Vertigo of the Soul

Being known by others is an external exercise. We exist in alterity; meaning, I am ‘other’ than you, and I am known by what I say and do in relationship to you.

On the contrary, knowing oneself is an internal exercise. Only we know what we are thinking or feeling, and to some degree why we think and feel that way. With enough self-reflection, we uncover what has influenced, shaped, and inspired us, which systems of belief and social constructs have guided our choices, and who (or what) we have loved so much that we are forever altered by the weight and velocity of that love.

And, yet, like a river in flux, we can never fully deconstruct ourselves. Every time we experience something new, it affects our experience with our own past.  Like a hall of mirrors, fractals of our identities extend infinitely in either direction, as if to say, 1) the “I” that you think you know is an illusion, and 2) catch ‘me’ if you can!

It’s no wonder we often look outside ourselves to be defined.  We look towards our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our co-workers, and our church/activity groups because we take comfort in believing that we can be definitively known by the roles we play on these stages of life. Likewise, we look towards our geography and our possessions to anchor our identities to a specific place in time.

Two years ago, when Tree and I gave up our Venice apartment and hit the road, I took off many of the identity hats I used to wear. I lost my job;  I left Los Angeles, my hometown; I left my friends and my family, and I got rid of most of my belongings, save for a small storage unit of stuff and a bunch of books I stashed under Cyndi’s house.  Since then we’ve been in a perpetual state of motion.  We’ve been through twelve countries, crossed a continent, and covered thousands of miles. Untethered….

I have been feeling a little disconnected and dizzy, a vertigo of the soul.


During our recent visit to Los Angeles, I emptied my small storage unit and whittled my personal possessions down to six boxes filled with journals, photos, a few mementos, and essays I wrote at UCLA. I sent these six boxes to Outdoorplay and discarded everything else. That part was surprisingly easy.

Getting rid of my books, on the other hand, nearly killed me.  When I first cracked open the boxes of books that I had left under Cyndi’s house, it was as if hundreds of friends jumped out and yelled “Welcome Home!” Out came Milan Kundera, Charles Bukowski, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Don DeLillo, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Salvador Plascencia, Tom Robbins, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Georges Bataille, Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee, Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, William Shakespeare, Plato, Sophocles, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Foster Wallace, Mark Danielewski, Soren Kierkegaard, not to mention the literary collections and the short stories and the compilations of essays–the list goes on and on.

These were my most influential friends and ardent lovers.  After taking one look at them, I found me again.  I flipped through their pages and scanned the lines that I had highlighted and underlined years ago. I paused over coffee cup rings, dog-eared and tear-stained pages. I was reminded of all the internal debates and late night contemplations over the words I read, I studied, I imprinted in my heart and have carried with me all these years. My books were a touchstone, a reminder, a secret code or clue to who I am, and why I love me. They were a private love affair, a tryst I had with myself.

                But now they are gone. 

My friend, Madena, came over to help me do what I couldn’t have done on my own (Thank you, Madena!), namely to give my lifetime collection of books, nearly two hundred of them, to the Goodwill. Box by box, we packed them up and dropped them off. Even though my heart broke every step of the way, I decided that it was better to put my beloved books back into circulation than to hoard them under a house for god knows how many more years. I still don’t know if I made the right decision.

Tree and I have met many overlanders in the past year, and without fail, most of them seem to accelerate their pace rapidly as they approach their finish line. I think they feel the soul vertigo too, and with home and stability in sight, they make a mad dash for it. Tree and I don’t have that luxury, and quite frankly, I’m happy that we don’t. Instead, we need to recalibrate to find balance in the midst of all this motion. We need to find stillness within.

With no perceivable end to this race, we’re opting to slow down instead of speed up. Currently, we are in Montanita, a small surf town in the south of Ecuador. I have been constructing a routine for myself of running, writing and yoga before I head out to do the daily shopping and cook dinner.  Tree has been surfing every morning and then working hard on Outdoorplay.

My books may be gone, but I can read by touch the words imprinted on my heart.  So now, untethered,  I’m reaching down into my muddled depths to pull out my own art. -STEVIE

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  1. Stevie, you are THE BEST! Love this so much, thank you.

