I recently read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. This book is lovely, but I was immediately reminded of something Daniel José Older said (which I cannot find) about writing for those who rarely get to be the main character but don’t need to be reminded that they are already fully human. Or being tired of only having POC protagonists in books where that humanity was finally proven to all at the end.
I’m past the point in my life and my feminism where I need someone to remind/convince me that I am as much a whole person as anyone else who isn’t straight/cis/white/male. I much prefer to read about women who are just living their fucking lives and does she even know people think she shouldn’t? Only when they get in her way as she rolls over them, and no, she will not apologize. This is likely why speculative fiction appeals to me so much. Kameron Hurley, N K Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Nnedi Okorafor and many more are building worlds where women are the default gender, where genders come in numbers greater than two, where women can be anything and are indeed everything.
Once you get there, it’s hard to go back to sweet, wonderfully written books about proper young ladies who must hide their ambitions in order to keep the pathetically underpaid work they managed to acquire only with good connections – books in which the lower-class women who work even harder and make even less money are invisible. Give me head-chopping bounty hunters and world-destroying goddesses any day of the week.
I’ve mostly been posting about travel and whatnot, but I’m going to start writing about books again more regularly. For certain values of ‘regularly.’
I’ve been getting this question a lot recently. Maybe because this is my first trip to Florida since I quit, and these folks haven’t had a chance to grill me yet? Maybe because I’ve been doing this for almost a year now? Maybe because the space-time continuum calls for it? I don’t know.
Regardless of why, it’s an interesting question. How long *do* I want to do this? My standard answer is, until I get tired of it or I run out of money – and I’m betting on the money running out first. I’m supposed to be working on finding more location-independent income, and I’m on a few lists, but I really should be doing more. But working in Portland this winter reminded me how much I do not want to go back to a nine-to-five.
How long has it been?
Another good question. Homeless? Since Feb 1, 2015. Stationary-jobless? April 3. Out of Portland? April 11. On the road? May 10. So when do I start counting, exactly?
For me, the important dates are April 3 and May 10. April 3 was the day it was really real. I’ve quit a bunch of jobs in my life, but never with this kind of intention. I quit to move somewhere else, to make more money, to go back to school. I’ve been fired and laid off from permanent and temp jobs. But I’ve never quit with the idea of changing my whole life. That last gig was the best regular job I’ve ever had, in every way. But rather than making me happy, it made me realize that I’d never be happy doing that kind of thing, I’d only ever done it because I had to. And now that I don’t have to, I’m going to try and see if I can find a way of living and earning my way that makes me happy.
May 10 I left Great Falls with everything I thought I might need in Little Red, and no clear idea when I might return to home base. That feels like the real beginning of this… whatever it is. It really needs a name. Trip? Adventure? Insanity? So it’s been 11 months, and I’m nowhere near ready to stop, regardless of the challenges along the way.
Will I never have a real job again?
Who knows? I’m hoping not. But the idea that a different life is possible is a really good reason to try something else. I’ve made plenty of risky choices in the past with regards to jobs and whatnot, and all those were really in the service of paying off my debt. Now I get to use those skills in the service of a joyful life.
Where to next?
I’ve got to get back to Montana by the end of May, so I’ll be heading back north in a week or two. I’m thinking about going to the Science Fiction Writer’s Association Convention in Chicago mid-May. Maybe I’ll see some of you on the way.
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.
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.
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.
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 moonto 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:
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 sea lion fishing in the waves, the sun peaking through the clouds and a surfer practicing in the tiny waves.
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?’
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?