Friday, April 19, 2013

A hiking epilogue and a published book

So I’ve been running around the past couple of months. 

After I finished my hike in February, a guy named Woody Welch from New Braunfels, Texas picked me up and drove me to Washington D.C., where we’d attend a big climate change rally, hosted by the likes of and Sierra Club.  

The turnout was impressive. According to many accounts, there were upwards of 40,000 people. As encouraging as the size of the crowd was, I couldn’t help but feel a little stupefied, dazed, shell-shocked. Just days before, I’d been walking across the country, often feeling very alone in my opposition to the Keystone XL, but always with a sense of self-assurance and importance made possible by the innumerable interviews I did with the media, not to mention an enlarged blog following. And suddenly, here I am, surrounded by tens of thousands of people (many of whom dressed as polar bears), hoisting signs like “KEYSTONE XL IS STERIODS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE.” 

I was an insignificant atom among a shoulder-to-shoulder swarm of bodies and signs and banners. It was all rather eerie and surreal, and, as much as I agreed with the crowd's message, it was impossible for me to get swept up in the mob-like fervor which had gripped other participants. My ego was getting the best of me, as I’d recognized that my days of having some sort of “voice” on this issue were over, and that what I now had to say was just a faint vibration lost in a deafening chorus. 

Now that my adventure was over with, I had to go through the trouble of getting my life in order. I had car registration bills and taxes to pay, computer files to sort out and organize, possessions spread out across several states. From D.C., I flew to Denver so I could get my van and drive it and all my stuff home to North Carolina. I decided to hang around for a couple of weeks so I could spend time with Josh and play on his coed floor hockey team with the hope of helping them make a playoff run. But alas, the season ended in the semi-finals after a humiliating defeat. 

The next day, I drove across country through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, en route to North Carolina, which proved to be a fairly uneventful trip, but one made enjoyable by the many Radio Lab episodes I’d downloaded and listened to on my iPad.  

And so: I’m back at the place that most resembles home, North Carolina’s Acorn Abbey. David, since I’ve been gone, has become active with a grassroots anti-fracking group here in Stokes County, Lily the cat still hisses at me when I make affectionate advances, and the five hens I’d raised last year are all grown up (though one has been evicted by David for being a he). We’ve since added three more girls (or who we think are girls), naming them after 1950’s starlets (Bridget, Sophia, and Marilyn). 

In less than a month my book comes out, so I’ve kept busy doing promotional work, like this New York Times 2,000-word adaptation of my book. The article was translated into Portuguese and re-printed in Brazil, so now I have thirty new Brazilian Facebook friends who’ve sent me a mailbox full of messages like, “Será um vencedor!!” which I don't understand, but nevertheless appreciate. 

Despite the relaxing and familiar setting, and despite my several recent successes, and despite my new Brazilian friends, it seems I'm forever doomed to be weighed down by uncertainties and anxieties. 

How will my book be received? Maybe everyone will hate it. Maybe it’ll be ridiculed by critics. Maybe internet forums and message boards will heave and splatter me with vitriol-filled and poorly spell-checked rotten tomatoes. These are the thoughts I daily fret over.

I googled “Walden on Wheels” a few weeks ago and agonized over two negative reviews—one of which called my writing “as thick as pancake batter,” and another which called the book “middling.” I worried that maybe these are the best reviews I was gonna get. It’s usually my first instinct to make the best of a bad situation, so I thought that these negative (but far from harsh!) reviews were going to have to be the ones my publisher’s marketing team will have to work with for back cover blurbs. Instead of “Inspiring!” or “A raucously funny adventure,” we'll have, in big letters, “Middling!” and “As thick as pancake batter!” 

I mean, everybody likes pancakes, right? 

The other day I went to the mailbox and found a big package in which three copies of my book were enclosed. I ripped it open and pulled out a copy. At first, I was a bit stunned to see my name on the front cover of a real book. For a moment, I became an aesthete. I traced the ball of my index finger over the book’s textures: the shiny-smooth and vaguely-embossed lettering of “Walden on Wheels,” the coarse grain cover, and the leaves of crisp parchment within. I flipped through the pages, admiring the layout, the font, the presentation. I laughed stupidly. If just in this one moment I could forget about all of my anxieties and savor the sense of accomplishment from having done the impossible: publishing a book. 

I held the book in my palm, and felt, in this one pound bundle of paper, several years of grief, desperation, anxiety, frustration, and despair, but also jubilation, inspiration, and ecstasy. 

