Rough Thoughts

Or, as I like to think of this, All the Things I Didn’t Say in the Recently Posted All the Things I didn’t Say in 2017.

I went to a writer’s retreat this weekend on the Oregon Coast with some serious powerhouses: Carrot Quinn, Rahawa Haile, Vanessa Friedman, Lacy J. Davis, Chardonnay, Nicole Antoinette, Kelly Kate, Christina and Alley Hector (pictured above). This rough list of things was me trying to create a starting point. I wanna barf it out and move on to writing the good stuff.

Impostor syndrome. Definition: Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience, is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Survivor’s guilt. Definition: Survivor’s guilt, also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.

Figuring out where my fatness and queerness fit into outdoor culture. This is a big one and could likely be the center of my work in 2018. Judging by outdoor social media, advertising and all of the conferences I went to in 2017 (except for the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit), the answer is nowhere. Or maybe the better, more positive, answer is where myself and very few others are creating it. Being the only fat or queer person in groups or gatherings SUCKS. Being the only person with both of these identities is worse. Queerness and homophobia are rarely discussed. The casual fatphobia and body-shaming I’ve heard from well-known and loved people in the outdoors has shredded me, at times. So many of the conversations about diversity and inclusion are about race and this is absolutely necessary and needs to continue happening and moreso. However, I have not yet found room for myself in my queer and fat identities outside of where I am creating that room. This is both difficult to navigate and troubling to embody. Fatphobia is one of the most oppressive forces in American culture and the most accepted. I more than acknowledge that racism, transphobia and class are just as, and at times more, prevalent, but they are often coded. People don’t have to code their fatphobia. We aren’t yet in the foothills of this conversation, we haven’t even approached the parking lot of the trailhead to the foothills of this mountain of a conversation.

The extreme and not-so-extreme wealth in outdoors culture and the bitter reality of not fitting in. There is a lot of inherently entitled, privilege-based inspo in the outdoors world. “Follow your dreams!” “If you want something bad enough, you can have it!” “Work hard, play hard!” The other day a friend of mine made an FB post about how he wished he could just be an artist in the woods, but how impossible that was as a poor, fat, queer, person of color. I’m not a person of color and I don’t want to hijack his experience, but I know this so fucking well. That feeling of impossibility around things so many people do with ease. Because lack of money and time can translate to lack of energy and the stifling of creativity. Then there’s the depression and mental health stuff that often barnacle poverty. So many easy-seeming things feel impossible when you don’t have money. Taking any time off when you could be working and making money. Or having debt, which makes you feel like you can’t do anything fun in good conscience. And then there’s the whole visibly possessing certain identities (being a person of color and/or trans, queer, fat, etc) and how unsafe that makes so many things feel, in general, especially when in new situations and you’re The Only One.

I’ve found it really difficult to connect with so many people I’ve met this year. Hearing about casual trips to Sweden or about spending two months in a National Park for fun and not work-trade feels alienating and disenchanting, especially when I’m then asked about my adventures. Well, I did a lot of day hikes and I went camping for one weekend about 4.5 hours from home because I didn’t have the time or money to do anything more. And no, no one is doing or saying anything wrong because they have more wealth and opportunities than I do, but the disparity is palpable. Sure, I know plenty of people who aren’t wealthy who’ve had their share of international travel, etc. Resources aren’t always financial. Access and transparency with information (like how to do things on the cheap) and access to gear are also privileges. So is an inherent sense of personal safety in terms of people not messing with you or knowing that if something happens, you actually have the ability to ask for financial help from someone like a family member. There’s always so much more that goes into this than simply getting to a destination. As I find myself with more of this access now than I had even a few months ago, I am committed to sharing everything that I learn.

Lastly, there is a shit-ton of wealth in the outdoor industry and I can’t help but think about how weird the disbursement is. In short, always ask for money for your time.

Making mistakes. I am extremely hard on myself. I freeze in it. It’s joyless and disrespectful to the good work I do. Man, the scarcity runs deep. As if one mistake will topple everything. Yes, I am putting myself out there and naturally people will look at me as a figure of something, but I’m just another person doing their best. I can’t control the weather on group hikes or whether or not park services have properly stocked toilet paper in bathrooms or if you can’t enter my photo content because I’ve asked for selfies and you have a stalker. It’s all little things and clearly none of it is really about me even if it’s directed at me, but I internalize the hell out of it. Obviously, I also have to let other adults take care of themselves and their own needs! I feel embarrassed admitting this stuff, but I’m just going to leave it.

Success and the future. Maybe it’s foolish to call what I’m doing successful when I can’t even begin to think about doing this as my full-time job, but there have definitely been successes. There is a feeling of knowing more is to come and that feels absolutely wild to me. I don’t know if it’s because I am doing this in the wealthy outdoors world, but so often when people ask me what’s next for Unlikely Hikers I don’t even know how to answer because it’s all so new. Basically, I want to keep doing a good job. I want to keep learning how to make the outdoors as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. When working with big brands and even other small ones, people are often surprised to hear that I’m not pressed to get more followers (ie that I won’t simply volunteer my time for someone else’s work simply for exposure) and that I don’t intend to make this a big outdoors brand or take over the hiking world. There will be no ambassador program or anything like that. There are too many liabilities with how intentional this work is.

This quote from a recent facebook post by, Jainee Dial, of Wylder Goods, makes me feel really seen and also like I want to rip my skin off because every day I feel like I’m both nailing it and completely blowing it:

“The highs are sharp with knifeblade edges, the lows cut deep forming cavernous lines, and day in and day out the pattern looks like a graph charting an earthquake but extended out over hours, weeks, and months.

Thrilling highs.

Gut-churning lows.

Powerful growth.

Financial crisis.

Unbelievable generosity.

Utter desperation.

Repeat.”

4 thoughts on “Rough Thoughts

  1. Thanks Jenny, I’m reading. I keep having to redefine success for myself like everyday. Knowing our purpose, rising to our potential, being our best selves…all this stuff is so relative. Thanks for naming it.

    Liked by 1 person

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