Category: Short Stories

My History of 2017 Featured Image

My History of 2017: A Nostalgic Look Back at a Wild Year

OK, I think I know what you’re thinking: It’s almost the end of April and it seems a little late for a recap of 2017. Heck, 2018 is already more than a quarter of the way behind us. But, I ask you this: is it ever too late to perform a little healthy reflection on where we’ve been and the path we’ve taken to get where we are today?

For me, 2017 was an exceptionally bumpy ride on the roller coaster of life. I struggled inward probably a lot more than I let on outward. I questioned a lot of the ways in which I was spending my time and whether these activities were serving my long-term goals. The purpose of this post is to reflect. And to maybe share something that will resonate with YOU!

Quarter One: On the Road

2017, for me, began in a warehouse in Brooklyn. I was at an EDM concert featuring Gareth Emery. This was a sabbatical from the Run Across America “project” I had been working on since September 2016. Although in terms of the progress of the run we were only in Virginia, we moved ahead as an (almost) complete team to celebrate the coming of a new year.

In the months that followed, we moved our way through Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and finally into New York where the run finished at the 9/11 Memorial site. The next day I was in a truck heading down to New Jersey to help my cousin and his girlfriend prepare for their own cross-country move to San Diego.

After a little under a week in Jersey, we set out with sights on Austin, Texas, where my brother is living and where I resided prior to the Run Across America. As we drove from Jersey south and into North Carolina, then through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and finally into Texas, my heart was full of pride for the time I had invested over the previous six months and excitement for a more “domesticated” lifestyle back in Austin.

my history of 2017 - on the road

Quarter Two: Back in Austin

Arriving back in Austin in early February, I was ready to get back to work as an outdoor guide. I quickly had an interview set up with my old boss, who had given me the green light to embark on the Run Across America journey six months earlier. But, a few things had happened in that time.

First, the journey was supposed to last only 2 months. While this was an unrealistic goal in hindsight, it led to me extending my time away from the job I previously had several times over. This put understandable stress on my relationship with my boss. So going into my interview (let’s call it an ‘I’m back interview’), I was excited but also a little nervous.

My boss wanted to know my long-term plans. I didn’t have any. I told her I could commit at least through the summer. I think she sensed some hesitation about my comfort level with living in Austin for an extended period before I even knew that I had a discomfort about that idea.

Nevertheless, I had my old job back after the interview and I hit the ground running. Life was busy, but fun. Days were spent teaching lifeguarding and wilderness first aid, taking school and business groups kayaking or paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake, guiding a river trip out in East Texas, and with countless other exciting and valuable programs.

My brother and I moved out of the apartment we had been in at the end of our year-lease and into a nice house with an amazing landlady. We each now had separate rooms (as opposed to sharing as we had been), and we liked having our space. We were looking forward to our parents visiting for the 4th of July holiday.

history of 2017 - austin

Quarter 3: The Lowpoint

A few weeks before the 4th of July, work led me out to the hill country to teach a lifeguarding class for upwards of 40 students. I went along with three co-workers. The week before we would teach, we had our own learning to do, as we completed a high ropes training class. This class went great and I was excited about new knowledge and the opportunity to apply it.

The first couple days of class went great, with the four of us as instructors presiding over about 10 students at a time during skills practice. Then we received word that the four of us were not supposed to be teaching every day of class together. Hours needed to be managed and each of us should be taking at least one day during the class. This was news to all of us, and without getting into too much detail, it didn’t sit too well.

This description may not serve to fully convey the emotional toll of the situation, but it was not the first time that instructions had been unclear and undue tongue-lashings had been doled out as a result. I went from very excited about my future with that company to very much questioning my role and commitment within a few days.

Then my parents came to visit. We had an excellent time showing them Austin and attending Willie Nelson’s Picnic on the 4th of July, where we saw Willie and Family, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Turnpike Troubadours, and a variety of equally talented and entertaining musicians. My mom had to fly home and my dad would be driving their RV back to Tahoe. This gave he and I one last night to catch up.

In the RV, we talked of their life back at home, my brother’s progress as a musician in Austin, the completion of the Run Across America, and various other topics. I vented some minor frustrations about work, but then he simply asked me, “Are you happy here?” And for the first time in a while, I realized that I couldn’t, truthfully, answer, Yes.

I cried. We talked more, trying to pinpoint the source of my uncertainty. I felt that something had to give, but I was scared to make something happen. I felt that I was doing good work for good people, but I was still unhealthy and unhappy.

history of 2017 - low point

Quarter 4: A Decision for ME!

That talk with my father gave me the confidence I needed to make a change. I’m forever grateful that, for many years, the last thing my father would say to me as I left the house in the morning was, “Have fun!” After all, if we’re not having fun and enjoying our time in this life, what is it worth?

After stirring on that conversation for a few more weeks, I decided it was time for a major shift. I decided to leave my job in Austin. I decided to leave my brother and our Husky, Zeke. I decided that Austin was no longer serving me and that, in my current state, I was no longer serving Austin. I decided to move back to Truckee, CA, my home, and to take a guide job with an adventure company there.