    • Thank you kindly Val!!! We need to Skype by the way. I believe we have some unfinished and delicious business to get down to. With my slower pace, I think I can finally do that now.

      • Saludos to that, we do in fact need to catch up! I wanted to see you when you were in the Hood, but knew that your trip was already an overextended whirlwind. Interesting developments on the delicious business front, would love to talk with you soon. Now that things are slowing a bit for both of us, it seems we can make it happen! xo

  2. Auntie coco says:

    All I can say is loving your famiy UNCONDITIONALLY is great medicine Stevie…..
    I would love to see you put your mom in your fb family…if its there and I just missed it, Im sorry.

    MOST DIFFICULT MOMENTS OF LIFE : Giving someone a hug when you need it the most yourself. Fighting back the tears in your eyes to wipe off someone else’s tears. Listening to somebody’s grief when you want your misery to be heard. Being the reason for someone’s smile when your own smile is lost. Being just a GOOD PERSON when almost no one seems to be!

    I love you no matter what

    • Hey Auntie Coco. I think I told you before, my mom was in my FB friends but she unfriended me. If you want to see her in my friend list again, I’d send her a message or an email. That being said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it though….she’ll refriend me when she’s ready, and it’s not like the invitation expires. She is my mom after all 🙂

  3. The Kindle can hold many books. I’ll keep buying you kindle gift cards so your old friends can be reborn-revamped. They can be digitized-they can be “Sprinter-Lifed”. 🙂

  4. that is a beautiful post. thank you Stevie.

  5. Jock Bradley says:

    Stevie – I’ve been following your blog for several months now and this has to be (in my estimation) your most beautifully written and emotionally powerful post. You have such a candid gift with words. The photo of you and Tree amongst the boxes is like a bookend to your thoughts. While so sad and heartfelt, your emotions are so easily understood. Thank you for baring your soul to us.

  6. “I can read by touch the words imprinted on my heart”. I can’t help but recall the sadness and feeling of loss I felt with the many garage sales I had to release the loving companions I placed below me (my garage). Stevie it is shocking to me to see the similarity in our paths. I held your heart in mine that day. I knew……

    • Honestly, it still doesn’t feel quite right. I wish I had sent them via book rate to a friend who would appreciate the collection, and where one day I could maybe visit it again 🙁

  7. WOW, Tree, your wife is having affairs with books. Are you aware of this. I’m with you bro, lets get those F’ers!

  8. You are amazing, little one! Go forth with your big adventures and always know that if you EVER need a home to return to, you have one here with me.

    • I am ever swept away by your courage to live a completely courageous and authentic life, Stevie. AND your willingness to share yourself with others. ¡Que´ hermosa, mi hija! Que´ potente. Te amo.

    • Cheryll and Mamamia! Thank you both for your kind words. One of my secret strengths is knowing that I can always come running home to you two! XOXO.

  9. I just love this post! Thanks Stevie. I just love how you mention how we seek to find ourselves through others but can find it within. And with all your experiences you love you!!!!
    I love you too!!!

  10. Heather Dougherty Acevedo says:

    If there was a love it tag, I would “love it.” Beautifully written and very much understood. You found a good one, Tree, and clearly she loves you very much to have sacrificed so much all the while finding herself. Life is good.

  11. Michelle Hamilton says:

    wow my love….after reading about your emotional reconnect with your past world….I shed something …..what you did is very brave and I believe you did the absolute best thing….you will see that one of those books will come back to you in its most positive and beautiful circulation:)…I love you and you are my hero….now go and grow some more:)

  12. Diane Trujillo says:

    Oh, Stevie, I loved your blog…felt your pain in giving such a big part of yourself away…but yet not completely giving away yourself…always a part of you because what you relinquished will always remain inside of you, reminding you how you became you…
    I am glad you both are having some down time and relishing in it…
    Hugs & love:-)Diane

  13. Beautifully written, as usual, Stevie. I hope that you find where you want to be, and figure out if a constant life on the road is what you want- that will definitely warp and change over time too, I believe. There is something about having a piece of land, growing your own food, creating a Space of Love for you and your family- it is difficult, but not impossible, to do while travelling, to be honest. A part of me thinks I would love to be a constant on the road nomad, but you know, I realise now that being in one place can be very powerful on a community and friendship level. But then again, you guys have done that, and now it is time for something different. Will be so wonderful to watch your journey unfold, and to see where you flow to, as I know you both are not affected by dogma or other people’s impressions of you and your life choices. See you on the road!

