Next steps: Searching for the YES.

Fireworks in the snow on New Year's Eve.
Fireworks in the snow on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve got a lot of things swirling in my head lately. Three weeks of downtime in Montana – where the area is utterly familiar (and beautiful) and the weather has discouraged me from wanting to go out – I’ve been evaluating my nine months on the road and what I want for the immediate future.

I’m not coming up with any good answers. I’m thinking about things like going back to work full-time or going back to work part-time so I can go back to school. Searching job openings in cities I’ve never been to.

It’s mostly just a mental exercise… a reminder that I really can do what I want, which means not traveling, if that’s what I decide. Nine months of travel is making it feel like a chore, when it was supposed to be a joy. Not enough time to myself means I’m moody and not always pleasant to the people around me.

These were my choices. Which means I can choose something new tomorrow. I don’t know why it’s so easy to forget that, but it is. Everyone I know does it, either occasionally or all the damned time. Some people even deny they ever had a choice (those people I mostly choose not to spend time with).

My biggest challenge this year has been choosing to spend money. It’s the biggest reason I haven’t spent enough time alone. Being alone almost always means spending money on lodging – the most expensive piece of most travel budgets. Yes, there are ways to save on the cost, and I’ve used them, but it’s hard to beat FREE, which is what it costs to stay with friends.

But I had seriously underestimated how living completely alone for five years had fed my love of solitude, making it even more important to my emotional well-being. Ask anyone I’ve stayed with this year, my favorite thing is to wake up in an empty house.

My lack of awareness, and later my denial of this need to be alone, means in the choice between saving money or saving sanity, I chose to save money. But that choice is no longer sustainable, so I must make new choices.

I don’t know what that looks like yet. Right now I have another opportunity to fill up my savings account, so that means I’ll be in Portland for longer than expected. Most of my mental swirling has been shifting from ‘how do I save money?’ to ‘how can I make more money?’

I know one thing. I’ve spent many years now trying to follow my heart, the voice in my head, the pull that tells me what I really want and what I can do. And every single time I’ve listened hard and believed that what I wanted was attainable, the fates have dropped that shit right in my lap. Jobs, career changes, housing, friends, travel. When my heart and mind would both give a big YES to a risk I was taking, it would all turn out even better than I’d hoped.

And on the flip side, every time I’ve ignored the big NO that comes with a bad choice, I’ve regretted it. I’ve spent years and tears trying to get back to a YES. I really have gotten much better at hearing that NO, I can tell you.

But you get busy with the day to day crap, and you forget to check back in with that YES and see if it’s still there. Make sure you haven’t wandered off, following shiny things, and lost track of what you were doing. To make sure that it’s not been fulfilled and time to find the next one.

So I’m looking for the next big YES. And looking forward to what will come my way.

Post-Road-Trip Slump

Zion National Park, Utah, bevy of books, rock hound, geology
Yet another amazing rock formation in Zion National Park.
Too much to do and then not enough? No, that’s not right. Over-stimulation and then the recovery period? Closer, but still not right.

I spent a bit more than three weeks alone with myself (a phrase that really doesn’t make sense, you can’t really be alone with someone, even if that someone is you. Right?). October 14 until the 22 was spent alone on the coast of Oregon. On 23 I hit the road, traveling 4,185 miles to North Charleston, South Carolina via Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Nogales Mexico and New Orleans.

Colorado River, bevy of books, rock hound, geology
Colorado River in Arizona, north of Grand Canyon
It was mind-altering. It was sometimes boring (mostly the driving in Nevada and Texas). It was educational. It was a bit stressful (when my car broke down). I spent 3 nights and 2 days in New Orleans at this great Airbnb place… and then I was just OVER IT. I was ready to be done with the moving and the packing and the navigating and the learning and just STOP already.

So I cut the original two-day trip from NOLA to Charleston to one long 11-hour drive (which ended up being 12, thank you rush hour in Atlanta) and pulled into my cousin’s driveway at 11:25pm, November 6. And I’ve basically done NOTHING since then. Got chauffeured to see the ocean (which was great). Saw a movie. Ate a lot of great food that someone else decided on and cooked (which meant I didn’t have to!). Crocheted some baby hats and helped a tiny bit with a baby shower.