I reminded myself that I’m a heretic, and that I ought not give a shit about what other people think, and surprisingly, this tactic, this little reminder, has worked wonderfully. The book, after all, like the hike, was always a struggle, but a journey worth taking, regardless of how gloomy the destination.


Anonymous said...

I used to enjoy pancakes quite a lot. But in the last few years i have discovered they make me feel ill after eating them. They give me an upset stomach.

Anonymous said...

You can't please everyone. I think what you've been doing is pretty amazing. I'm looking forward to picking up a copy.

Radio Lab rules! Just listened to "Guts" today and loved it.

Tesaje said...

You got a lot of good comments on the Times article. My copy should be coming next month. Don't get discouraged, just keep on keeping on. And you have another book to write!

Unknown said...

Congrats on getting this one published; at the end of the day its people with motivation (like you) that force me to remain continuously optimistic

unabashedlyashley said...

I will purchase a copy. I've been following you here for years. My Grandfathers last name was Walden.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Ken. I knew you were a winner when you sent me a handwritten thank you card for my donation to some scholarship that you were promoting a couple of years ago. Sending me a letter from a van with everything else that was going on in your life was an impressive little thing.

I've vicariously enjoyed following your adventures through this blog. More young guys need to strike out as you have and find adventure with tinges of danger. But very few could chronical it so thoroughly and eloquently. I've encouraged my much younger brother to just pick up and go to Wyoming or somewhere and get one of the many jobs there and just see what happens. But he stays home with mom and dad. . .

Anyway, congratulations on the publishing. I wil be sure to pick up a copy.

earth_architect said...

February 17th was a good day in Washington DC, glad you were there ! We were too!

BTW when #NOKXL becomes reality, the path you followed will be renamed Kenstone's Pipeline.....for your intrepid trip !

Anonymous said...

Your Times article is terrific! I'm looking forward to your book. Up here in Pollock Pines, CA we San Francisco transplants have to drive 12 miles to get the NY Times, but reading articles like your's makes it worth it.
Good luck to you!

Ub said...

I don't like to own alot of stuff but even so your book will be the first physical one I've bought in years. I've followed your blog for so long and have gotten alot of enjoyment from it and I'm sure your book will be an equal amount of fun to read! To bad I can't buy it when I'm in the US if it's released in bookstores. I'm Going to NY and Washington in the beginning of May but will be going home 2 days before the release. Cheers from Sweden!

Unknown said...

Hooray! a new post!

If it helps at all, i actually didn't find out about the Keystone XL or even the Tar Sands until you started posting about it. Which led me to look it up and spread awareness about the harm it is causing. So your activism worked.

On the book: I am more than excited to read it. If it is anything like the blog i won't be able to put it down.

Jessica said...

So glad to see a new post! I'm so excited to see the new book when it comes out! If the book is anything like your blog posts, I'm sure it will be wonderful :)
As to the reviews, don't beat yourself up about them too much. For every critic who can't relate to it, there are dozens of people like me who will love it! Best of luck!

shopteacher said...

I really enjoy your blog and hope you will continue someday. I will definitely buy your book and pass it on to friends.

Ken said...

Thanks for the kinds words and well wishes all!

Rayn said...

MY copy just shipped from amazon! Looking forward to reading it Ken.


unabashedlyashley said...

As promised I purchased my copy today. I can't wait to get my hands on it. I've also posted links to purchase it on Amazon to my FB. I wish you much success.

Unknown said...

hmmmm... if you were worried about your book being reviewed, you wouldn't be HUMAN. if you weren’t human you wouldn't have learned a thing. If you weren't lazy you would be sitting in piles of debt with no book, and if you weren't brilliant you wouldn't be blowing the minds those who have "social acceptations of America" and asking people to Change their way of living, because their way of living isn't clearly bringing them happiness. If you weren’t annoyed with the "normal" you would still be miserable, and if you weren't miserable you wouldn’t be willing. Willing to get excited about taking trips through the world on a 6000 budget. You'd take no joy in small moments with people, guitar and a hot can of soup, but instead be chasing after an impossible form of idealism more wants and desires that never fulfill. If you didn't decide to do it all differently, you wouldn't have pissed off one human, and you wouldn't have inspired a million others. For all the ones you've shown that love your work, your pancake filled words, surely outweighs the bad reviews of ones they will never "get it", cause sir…. You've certainly “got it.”

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Walden on Wheels. I cannot understand how anyone could give it a negative review. My wife and I were both blown away and inspired by your writing style. At a time when it seems that nobody in this country values a liberal arts education, you managed to explain so eloquently what we're all missing by focusing too much on money, success and materialism.