Stagnation in the American South

The automatic countdown calendar on my desktop glows an opaque orange and stands in stark contrast to the screensaver that fills up the background. Both the calendar and the background capture me when I see them, but for different reasons.

The screensaver is a picture of me and a friend that I won’t see again, standing in front of a building in Spain that I can’t remember the name of. I don’t even know what happened to the shirt that I’m wearing in the picture. The image could be of a stranger, as far removed from me as it feels.

But the picture was only taken four months ago. My lack of recognition or recollection about it only serves to speak volumes about how life has changed recently, because the changes have been real and tangible, freight-train-like in their intensity and inability or unwillingness to slow down.

In late September I moved from coastal North Carolina to my hometown in West Tennessee. I moved back in with my parents, found a job, joined a climbing gym, and tried to find new habits and patterns to fill my day. I work, sleep, exercise, hike, test out equipment, and stare at a blank Microsoft word document, crying out for inspiration that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured. I have settled into the restless rest of trepidation, of fear, or at the very least, anxiousness, for the future.

Anxious because the digital calendar, glowing orange on my computer’s desktop, displays the following:

Appalachian Trail

Feb 29, 2020

101 days remaining

It makes me sweat and wake up in the middle of the night. I’m not suffering from night terrors or bouts of fear and panic. I wake up for the same reason that I often find myself mentally drifting off when I’m awake. It’s because I look in front of me and see the endless ocean of questions that I still need to find the answers to.

I’ve been feeling lost, disconnected, and tired. A rain cloud has seemed to hover over me, constantly spoiling my sunny, carefree days. Maybe it’s anxiety or seasonal depression. Maybe I’m just bummed out and finally feeling a little bit lonely. Call it whatever you want to, but I know it by its true name: Stagnation.

Once again, my life suddenly shifted from accelerating toward drastic change to feeling lost and uncertain, and I, being bounced back and forth between the two, have ended up feeling like an emotional ping-pong ball, trapped in the violent thrust from one extreme to the other and never truly finding rest or wholeness.

I’m no stranger to stagnation or to the anxiousness that precedes a new adventure. My life for the last six years has been filled with constant comings and goings. I grew used to being the new kid, the fresh meat, to proving myself and being judged by my cover. I’m familiar with the uncomfortable and austere cloak that every new chapter of life comes bundled in. But as soon as the new is worn away, the settling process of stagnation begins. Habit patterns form, routines are established, and the Groundhog Day cycle rears its head.

You may be asking, as I am asking myself, “If you hate doing the same thing every day, why would you commit to doing the walking and sleeping in a tent for five to seven months?” I think it’s because stagnation has a different meaning for every person, and while the repetition of certain actions may be a defining feature for some people, stagnation has much more to do with the environment for me personally.

I need to see new things. I need a new canvas to admire. I need goals to achieve.

More importantly, I need a purpose again.

I hope that no one is reading this and thinking that I’m bailing out before my journey even begins. I’m writing all of this down because I want you to know, and I want myself to be reminded, that rough spots exist, that there is no glory without struggle. Opening myself up and putting my own self-doubt on display is my own personal method of staying honest and accountable, however visceral and raw that might be. Life isn’t the highlight reel that Instagram shows us, nor should it be.

While it’s true that my life has changed and sometimes, I don’t recognize the stranger in the pictures, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m beginning to like the person that I see, the butterfly that’s just starting to form in the cocoon of change that life creates. Acknowledging my own shortcomings and self-doubt is step one in overcoming the exhausting quicksand of a stagnant life.

Step two involves changing my environment by force. No one is putting a gun to my head and making me stay at home during my days off. No one is forcing me to see the same four walls and drive the same roads every day. Life is not just filled with adventure; it simply IS an adventure. The very fact that I am living and breathing allows me to constantly challenge myself, even when faced with the most mundane situations that this world has to offer.  I refuse to settle, and I refuse to allow the waves to drag me under.

For what seems like the thousandth time in my life I have felt my roots begin to sink into the soil and have violently resisted. I need to uproot myself, to move and to run. I don’t long for home because I haven’t found it yet and I simply cannot long for something I do not know. For now, I will commit myself to sprinting, headlong and carelessly, into whatever muddled future that life has in store for me.

Here’s hoping that that that future follows the white blazes and takes me straight to Katahdin.

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Comments 2

  • Shakespeare : Nov 21st

    ‘straight’ to Katahdin?
    Oh no, that would be to easy. The Trail is going to put you on a crazy rollercoaster with it’s ups and downs, forcing you to constantly take turns. Enjoy that journey, enjoy every day, cause you’re going to miss it so much in this very moment when your hand touches the Katahdin wooden sign.
    Stay strong and keep moving. Best of luck to you John!

  • Turtle Hiker : Nov 23rd

    So true!!


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