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, New Orleans, bevy of books
This is not the ocean, This is Lake Pontchartrain, just north of New Orleans.
All the things I want to write about and share seemed to have evaporated from my brain. How did that happen?

I’m just now getting back to that stuff. Looking through the (just from the camera, after much deleting) 965 photos I have from that road trip helps. Finding videos I’d forgotten I had taken, which spark memories of specific times and places on the road. Little by little, it starts to return.

One of the best moments:

I’m driving across the widest point of Texas, the first full day back on the road after my car broke down. I had spent about 24 hours wondering if I’d have to ditch the car and spend a ton of cash renting something to get me to South Carolina, and then more cash to get a new car. I was over the moon to be out of Nogales and back on track to New Orleans. And it just hit me like a ton of bricks…

I am on my way to New Orleans.

For no reason at all, other than I wanted to go there.

No one who knows me actually knows where I am right this minute. I am not obligated to anyone to be anywhere for anything.

And I am DRIVING ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

And this is MY LIFE right now.

How can that even be true? That’s Amazing! Amazing like the clip below:

And it’s not over.

Better living through slacking off.

Clifford beach California, bevy of books
Best seat in the house.

I went to the beach yesterday.

All by myself.

It’s not really warm, but nice enough that capris and a sweatshirt will let you stare at the ocean as long as you like. I saw a seal lion fishing in the waves, the sun peaking through the clouds and a surfer practicing in the tiny waves.

I wrote a bit in my journal, I read some of my book (Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley) and took 133 pictures in about 1.5 hours.

And it was amazing. And it was enough. And today I can do that all over again. Or I can stay ‘home’ and read all day, or color, or binge-watch Gilmore Girls.

I’m house-sitting for a friend on the southern Oregon coast for more than a week. House is empty except for a cat that hides most of the day. No one around to give a shit what time I wake up or how I want to waste my day. I really can do WHATEVER I want.

It wasn’t until recently that I had really asked myself that question – what do I want to do? – without some heavy modifier, like ‘that doesn’t cost more than $50?’ or ‘that isn’t more than 100 miles away?’

Rocky Mountains Montana, pileated woodpecker, bevy of books
I bet this bird has it all figured out.

It took months to train myself to think about days on my own terms, rather than those determined by permanent residency and limited time. You can’t just dump a 30-year mindset like an old pair of shoes that hurt your feet. It’s more like learning a new language, or moving to a brand new city. You still have to eat and sleep and wash your clothes, but you have to figure out how to do that all over again.

I’m hoping to kick-start that process by staring at the ocean a lot. Then I’m off on a driving tour of the southern USA, highlights to include the Grand Canyon and New Orleans. Maybe I’ll see you?

 

A Temporary Return to The Grind

Redwoods California, Bigfoot, bevy of books
I’d rather face Bigfoot that go back to work again

I’m back in Portland for a few weeks, refilling my savings account with a short-term contract job that was too good to pass up (which made the Frugal Franny voice in my head SHUT UP for the first time in months). And while the work itself is not any worse than it was five months ago, the experience of working is a seriously unpleasant shock to the system.

I was exhausted for the first few weeks – a combination of greatly increased mental efforts (finding and fixing a crazy quilt of errors on the project) and not having adjusted back to a work-supporting schedule.

I said yes to all the social invites I received – as I would when I was just here visiting – and as a result did not have one day in the first ten where I got enough sleep. I had a lot of fun, but I was wiped out.

I make jokes about the oppression of work and the rigid schedule it imposes on your life… but it’s not really a joke. Most people are just so acclimated to that schedule as a way of life that it seems normal, and therefore unavoidable.

I spent months with no particular schedule on a daily or even a weekly basis. Other than having payroll deadlines to be meet twice a month, my hours, days, weeks, meal and bed times were my own, to organize or ignore however I liked. Often, those would be heavily influenced by the people I was living with and travel I was doing… but all of those things had also been chosen or determined by me.

Redwoods California, trees, bevy of books
My preferred view.