Once the decision was made, things didn’t automatically brighten up. There were several tough conversations with my boss and coworkers. There was still this feeling that I was operating as a very small version of the man I’d hoped to be. But gradually, things began to shift. I started to get excited about seeing and adventuring with old friends in Truckee.

And, perhaps most importantly, I found a woman who (at the time I had no idea of this) would become my girlfriend and who shares in many of my dreams and many of my passions and who I honestly believe makes me a much better version of myself than I am without her.

I never liked the idea of a long-distance relationship, but with her, it was so easy and so natural. She visited me twice in Truckee during the fall and our time together was magical. She moved down to Costa Rica for four months and encouraged me to come visit her, which is where I sit now writing this blog. I’ve wanted to come here for more than 5 years and here I am!

Conclusion: Don’t Be Afraid to Change!

At the start of 2017, or even in August when I finally left Austin, I never thought I’d be sitting in Costa Rica at the end of April 2018. I never thought I find a woman that empowers me and helps me remain confident in the man I’m becoming and the skills, knowledge, and experience that I bring to the world.

I spent much of 2017 feeling scared. I stuck with a job for far too long that made me feel like I was always avoiding doing something wrong rather than striving to do something incredible. I had no motivation to pursue my writing passions or a freelance income.

In the time that has passed (and I honestly haven’t thought of this until just now) since I made the decision to make a big change in my life, so much has happened. I have self-published two books. I have built trust with a new employer. I have significantly improved my financial standing. I have rebuilt a reliable and sustainable freelance writing business.

I have built savings and paid down debts. I have traveled to experience a new place. I have renewed brainstorming on and planning for on a future vision that, for a long time, I felt was only moving further and further away. And most importantly, I have found love.

My final message to you today is: Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Change! Change is always scary. None of us are blessed with a crystal ball. (If you are, please keep it to yourself. I find the future much more interesting when it is unknown!)

But I’m a firm believer that good things happen when we make decisions to improve ourselves. For so long this year, I was scared to make a decision because I was scared to upset others. I suffered because I was scared others would suffer.

But truly, if I’m not happy, I’m not serving the world to my fullest potential. And that is all I want for you: for you to be happy and for you to fulfill your potential. And that is why I share this journey with you!

my history of 2017 - my love

Let’s Connect! Tell Me What You Think!

If you liked what you read, didn’t like what you read, or have questions about what you read, I’d love to hear from you! I’d also like to hear about your 2017 journey and how you’ve used the lessons from last year to create a better, happier, healthier 2018!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond soon!

I’d also encourage you to share this post with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals

Thanks for your support!

Tucker Ballister

Shifting Sands Featured Image

Shifting Sands

Written in January 2016

It’s been nearly two months since we high-tailed it out of Truckee to beat an impending winter storm. In that time we’ve visited with friends and family in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Los Angeles, Ramona, and Palm Desert. We met new friends in places like Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Slab City, CA, and Las Cruces, NM. And we’re building a network here in Austin, though we’ve only lived here for just over two weeks. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve found great people. But am I one of them? Am I not too selfish and confused to fit in with this crowd? How do I escape this constant anxiety?

The sand takes lines unknown. –D.H. Lawrence

My personal sands are shifting a lot lately. Some days winds are steady and the sails are full. Others feel as though life itself has been suspended. Am I still dreaming? Is this reality? And what, in my own sort of personal truth, really is reality anyway?

I chose this path for a very simple reason: I believe my brother possesses a musical talent that should be shared with the world, and I was afraid that, so long as he remained comfortable in Truckee, his opportunity to share this talent would never materialize. So, ignoring the limitations of my own financial situation and my fears pertaining to how we might actually be able to co-exist, we fused our souls in this great adventure.

At times, I lamented the amount of work that was required to simply get the RV ready for the journey. In other moments, I worried how our present choices may negatively impact our future. Now, finally here in Austin for more than two weeks, and with a place to stay for the long-term, I still feel very anxious.

That may be because we’ve elected to invest time into building an RV pad for ourselves, rather than spending a bit extra on an existing facility. Sure, we may save money in the long run. And sure, there will certainly be a moment in the future when I can look back on myself and laugh about the anxiety in whose grips I now feel firmly grasped.

But Wait…Forward Only, And NOW!

Affirmations. I’m still young. I’m still healthy. I have a roof over my head, useful possessions to my name, and the ability to be gainfully employed once again in the near future. This art of being a writer, although envied by many I’ve talked to, often, at least to me, feels quite unenviable. There may be no greater feeling, as a writer, than sitting down with no definitive subject upon which the focus must remain. There is great freedom in the ability to sit, pen in hand, without client or editor breathing down your neck (indeed, without one’s duality breathing down one’s own neck as well). How wonderful to be free to write about anything or nothing. And to feel zero anxiety either way? It simply would not matter!

