healing promise feature

the healing promise of a faraway place

the healing promise of a faraway place
words x gordon clark
photos x tom hill
Knoydart Peninsula, Scotland with Aire Libre

Don’t mistake this clutter of words for travel journalism. I could fake it (maybe), but… why? Show don’t tell, the Newspaperman once said. The pictures you’ll see breaking up my silly word-hunks will do faaaaar better a job than any wordplay I could offer. Our photographer Tom’s spooky talent for working his viewfinder–more than simply happening upon an image, I mean really crystallizing a vibe in time, telling a micro tale in its own special way… No. No sense in dueling with that.

No. This trip, exploring my Fatherland with Aire Libre, was a trip meant to transport me. Allowing my craving eyes to bask heartily in the medieval mysteries, my mind capering along freely, probing for answers to questions I didn’t know I’d had.

As I pitched this writing idea to Ciele I held to a notion of making Heritage my entrypoint. Half in a literal sense–allowing the scenery, the metaphorical, to push & tug my imagination where it pleased. And the balance? Well, that’d be figurative. Heritage as concept. (Why is it so that some of us are so inclined to wade into these murky waters? Where did I come from? What were they about? How will it really inform our present, our tomorrow’s, any differently?)

In a write-up with Ciele and Aire Libre last year, I was fixated on Memory, discovering how little information our brain can actually store, the bulk of our hard drive being steady in the business of purging, ridding of the tenuous data that doesn’t directly affect our animal basics.
But very early on, I had an inkling this wasn’t going to work so well. I was so charged up for this trip–The Scottish bloody Highlands!–It’s been a thing since first excavating my family ancestry that I knew I just had to see/touch/smell/hear before my carbon expired.

But life’s hopes and reality aren’t always considerate of one another. And before I could even zipper up my oversized suitcase: BREAK-UP. A rough one. A few years’ worth of a loving foundation pulverized; the potentiality of a life together, big dreams dreamt, no mas, gonezo, no mames. And all of those tiny luxuries, like carefree thinking and command of one’s mental, are marauded by confusion/frustration/doubt/rage/emptiness/restlessness. Shit timing, absolutely. But all things that are, were meant to be–my own personal (but hardly illuminating) worldview there.
so. this, then. if we have to categorize this a thing, let’s just term it a ramble with a wanderer’s backdrop.
The jumbo airliner moving me from Los Angeles to Glasgow carves the air at about 550 mph. As if those speeds, or any, could outrun melancholia. Sleep becomes harder, the mind’s in a constantly frenzied state. You oscillate between: “Stay busy, keep preoccupied.” To: “Write down your feelings, mourn this thing as one does a death, embrace this grief cycle!” But rationality has no shot. Logic? Please. You’re now a hapless passenger to impulse. You replay memories, your mind takes volatile leaps in incongruent directions–Did they meet someone new? Are they thinking about you now? Did they know, always, this was an eventuality? So on, so forth.
My first stop on the grieving spectrum became: What a blessing this is. You’ll be able to bypass all of that. Basically EAT, PRAY, LOVE your way through to the other side, unscathed. Food, stunning visuals, movement, drink, all of these things will shield you, this is perfect timing, damnit, LFG!!!
“self-deception remains the most difficult deception.” –joan didion
It’s amazing how easily I can fall in love with abstracts. My imagination just explodes unchecked with little warning. I’ve fallen so hard–heart thudding my chest, genuine excitement–for a place, a setting. The seeds, planted through books (Beatniks & SF), film (auteur filmmakers musing on a derelict NYC) and music (BCBG, Ramones, Basquiat, Talking Heads, again, NYC). A purpose is revealed to me. I’m meant to be there, that fucking place! I’ve fallen hard, pulse sent racing, at the mere glimpsing of a person; Modest, unexpected details speaking volumes to me. A vulnerable look beneath a steely disposition; a curious move or posture and whatever that might hint at. How they might laugh, how big they dream, how deep their melancholies run and how they rescue themselves from the depths. All of this and we’ve never even exchanged a word. Madness, right?
Imagination, to me, is foundational to just about everything; The accomplishment I’ll feel after I run X and X race well; how complete I’ll be if I can just nab that promotion; how the world will view me (rightly!) when I finally buy that jacket… So many hopeful projections, affirmations, all of which were baked into that initial investment, booking this trip to the Scottish Highlands. I would visit this place, reach down to some lichen covered boulder, and be launched into a remembrance of ancestry, teleported to those dark and hard scrabble times of middle history. I would conjure the dramatics of the glens, visualizing the mixed woodlands of pine, juniper. I could feel the quaking ground as the hooves of mammoth steeds clattered down cobbled roadways. Could hear the Gaelic tunes spilling out into the star-dotted night from the ancient pubs. I’d see all of this and gain a perfect sense of self. This is who I am, for this is where I came from… !
“they are the best things, the happiest things, yet they’re the loneliest in the world.” –anthony bourdain
flash remembrances
Bunking in groups, a summer camp zeal to it;
Taking our coffee in the morning as we rub sleep from our eyes,
Feeling that energetic shift as the sun lances through gray, ashen skies;
Chit-chatting over perfect meals, minds actively replaying remembrances of the day previous, excitement for the unknown, of what’s to come;
Easy pleasantries that graduated to in-depth discourse (that meaty stuff);
Drinks of the adult provocation (more than a few of these, our group was very game);
Yoga, sacred movement, breath work, self-love;
Running & exploring, coaxing out the kid in us to wage war with our adult bodies;
Lavishing in visuals, THE GREAT BEAUTY!
Laughing, joking, starting to intuit the nuances in our travel mates’ humor;
Vulnerability, consideration, many healthy pauses as needed;
Plunging neck-deep into freezing bloody damn waters;
Squishing and slogging through bogs of muddy trails;
The cool oxygen, vegetation like balm to the lungs;
Shouting over the din of a primeval pub;
Fiddles and harps and wooded instruments jollying the air as we interview one another,
A trance befalling the group as we stare into nature; how welcoming it is, encouraging even, but of course indifferent;
Accepting the wisdom that at times there aren’t words for what we’re seeing, so why try;
How perfect the most simple existence can really be.