    Love xoxox

    • Thank you Miin! I usually enjoy being wherever we are (for the most part), I have just been feeling the NEED to slow down…to actually BE wherever we are and not always running around trying to find a place to stay, a place to buy vegetables, a place to park the van, a place for Kiki to run around and play, a place with wifi, and then off again two days later to do it all over again. As you know all too well, that pace is exhausting. And I can’t agree more with you that “There is something about having a piece of land, growing your own food, creating a Space of Love.” I’ve been having that urge as well, along with the hunger to keep exploring the world, but like you I don’t think the two are diametrically opposed. I think the solution for us for now is going to be slowing it down, and at times even snail pacing it for a while so we can connect to a self/place/community and, most importantly for me, to create! I need to sit still and absorb all this inspiration, soak it in and marinate, so that I can create something from within and give it back to the world. This time in our lives is definitely exciting and interesting….I too am looking forward to watching how our journey and yours unfolds! In any case, I know that we’ll find/create what we seek. I hope our paths cross someday! xo. .

  14. super cool…………….

  15. Stevie,
    Once again, I am amazed at how beautifully you express yourself. The strength and courage it took for you to give up your books is admirable.

    • Hey Candy! It’s so nice to hear your voice in my head as I read your comment. Thank you so much for the compassion and kind words…you know that wasn’t an easy feat for me 🙁 I kind of feel like the little kid in the sandbox who shared her toy because she knew she was supposed to, but she’s not very happy about it–like I’m behaving more mature than I really am. Maybe that’s how it happens though. Baby steps. Or maybe I’ll go buy them all back someday and hoard them again. Mine! 🙂

  16. Good writing Stevie. I’m feeling what your writing and that’s the biz. Letting go of what your ego thinks are the things that make you you is something most people never get to in their lives. But I can tell you that this is the biggest step to personal growth.

    Keep up the great writing. You’re an inspiration.

    • Thank you Colin. That’s a big compliment, coming from you! I always knew that I loved my books, but I hadn’t realized just how much I identified with them, or rather, how much my ego thought they made me “me,” as you said. When Tree had his climbing accident, it was so apparent to me that his ensuing identity crisis was mostly ego driven, that he was and is so much more than just a climber. But facing down my own hall of mirrors and recognizing the fractals as illusion is another story. Oh well, it’s a process, and an interesting one at that. With the loss of illusion comes a sense of liberty, a freedom to simply be in the moment, untethered to identity. The adventure continues….

  17. Glad to hear you two decided to slow down – no need to rush to the next town to see basically the same things – maybe rock and mortar put together a different way, water adjusted to different views through streams, lakes and oceans.
    The joy is in the now, where you are at.
    I envy you that not only have you slowed down, but you speak the language – that is ideal for the slow mozey. Find local cool stuff, off the beaten path, under the wrap of things only locals know about their towns.
    How fast should one want to get back to the USA?
    Lying politicians, crooked banks and mega-conglomerates trying to squeeze more profit out of their customers – ooooh, sounds like wonderland!
    Enjoy the ride, the journey, the people. Pause for great periods of time and enjoy where you are at – your unique place in an otherwise obscure place.
    The books – can they not be bough again? It is all “stuff” that can be replaced.
    Replace those books with the stories from the people you meet and the experiences that you go through.
    You and Tree are your books – it is the living that means something – that is what is to be reflected upon.
    Books are someone else’s story.
    You two are creating YOUR story, unique amongst all the stories ever written.
    What an exciting thing to be a part of.
    Play nice and be safe!
    John D. Wilson

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful comment John. We agree, no rush to go back to the U.S. And you are right, we are creating our own story and the moment, right now, is when and where it’s taking place. Really, the books were just a way for my ego to say “See how smart and unique and special I am,” but that’s just silliness. I obviously am no less or more of a person, give or take a few books 🙂

  18. Sara Hemker Geary says:

    You are such an amazing woman Stevie!

