Yes, in some ways the young man did not present himself sympathetically, but I mostly made up a story based on a three-minute interaction. That story was about me. A projection of what I did not want to own.
Maybe the young man was desperately looking for a toilet. Maybe he was hungry. Maybe his parents were fighting. Maybe his sister was on her phone trying to find information about the trails. Maybe I had no idea whatsoever who these people were or what they were experiencing that day. I certainly didn’t ask or try to get to know them. But ego was immediately ready and willing to project a lot of psychic content onto strangers.
The back-deck OBX conversation mentioned above happened at the beginning of July 2022, four months before We Are The Light would be published. At the time, I was sending hundreds of handwritten postcards to librarians and booksellers all over the country, thanking them for checking out Advanced Reading Copies of my latest and hopefully letting their communities know about WATL. I was working with Avid Reader Press and my editor, trying to land interviews and speaking opportunities. I was proofreading advertising and scheduling online and in-person appearances. I was interacting with wonderful readers via the M.P.L. I was supporting Alicia as she edited the follow up to Smile Beach Murder, which had been on the SIBA bestseller list for three weeks and counting. We were both happily working with our local and wonderful indie bookshop: Downtown Books in Manteo, NC.
The scenery was beautiful.
But I was also googling myself and waiting for reviews and news and validation. An impatient part of me was exasperated and internally spitting out demands, yelling, "Where does this trail eventually go?”
There is indeed a very young man inside of me who wants to know with absolute certainty the outcome of the journey before he'll willingly take the next step, but—while he often makes me feel neurotic—I don’t think I need to shake him. Whenever he shows up I need to sit with him and calm him down and show him how wonderful the now is. I need to tell him that the November 1, 2022 publication date will come and go regardless of what we do or don’t do and that we have no idea what will or won’t happen. Yes, there are metaphorical maps we can read. There are trail blazes. We can ask others for advice. We can google. We can check 'the weather.' We can be good to the people who show up and offer support. But we can really only ever keep walking forward, sit down and wait, or retreat. My inner exasperated young man and I almost always choose to keep walking forward—at least eventually. But obsessively worrying about future outcomes has historically cost us the chance to enjoy a lot of present-moment soul-nourishing scenery.
"This is the point. You get to experience all of this."
Of course, not every day is a walk along a gorgeous mountain ridge.
I'm still attempting to keep my eyes on the 360-degree views of today. I’m going to keep refocusing my inner impatient young man on the wondrous beauty and/or important lessons of right now.
And I'm glad I met the exasperated youth on the trail. He might very well have been the most important part of that day's scenery. A gift from the gods. An encounter with shadow.
Who’s disturbed you? Who have you wanted to shake? Have you seen your shadow out there in the world recently? What lessons can you learn from it?