In short order the bonds that are formed in an Aire Libre experience are unlike any others I’ve forged. We’re all game explorers with a ready intention to be moved, a willingness to be moved! Part of that, in my estimation, is due to our daily practice of sharing, typically at a large table during our day’s closing meal, where each of us goes around and tells a little something about their day. How their eyes saw it, the feelings that came and went. Almost always, as the experience rolls on, these postmortems find an all but magical gravity to them. Maybe it’s just that simple a recipe; Open spaces + open people = open, candid dialog.
I remember
(a’ cuimhneachadh):
* Painful confessions about social anxieties;
* Insecurities concerning body and self image;
* How one presents his/her self, the way they speak, the nerves that taunt them;
* Nervousness about upcoming life moves—career changes, moving to a new place;
* Admitting difficulties in making friends;
* Sadness about society, it’s often shit expectations;
* Unease about aging, bodily changes;
* Trouble allowing one’s self grace.

All of it, throughlines we’re all familiar with, some bits more than others. And I’m keeping it superficial here, high-level generalities. I remember rather clearly the confessions of my travel mates. But that’ll always be for us, just for us..

But to this point I’d still spent some odd two or three days drumming up contrived, sugary generalities. But the fourth night in, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Initially, In my mind, bringing up this “Outside of Aire / Scotland stuff” robbed from the group, removed us from keeping present in this experience. “It has no place; leave this stuff for back home, a shrink, the close buddies”, I would self-scold. But true strength is admitting you’re broken and needing help in that moment, not tomorrow. I say this confidently now, but it was a gamble then.
*big sigh* fuck it, I resigned… here’s where I am, I’m having trouble…
And I bumbled through it all, a stammer of words, jumbled feelings. And then, I looked up, my soft focus slowly sharpening again… and I was met with silence. The loudest silence, where a dreaded kind of numb washes over. Like taking a fast spill on a trail run. You’re there, on the ground, your heart pounding your ears, a fierce sweat breaks and stings your eyes, but you don’t quite feel, not yet, you can’t pinpoint the pain. So I was there, this seated circle, suddenly so self-aware, bordering shame. How fucking selfish am I, you’re so stupid, this was wrong, damnit!! Here I was projecting complicated, inexact ideas onto a group of relative strangers, completely out of left field in every sense of the expression…

But here’s the thing that took a second to process: Everyone was right there with me. Eyes enormous, some rimmed with emotion even. Open body language, availability. My mind’s eye can still replay the moment, a testament to its vividness, and my heart softens the same. Grace. When it comes down to it, every one of us knows the pain I was clumsily describing. We might forget–those awful, oppressive times–buried away to dormancy… but they can be re-awakened in a snap. And the details of my story, the How?, Why?, totally unimportant. In some mysterious center to all of us, there’s a lock & keyed space for the shattered bits of a broken heart. An ‘Emotional Traumas’ junk bin. Tapping that, in a group setting, it’s wildly, world-changingly powerful.