  19. Zaina Shuibi says:

    Did kiki go crazy when you were reunited?? I hope she didnt pee on everthing!! But then again you got her back by thowing up in her doggie bowl! I am glad to see your well again(food poisoning) and happy to see you have blissful new routine for your soul.

  20. Terry Buchanan says:

    I keep coming back to this post and reading it. You are truly an inspiration to me…thank you.

  21. You don’t know me, but I want you to know that I too am inspired by your post! It speaks to me.

  22. so beautifully written..just reminded me of all those late nights when I was a teen and in uni reading. I, too, highlighted passage, made notes on the inside covers, and folded over special pages that held some meaning to me. I can understand how hard it might be to let go of those belongings even if you had looked at them in a long time.

    Your life right now, in this moment, sounds exquisite. Glad you recognize your need to slow down, breathe, and just enjoy being in the moment.

  23. I totally get it. I love you. And you know, if it doesn’t work for you and you feel that you need just one old root in the ground, you can always buy them back on amazon, one at a time. Ship them to me and I’ll start a new box just for you; I’ll call it ‘Not mine!’ Glenn will understand.

    You’re brave Stevie. Brave and soft. I love that the most about you. And you know what, being a Nomad doesn’t even begin to define you. You are a child of the world, wherever you are.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Thank you Corrin! You are so very sweet to me. It’s funny, as I was writing this post, I kept thinking of our conversation over wine tasting, about the ‘soul vertigo’ that comes from constant travel, and our need to be active creative agents in our life. My library sort of represented my bat cave, the place I went to lick my wounds and plot my next move. I’m not sure if I’ll be sending Amazon shipments to your house (tell Glenn not to worry just yet), but you should definitely be expecting me to pop by your bat cave time and time again. I love you dearly!

  24. My dearest,
    That post almost made me weep. I very much wish you had shipped your musty and much-loved trove to me, where I would have poured through the pages in which you saw yourself reflected. For those of us from wonky families, we are left to find kinship in the pages of books, art, music, and of course, friends. I adore you, which you well know, but I reminded of our mutual love of literature as a way to make meaning of our lives. What excites me is your renewed commitment to make your own art, which will allow others who read your work to make meaning of their lives, find belonging, locate themselves in the immenseness of the universe. I can’t wait to read more of your work. Your writings here are such a treat! xoxo

    • Sweet Reagie, thank you. Honestly, I wish I had sent them on the slow train to Maine too. The biggest tragedy was splitting up the collection. But, at the same time, letting them go was an interesting exercise in letting go of ego attachment, i.e. I am so smart, have you seen my book collection? It’s funny to think that my identity was so wrapped up in them, or so I thought. It turns out that even though it felt like (and still does, really) I might evaporate without them, I am still here, the same old me, no more no less. And thank you for being excited about my renewed commitment to writing. It’s time to start pulling the art out of me instead of stuffing it in. I can’t wait to send you some pages of Holy Shit! It’s almost ready for a trial read. I love you dearly. xo.

  25. All my books are boxed up in Oregon, I’m dreading the day I have to do the same. On the bright side, you’ve sent a treasure chest of excellent literature to goodwill and in so doing, you’ve made the day of many, many readers. It’ll come back to you, hopefully in a literary karma kinda way 😉

    • Don’t do it Brianna! Okay, that probably isn’t very evolved of me to say, considering that I opted to ‘put my books back in circulation,’ but really, how much good did I do? Was it really worth it? Just leave your books boxed up, safe and collecting dust, until you can bust them out of the gallows and treat them like the loyal friends they are. As for me, well, the deed is done. And, aside from having learned a lesson in letting go of ego attachment, the release of my books has spurred me to write more, to use “the loss” as inspiration to create. It’s the least I can do to pay homage, right? xo.

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