I’m wondering if I should hit the Appalachian Trail, and if it might work for me better than it worked for him. I can’t recommend the video enough—45 minutes well spent. He’s funny and insightful and poignant and effortless and every other word I would hope to have said about my work.
I like to think that the reason that I feel so overwhelmed with choice is because I don’t have the steady kind of schedule that makes life feel like something predictable and contained. But in truth, I have never settled down into a job or project to the point that all other possibilities are extinguished. Even if I was working a so-called dream job, I would probably still consider disappearing on the Appalachian Trail.
So maybe it’s a product of something else, of the way that the world is presented to us as an endless feed of options. It simply never runs out—not on Netflix or dating apps or social media. There is no bottom of the well to arrive at, and sometimes it seems like that would solve a lot of things. If I could please just have all the information, the whole finite database of choices, then maybe I would finally know which option would make me happiest.
I’ve noticed lately that my options are shrinking. I’m older and wiser and fewer things make sense to me than they did when I was 20. At that age, there seemed to be thousands of people I could date. Thousands of cities to live in, thousands of career paths to embark on, thousands of personalities to try on. It seemed exciting and endless. If something didn’t work out, there was always something else to try, and chances are that it would be better. It’s only lately that I’m starting to reach the point where I know myself a little too well to seriously consider everything.
In a way, I worry that I’m crusting over and fossilizing. What is life if it’s not about choices and things to try? And there are still plenty of things to try, but so many more that simply aren’t worth it. I can no longer convince myself into a friendship or relationship or lifestyle that I already know, intuitively and based on experience, just won’t work for me. This should be cause for celebration. Instead, it’s more like an existential crisis.
After all, I was never going to do everything. I get that. We only get so many days and weeks and years. Only so many things to put our energy and time and love toward. Not everything is better just because it’s new. It’s a scary realization because it means making the best of what’s happening right here instead of running away.
The truth is that if I weren’t here, I would probably be dreaming of it—a quiet few months spent working and sleeping and wandering the streets around my apartment, smoking more weed than is altogether healthy and leaving the dishes too long in the sink. When you actually think about the sheer number of ways that things could have gone, it’s no exaggeration to say that this can’t be an accident.
It was never about having endless options, because all of that stuff is really just the how of it, not the what. Where you live, who you know, how you earn money—it’s just a vehicle for the other things, like knowing yourself and making it through difficult times and learning to love. Same ideas in different costumes. This is why they say you can’t solve everything by leaving, even if you can solve some things.
Given that, the how of my life is pretty great. I keep waiting for that to change up in some dramatic and meaningful way—will I move to a new city or put all my things in a van and drive away or meet the love of my life at the grocery store?—when really, it’s just important that I wake up every day and write in my journal and make tea and forget to drink the last sip.
The creator of The Answer Isn’t a Hut in the Woods seems to have found happiness on the trail, if not necessarily inspiration for a new book. He had only one possible path, and every day he put one foot in front of the other, and that perfect simplicity was what made him happy. Each cup of coffee and the occasional beer were the best he’d ever drank. Each sunset was a meaningful event because it meant he’d gotten through another day on his own.
I don’t think I need to go to the Appalachian Trail to find that kind of peace. I don’t think I need to know that the perfect person is just one swipe away. Actually, let me delete Tinder again real quick. I think I need to know that actually I don’t have many things to choose from because I’m already where I’m supposed to be, that there’s more than enough right here. Not in the cheesy way, but in the way that I hear people talk about when they look back on their lives. Maybe it’s actually too much, probably far too much, that’s making me unhappy.
Give me less and it will be more than enough.