The blank canvas tempts the artist so. But the artist sort through passion, dreams, and visions to pick a singular subject upon which to focus their next work. The imagination runs wild. But, I suppose, such is a natural occurrence when it has been substantially bottled up for so long. The reins, the reins! Where are the reins?! Oh no! More creative thoughts spilling out unbridled. Off into the ethers you go! I wish for your joyous return someday, hopefully not too far down the line.

Growing Pains Featured Image

Growing Pains

To myself, Too to myself? Unsure of myself. The value of sharing? The value of internal processing? Back in Austin. Back feeling unconfident. Over-thinking. Hypercritical. Stomach in knots.

Over what? A job? Responsibility? Isn’t freedom what I wanted? Isn’t it a blessing just to feel this warm wind on my skin? Isn’t this a place where you can be your self? Your Self. What is that? Who is that?

A man. 26. With a dog. No girlfriend. Living with his brother. Impatient. Distracted. Scared of commitment. Searching for happiness, And for love, And for lust, And for mystery.

At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to feel connected? Connected to the Earth. Connected to the Stars. Connected to each other.

And are we already so? Or is there something we’re missing? Did we miss the path because it was overgrown and under-maintained? Are we afraid because it has been so seldom traveled?

Or are we on it, unaware, and simply experiencing growing pains?

Flying into LA Featured Image

Flying Into L.A.

Flying into LA today, I wanted to be happy to see California, and the southern mountains, and the big blue ocean. I wanted to smile thinking about good friends there, great times spent down amongst that sea of suburban homes and in nature just surrounding them.

But I couldn’t. Instead, I felt depressed. Depressed by the overbearing nature of man. Depressed looking out on the vast urban sprawl laid out over the land like the paradoxical red carpet. It’s all too square or rectangular. Too many right angles. Not enough curvature. A wholesale lack of spontaneous beauty.

Except on the coast itself, and in the mountains to the east. There, Nature holds on, strong. The mountains look down in laughter. Silly humans. The ocean laps at the shore, patiently painting its own picture. Caring less about the tractors daily manicuring its sandy canvas. For all the grandeur of the most architecturally unique building from the ground, as my flight rises over the city, it is all so easily dwarfed by the mountains and the clouds, the ocean, and the sky.

For many years, we have attempted to tame Nature. Every year a new layer of concrete or asphalt. Every hour more creatures captured and caged. Every minute more effort to control a force so uncontrollable.

But why tame a beast so beautiful in its wildness? Out of fear, no doubt. Fear bred from a lack of understanding. But what, truly, is there to be scared of? We think of life as linear. We examine “natural” trends along a finite timeline. Is time not infinite? Is Nature not cyclical? Are we not part of this cycle? Man does not walk through life on a timeline while the cycle of Nature spins around him, the unenlightened center of the universe. No, man’s existence is cyclical.

We talk about the “delicate balance of Nature.” But what if Nature is not so delicate as we believe? What if its hardiness exists to withstand the selfishness of man? What if it is capable of taking the punishment so that we might actually learn from our brutish behavior? I think it so. But I will not run around willy-nilly, exercising a lack of respect for Nature’s majesty and its mystery. Sure, Nature may be able to handle our ruthless selfishness. But, I venture, it will teach us much more if we approach it with profound respect and admiration.

We are now so removed. We must reconnect. No man is an island. No island cut off from the ocean. No tree separate from the entire forest. No forest devoid of its inhabitants. We must exercise more compassion towards our fellow Earth-dwellers. I spoke to Mother Nature today. She asked that we be nicer to one another.

There Once Was a Boy Featured Image

There Once Was a Boy…

There once was a boy who lost confidence in himself. He allowed others to dictate his course in life, and as a result, he rarely found himself completely happy or satisfied with his position. He constantly desired more, and always felt like he didn’t have enough time to get what he wanted. He struggled to prioritize that which he desired. He chipped away at his goals inconsistently. 

He made a little progress here, made small advancement there, but it was always a long while before he could accomplish anything substantial. And forever he was at risk of setbacks that wiped out even the slightest bit of progress he’d been able to make.

He wanted to break away. He imagined leaving it all behind and starting over in a fresh place with fresh faces. No attachments. No subconscious desires to keep those he loved happy. He wanted those he loved to look upon him favorably. But the actions he wanted to take didn’t always correspond favorably with that desire.

He felt out of sync with the universe. He went walking through life just as the proverbial bull would tear through a china shop. He couldn’t escape messes. He was using so much time to clean up those messes that he rarely had time to build anything useful or substantial. He felt irresponsible. He knew he must stop making messes if he wished to build. But he felt constricted, confined, and imprisoned in his own home. An inmate of his own mind.

If only he could escape those constraints, change those deep-seated beliefs, and realize his full potential. He knew he could do it. Capability was not the big question. Commitment, dedication, and perseverance. Those were the qualities he felt he lacked. “I’m better than this,” he said to himself often, “I should be able to exercise full control over my time.”

But then his ride showed up. And he was off to serve someone else’s purpose, to contribute to the realization of their vision, rather than his own.