Vulnerability. Introspection.
these are the tiny, unremarkable embers that can explode into a four-alarm fireside for communion.
It was a lot, too much almost, and I’ll never forget any bit of it. The words of encouragement, the lived experiences of my travel companions, the soothing truths of their unique existence, it lifted me up, and I could immediately feel the quick-working sutures attempting to stitch my spirit back together. Maybe it’s just the simple prospect of hope, that outstretched, one-syllabled word.

To state the obvious: The heavens didn’t open, fast solutions weren’t manifested in a flash of divinity, but in that room I felt safe. Love became filament, as unseen as oxygen, expressed freely, and I was so there, so keyed-in on my friends, compassion so available, ready, wanting… Time ceases its thrust. Hope.
I slept well that evening, better than I had any night previous.
“The world is violent and mercurial
It’ll have its way with you
We are saved only by love
We live in a perpetually burning building
And what we must save from it all the time is love.”
–Tennessee Williams
There was a fun little movie a decade or so ago by indie filmmaking stalwart Todd Haynes. It’s a quirky take on the biopic, tethered to a gang of acting titans (Kate Blanchette, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger) playing various versions of Bob Dylan at key stages in his musical life. These little impressions didn’t really offer up anything new about Dylan, per se. You basically just saw how he’s constantly reimagining himself, a total remove from the person/artist he was only a year or so ago. But I still found the picture curious (forever the Dylan-as-Icon admirer). By the time credits rolled, you weren’t offered up some silver-plattered, earth-shattering revelation. The director just presented these personages; you were meant to draw up your own conclusion.

And I felt a weird connection to this (imprecise) conceit back in my early 20’s. Who am I today? Who will I be? Constantly on the lookout for a new shell to crawl into, and I could even argue it’s when I feel most alive. So for me, the echoes of my past inform a lot, sure-yes, but they’ve never encapsulated me.
place and setting invariably impress themselves whether you acknowledge it or not. but they very rarely offer absolution.
Touching, smelling, tasting, these sensory charges, they don’t permeate, they’re certainly not some magic elixir, and they definitely won’t shake your soul’s core. But the connections I made to each individual in this group, my movie picture mind plays back all these fractured, little rememberings…

* A poetic blessing (as tradition calls for) of our final night’s meal, expertly, chef-prepared haggis;
* A 15k run, a distance longer than a few thought themselves capable of, and a moment you watched and just knew would be the foundational confidence-build to go farther tomorrow;
* Watching someone carefully, beautifully explain the most horrific loss imaginable, and do it plainly with the air of a mystic, a knowing smile and warm, emotional eyes, insistent that those moments, that grade of devastation, has made them better, has given them a strength for tomorrow and well beyond…
* Remembering how our trip began, that principal address outside of a boutique coffee roaster in Glasgow, our eager-smiling faces surveying the group, imagining who these new friends were to be, the places they’d seen, experiences they had. To the totally new light we’d see each other in at the end, how all of those imaginings of Who, What, Why were replaced by They are, They have, They will, as we saw in short time just how capable we, each of us, were.
This onward and always will be my Scotland, the one I’ll tell my kids about. To hell with the stories and anecdotes I was tendered as a kid. And as I dwell on all these words, wowed at the many ways my gullible mind is duped by my stupid heart, I’m toggling between Whatsapp and IG, cracking some jokes, eyes a’smiling taking in some lost images from someone’s phone from the experience. The periodic checking-in by my new fam, Familia as Aire terms it, two months removed, hasn’t let up one iota.
“after great pain, a formal feeling comes–”
–emily dickinson
This is not a travel journal. Just some simple ramblings of an inordinately messy thinker/romantic/incomplete/know-nothing. With a failed relationship you misplace a few pieces of yourself. But. Mending hearts most always repair on their own, and the process is impossible to speed along. My heart, however, while writing this, is full, recalling my travel mates, and that reticence of meeting strangers on day one, to the hardy hugs, the promises to meet again as we farewell’d each other at the train station. My desire to see more, to open up bigger, be a better listener and friend, it’s All-Time. That’s the power of communing, the healing force of community. So thank you, Scotland, Fatherland. You’ll forever be a place bound to heartache, but that heartache was given generous air space, not stifled, was encouraged to grieve, to ebb and flow as needed. Movement, nature, humanity at its highest ideal… Now what can’t that heal?
about the author
gordon is a ten-year transplant to los angeles where he has become a student of running. he's a newly dubbed ambassador for tracksmith, proud ciele FAM, and a co-director for LA's unsanctioned race series, take the bridge. but aire libre Experiences are where he finds his real zen, showing him that running is well more than numbers and tape-breaking. film & cinema is his number one passion, but he also nerds out on bio-hacking, enjoys puffing cigars and contemplating his next tattoo.
IG: @gordonclark
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