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The First Step6 min read

This is it. The beginning.

This website will tell the story of how I finally write the book I’ve been waiting years to write. If all goes well, this website will show how to get a book published—the strategies that work, those that don’t, and the long road to being a successful writer. This will be my workspace, and a collective history, and a sortie against the greatest threat facing us today.

The goal is to write the story of climate change. The story is called Carbon because carbon is the problem, and the solution. The solution to climate change exists. We have it. It involves living well, making slightly different choices, and saving ourselves from the danger we created. That part is already written.

But I intend to be honest about this process. Why read any of this otherwise? And I’m honestly terrified, here at the beginning. To make this website and write this book, I had to quit my job. I have only a few months to make this project successful before I’m broke. The time is now, the pressure is on, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I feel like I’m a teenager all over again.

As a teenager I had a burning desire to travel—no, desire isn’t the right word. Compulsion. I felt compelled to travel. I had to travel, as if travel were the only thing I could ever do. I had to go overseas, alone. I didn’t know why. I was very dramatic about it.

I dropped out of high school and worked. I tried an abortive trip to the West Coast, eating only peanut butter and hitchhiking through the desert, but I came back. I didn’t want to head west. I needed to go east, overseas. But however much I needed to go, I was terrified all the same. At seventeen, I had never even lived on my own.

I saved money and prepared and waited—for almost a year—an eternity for a teenager. I put away two thousand dollars and filled a backpack with necessities: camping gear, cooking gear, specially designed rain covers, a water purifier, chemical water purifying tablets, water bladders for purified water, snakebite kit. How could I know what I would find in Europe?

I could barely lift my pack, but I was ready. I had been ready for a while, really, before I could gather the courage to stop my boss at Harmony Works Juice Bar & Bookstore and mumble, “I have to leave.” I was sure she would be disappointed—or yell at me, or worse. But she smiled and said that they would miss me. That was it. I had made the leap. I was leaving. I was more terrified than ever.

One commitment still held me back: our little town in Colorado hosted dancers from the Hopi Nation every year to perform ceremonial dances in the nearby Anasazi ruins. The dancers would stay with people in town or camp near the ruins, and volunteers would shuttle them from their reservation in Arizona. I had volunteered to pick up the dancers that year, and they needed my car, existential trip or no.

The drive took six hours, and for the entire six hours my heart was pounding and my coffee tasted tinny. I would think of what I was planning, of being alone, and I would pray that someone would just tell me I was doing the right thing. I didn’t want to convince anyone, or even tell my story. I wanted someone to come up to me and say, I don’t know what you’re doing or why, but I just needed to tell you that you are doing the right thing. You’re on the right path. Preferably in those words. I wanted to hear that I wasn’t crazy.

Our convoy of cars drove through the Arizona desert and climbed up to Shungopavi, the main town of the Hopi Second Mesa. The town was little more than crumbling adobe, wind and dust. We sat on the concrete floor of the chief’s house, on a plastic mat since there was little furniture, and introduced ourselves. It was as poor and foreign a place as I had ever been. I felt distinctly and obviously awkward, and very alone.

After introductions and small talk during which I hardly said a word, a man came up to me and asked if I wanted to take a walk. Our hosts had wryly decided to call him “John Green-Van” to distinguish him from the other John in our caravan, “John Grey-Hair.” I had never seen him before.

We walked out to the edge of the town, to the cliffs overlooking the valley and distant mesas, overlooking trash and metal that had been thrown over the edge, over the spring where many Hopis still got their water, where I would be told that a giant snake lived that drowned children after dark, over wind and sand and thorns. John Green-Van said, “I don’t know what you’re doing or why, but I felt like I needed to tell you that you are doing the right thing. You’re on the right path. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I just felt like I needed to tell you that.”

Many years later, I have once again quit my job to do something uncertain and possibly foolish. I’m living on the last remnants of a house that I bought when my mother died shortly after I returned to the U.S. It will soon be in foreclosure. I got married five months ago, and my wife trusts me enough to take this leap with me, though not without reservation. She continues to work to support us. I’m not sure she knew what she was getting herself into.

At the moment I estimate I can take about five months to make this project self-sustaining before I have to give it up. I have a plan—Lord knows I’ve had time enough to think one up—and I believe I can make it happen.

The beginning is long overdue. I’ve tried every way I can think of to keep from taking this leap. I’ve pursued jobs that I thought would give me some time to write but might still support me—maybe an office job, maybe a teaching job, maybe starting a business, maybe saving for next year. But there is never enough time or money, and next year never gets closer. Now is the time.

I don’t know if this project will make any difference to anyone but myself, but I have to try. I have to do something; our world is slipping and time is precious. And I have to tell myself that, even if I don’t know what I am doing, I trust that I’m doing the right thing. I am on the right path, whatever it looks like.

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