The desert is a place for seekers.
The sands have always held corners of solitude where exceptional women and men renounce the world’s trappings and seek meaning through a deeper sense of self. I never sought the desert. Self-denial at that scale seems perversely indulgent. But the desert has desires of its own, and it surrounds the people it wants.
Five years ago I returned to Canada from months of travel that covered three continents—winding through the deserts and plains of Sub-Saharan Africa and through jungles and cities of India and Southeast Asia. I spent a year paying for rent, food and the basics of a new home with credit during the worst of the downturn, only to liquidate it all and follow temporary work to Toronto. I watched my relationship with a beautiful, caring woman disintegrate and started over in an unfamiliar city. I invested what I could in my mind, body, and career, and found myself bankrupt for the effort. I exhausted my days in a poisonous job and spent my nights in an empty apartment.
I did everything possible to create change. I searched for rewarding work, pursued new relationships, and sought new friendships. Will was the one resource I had, and I spent it until it too was gone. I found nothing. The desert had arrived, and it carried many lessons.
Lessons about the futility of human effort after years of searching, talking and applying offered no opportunities for better work.
About compromise, and the ways that poverty and financial stress leave a person living with little and choosing between unfulfilled needs.
About loneliness and the ways that material failure and the decision not to have children leave a man undesirable as a dating prospect.
I learned about the differences between need and desire—about the ways that desire for success, pleasure and objects is fleeting, and how genuine needs for love, belonging and survival remain tireless through each waking moment.
And finally, after returning to the west coast and losing my job promptly afterwards, I discovered how little I give a shit.
I’m single, closer to forty than not, weighted with debt, and without assets. My decisions have been right but they've resulted in nothing. That's meant to make me a failure. I don’t buy it.
There are two things that haven’t failed—my writing, and the desert itself. The desert’s chosen to make a home around me. So be it. I’ll scratch my words in the sand and see if they’re wiped clean by wind and time. If they’re not, then maybe they’ll draw in the travelers who walk the desert by choice, searching as they have throughout time, for their own true selves.