Why Not You? Why Not Now?

mutiny of dreamers: the beginning

I guess you could say the Mutiny began because of all the walking.

By walking, I actually mean walking. It has always been my way of working through a thing. So that’s what I did. Every morning at 5:00 a.m. Every afternoon at 5:00 p.m. Days and months of pounding at a dusty canal trail.

Walking was my way out of grief and into the adventure of living. But the walking; that was a hard thing. I walked so I could breathe. It was a way for me to survive on the days that were too dark for me to do anything else. When I couldn’t sit in front of a computer screen or speak to a client or face someone asking how I was; when I couldn’t live life, I walked. I just kept walking.

Las Vegas sunrise behind her glitter.

The idea of a pilgrimage first settled into my skin long before the walking. It appeared at the fresh beginning of the new year. I like to blame Peter and his plan to walk the Camino in Spain. Peter is an English gentleman I met just as 2014 was rearing its ugly head. Our paths crossed at a conference I was attending in Las Vegas. Unable to face another holiday with the ugly of my impending divorce weighing on me, I left Phoenix to get away for the New Year. In the Arizona desert I felt alone, but in Vegas I would see friends and clients.

It was harder than I thought facing my friends with the news that my marriage was ending. Their sorrow, the “why’s” and what felt like pity was an uncomfortable burden to carry. I had managed to escape some of their questions one morning as I sat waiting for an event to begin when I heard a soft voice speak, “May I sit here next to you?” I looked up to find the kindest eyes in the face of a middle aged man. Something about his manner put me at ease. He was rest in the middle chaos. Within a few minutes of conversation, it also was clear to me I had found a storyteller.

Peter with one of our friends, Chris. Chris is the weirdo with the container on his head.

Peter doesn’t just tell a story. He breathes it.

He carries you along with him and you are there in the moment. You will get caught away, laugh, and end up in a bout of tears. I did. Somewhere between him traveling 7,000 miles to grill out hamburgers for his family on an Australian beach and his explanation of his work in Eastern Europe, I found myself completely lost in his story. And then he said it.

“I’m taking a pilgrimage this year, setting aside forty days and walking across Spain. Forty days of contemplation.”

Something inside me awoke from it’s broken slumber. A pilgrimage. I needed that. I needed to remember who I was, I needed to find my why. I wasn’t sure about much in the world anymore and I knew even less about myself.

But I couldn’t walk across Spain. Forty days was a long time. I was in the middle of a divorce. My life was shredded; Mardis Gras confetti the day after a parade. Who was I to be contemplating a journey like this?

We finished our conversation, promised to reconnect before the end of the conference and went our separate ways. And things got busy. I didn’t forget our conversation but I forgot to look him up. The days were filled with running from one coffee to the next with potential clients and the nights were one network event after another. One evening, in an exhausted state, my friend Jared pulled me down in a chair next to him outside one of the meet-ups.

“How are you?” he asked, “I mean, really. How are you, really?”

“Honestly? I’m pretty f-d up right now. And I’m so afraid I’m going to screw everything up,” I began to cry. My mask had been firmly in place, but the direct question and lack of sleep from the past few days took me down.

A very terrible picture of Jared and I.

He put his arm around the back of the cold metal folding chair I was draped over. “You are not going to screw everything up. You are brave. You are stronger than you know and you are a warrior.” He looked me in the eyes, “Melissa Hawks, you are special. You change the world.”

And for a moment, I believed it. Words are powerful that way. Spoken in the proper time and with a firm resolution, words remind us of who we are.

The very last day I sat in the middle of a smoky casino Starbucks.

I was just ending a conversation with a few friends when Peter walked through the entrance and joined us. After a few moments, they headed off to their final conference sessions and he and I were left alone.

It was one of those moments in time you remember. The kind which soften around the edges and give a little at the center but the feel of them never changes.

“I’ve been thinking about your pilgrimage,” I said, “it inspires me to want to take my own but I can’t take forty days out of my life. That’s crazy.” I could only imagine what my family and friends would think. Their opinions weighed heavy on me. Here I was already blowing my life to bits by doing something several of them had made their disapproval clear about, getting a divorce. How could I take forty days and go gallivanting about somewhere as well?

He looked at me with a gentle fierceness and said, “Why NOT you, Melissa? Why NOT now? And how many days DO you have left?”

His last question left me shaken because I knew the answer to that question. It sounds a bit odd, but I did. It’s pretty rare to know that answer. In fact, unless you are in a Nicolas Cage movie, how often can you respond with certainty when someone asks: “how many days do you have left?” But I did know the answer. I had just completed an interactive journal called Five. On one page was an equation which led to the conclusion that I was in possession of approximately 16,000 days, barring no sudden acts of God.

“What are forty days compared to the many?” he wondered. And then he asked if he could pray for me. In the middle of that gloomy casino coffee shop, he placed his hand on my shoulder and whispered a quiet prayer. No one stopped. No one stared. It wasn’t loud and obnoxious. But it ripped me open and the dream which lived deep in the visceral part of me began to mutiny.

Forty days. I could do it. Not in Spain and not alone. I began to imagine my own pilgrimage and as I did an idea formed in my head. What if mine was a pilgrimage of people? People who had impacted my life in some way. Not just friends and family but people who were living their dreams and whose work had somehow shaped what I was doing.

Six months prior to the conversation with Peter, a name had popped into my head one day. Mutiny of Dreamers. I didn’t know at the time what it meant but I knew I liked the feel of it. In late October I began writing lines and paragraphs which seemed to flow with this name. A dream that mutinies.

It was early November the first time I said the words out loud. In print actually. “I think I’m writing a book. I’m kind of scared,” I told an acquaintance. He asked me why I was afraid and I said, “I guess I’m afraid someone will tell me it’s a crazy idea.”

“Why would you care if someone tells you it’s crazy? People tell me what I do is crazy almost everyday.”

And so the idea of the crazy book and this crazy pilgrimage of people collided in my head. What if I talked to each of them about their dreams? What if I discovered what the journey was like for them? What if they told me the story of what happened when their dream mutinied and took over? What if I learned that there was some sort of rhyme and reason and process in what looked like beautiful chaos?

I am a story scientist. An anthropologist of dreams.

I didn’t just want to hear their stories, I wanted to understand. To take it apart. To put it back together. To comprehend. To piece together the what, why, and how. To understand how their threads connect to mine and our stories weave together into the greater narrative.

This was how my dream mutinied; this pilgrimage.

It would take nine months and walking the same route every day for one thousand miles of blisters and tears across the desert to get there. But I did. Every step since has been just as difficult but worth it. Once you are ready to fight, once your dream has mutinied beyond an idea, through your grief and some shade of healing, then you can begin chasing it. Don’t be naive. It is blood and sweat and hard work. There isn’t much glory and you don’t get it handed to you just because you were crafted for it. Figure out what you love and what you’re good at and then work your ass off to make it a reality. That is what each of the dreamers in this story have done. It is what I did and am doing. And, Dreamer, when you’re ready, it is what you’ll have to do…

This is part one of a series of thirty-one posts in #write31days for October which tells the story of a two month cross-country roadtrip called Mutiny of Dreamers. Special thanks to all the backers who helped make my trip a reality. They’re listed here.