I don’t think I have the words to properly convey the joy I took in reminding people that – while they had to go to work tomorrow, go to bed early, leave before the show was over – I did not. I’m quite certain a few people were sick of my shit, and I don’t blame them. But it was often as if I was realizing it for the first time. I DID NOT HAVE TO PLAN MY ENTIRE EXISTENCE AROUND THE NEED TO BE AT MY DESK AT 9AM MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY.

Because it really does take up WAY more time than those 40 hours to be a good worker bee. Commuting time, wardrobe maintenance, meal planning, hygiene, daycare or pet care – the time to manage all of these activities is greatly increased (and sometimes only made necessary) by the demands of a job outside the home. Not to mention the additional work many of us bring home and the stress induced by all of the above.

So now, here I am, week three of this project, and I’m right back where I was in March. Not ‘what do I want to do today?’ but ‘what do I need to do this weekend so I can go to work on Monday (grocery shopping, laundry, etc)?’

But I don’t have to work Monday – I’m off to Montana for a week. A fact which has been virtually invisible to me for the last two weeks as far as daily planning is concerned. Vanished. Overwhelmed by the unaccustomed demands of the work schedule.

A schedule I have to remind myself will be gone again very soon. Intellectually, I know I’m running off again in early October – but viscerally, I feel like I’m back to working a real job again and next week will look just like this week, and on and on forever. And, having recently been removed from that mindset, its return looks like the tyranny that it is.

A rat race most of us have acclimated to. A thing I’m hoping to leave behind forever.

Gold Beach Oregon, bevy of books, ocean
This isn’t me, but I plan to be this guy in two weeks.

Full Moon Over Montana

New Hampshire, full moon, bevy of booksThis morning I saw the almost-full moon as I left a friend’s house at 2:30am. I feel like I’ve noticed a lot of them lately… and I haven’t hit two in a row in the same location since I quit my job. I remember looking at the almost-full moon late last month in Portland, and then tripping on the sidewalk and skinning my knee like a kid learning to ride her bike. And then seeing the actually full moon in the darkness of rural New Hampshire (yes, I know, it’s mostly all rural, just go with it).

starts Googling, checks photos on computer and phone, checks calendar.

There were two full moons in July, so I was in Portland for the July 2 viewing (though I managed not to trip on the sidewalk that time). June I was in New Hampshire, dark and awesome, and May I was in Montana.

Lincoln City Oregon, moon, bevy of books
Okay, this not actually a full moon, and it’s fuzzy. But I think those are stars/planets next to it, and it was taken in Lincoln City, yet another place I’ve almost seen a full moon lately. And, let’s face it, lots of pics of a white moon on a black background don’t make for interesting blog accents.

April. Well, it seems that April’s full moon happened on Saturday, April 4 at 6:07am. That would be the first day of my brand new life. I swear I didn’t plan these things (first day in Montana was my birthday!).

The lunar calendar seems like a good way to mark time when you’re trying not to mark time too closely.  Where was I 28 days ago? What was I doing, and with whom? And what kind of new and interesting things have I seen and learned in that time?

Since I last saw the full moon, I’ve driven my car 3,055 miles, through 12 states (including two new ones, Missouri and Nebraska), and stayed with lovely people, old friends and new, in places both familiar and newly discovered.  I learned that NW Missouri is gorgeous, and Indianapolis is HUGE.

I’ve seen both sisters and all their children. I haven’t seen the ocean. I sat listening to cicadas in the sweltering heat of Warrensburg, and actually got a bit chilly in the mountains of the Bob Marshall wilderness. I re-learned that the appropriate wardrobes for these two places are very different.  I spent four nights in the woods, and got out right before the fires ripped through the camp I was staying in (everyone, including the stock, got out safely).

Hungry Horse MT, full moon, bevy of books
Full moon in Hungry Horse May 2.

I discovered that, for some reason, 1500 miles in two days is easier than 600 miles in one (which I still do not understand). I got a massage. I added two new wifi networks to my electronic devices. I made choices about what to do with my 401k. I decided where I’m going to be for Thanksgiving.

And I was offered a short-term bookkeeping gig for good money – which I accepted, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing the full moon from Portland once again in September. Looking forward to that one, too.