One Last Thing

I’ve been editing Yellowstone photos for two weeks. I should clarify that when I say ‘editing’ I’m not talking about something truly difficult like photoshopping them. Or cropping them. Or even fully opening them. I mean I’m deleting the bad ones and the duplicates and giving the rest names. And it’s taken me two weeks.

In my defense, I was in Yellowstone for four days and it’s one of the most picturesque places I saw on my trip. I didn’t count how many photos I took, but after my first round of edits I still had 298 to sort through.

The problem isn’t just the photos though, it’s the significance of finishing them. Because once I get rid of all the ones I don’t need, and I name the ones I’m going to keep, I can finally make my last Photo Tour post. And with that, I will be done with trip posts. Once I’m done with trip posts, I can export the whole blog and move it over to my new hosting account. Then I can launch the new blog. The one I’ve been saying I’d do. The one without a clean, easy finish line like writing about a trip. The one that goes on indefinitely. The one where I talk not just about strangers, but about friends. The one that I’ll take into my professional writing career. The one where I’m not only writing about doing scary things, but where writing about certain things scares me. The one people keep telling me to start.

SnowmenBut there’s 298 beautiful pictures of steam floating off of geysers standing in the way. There’s buffalo and thousand-year-old trees and those tiny snowmen someone built on that bench. That’s why there hasn’t been a post in a while. Because there’s only one left. One last thing before this part of my life is folded completely into the past, and my present becomes something else. Something new and exciting and scary. Like a solo trip around the United States once was.

Writing is Hard

(I wrote the following in November of 2013 with no intention of publishing it. However in looking at it now, I realize that this might be of some interest to a few of my readers.)

I have one and only one cure for writer’s block. Sometimes it will take me a while to realize I even have writer’s block. I like to mull things over in my head a lot before I write them, so I can easily stare at a screen for awhile without being truly blocked. But occasionally I will find myself staring off away from the screen after having sat in front of the computer for several minutes. I’m not thinking about writing anymore because whatever I’m trying to write isn’t working. So my brain goes off in other directions. What’s funny is that I am still writing during these times, I’m just writing off-task. Rather than mulling over the thing I need to work on, I’m mulling over what makes a person good at cleaning or how television transitioned away from the single-season-with-summer-break schedule. I write dialogs of imagined conversations I wished I would have had with people I was previously angry with. I imagine how I might introduce myself were I to become a Wall Street consultant, or the many things I would say to congress were I ever given the chance. These are tiny, separate essays that I write in my brain all the time. I have no where to put them, which is why I continue to mull instead. And they are the things I escape to when writing isn’t happening.

After an unknown period of staring into space while I write one of these lost essays, I realize that I must be stuck. There is a block between what I know I must accomplish and the act of accomplishing it. And that’s when I employ the only means I have of getting unstuck from this particular problem. I write about why I can’t write.

It may go something like this: say I want to tell a story about someone close to me, but I’m afraid of casting them in an unfair light. I know I don’t think poorly of them, but I worry that I won’t have the craft to convey the facts in a way that remains both true and positive. And I get stuck. I try to think through my writing and I can only think of explanations that are unfair to my friend. I may not realize this unfairness is why all the words sound wrong, I just know they do. And so I begin to type out my reasoning. I drop whatever voice I’m using, I ignore any sense of time or space. I start typing as though I am directly addressing the page, and therefore the problem. And I usually can’t get through more than two paragraphs before the problem is solved. Either I have eased myself into the problem and started on the path towards my intended topic, or I have stumbled upon something even more interesting to write about. Either way I am writing. When I am done I typically go back and trash those first two paragraphs and, like magic, my story starts exactly where it ought to.

Writing through the problem is in fact what I am doing right now. The thing you are currently reading is an example of me getting over writer’s block. It’s National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to finish a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it last year and had a lot of fun. Since I still have a lot of trip to write about, I decided this year I would make my 50,000 words go towards getting the rest of the journey down on paper. This means that rather than writing a blog post every other day, I have to write 1-2 posts every day, depending on their length. It’s tiresome and difficult to do NaNo anyway, but I’ve managed to back myself into an especially difficult corner: I’m not allowed to suck.

That’s the phrase: Allow Yourself to Suck. I credit Mur Laugherty with those exact words, but the sentiment is true for everyone during NaNo. Your goal is to get a lot of words down on paper. Not all of those words will be great. It doesn’t matter. Editing is for December. For now you must keep writing.

But I can’t wait until December. I need to produce 13 fully edited posts before November is over. And considering it often takes me as long to edit a post as it does to write it, and considering many of my blogs have gone over the 1,667 words needed per day for NaNo, I have been writing with a NaNo-level time commitment for FIVE MONTHS. And for four of those months I was also trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night.

I know there are professional writers who will easily crank out 4,000-10,000 words a day all the time. But I am not there yet, and as I understand it that kind of production takes many people years to reach. And so I’m left with my only recourse, my only solution. I write out my problems. Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to get back on track. Maybe I’ll have to write through some more problems first. But for now, I can clock the rough draft of this post at 864 words, which brings me over the edge for how much I needed to write today. It’s a long way to December. But it was a long way across the country and back. And just like hiking up the Grand Canyon or driving through Oklahoma farmland, sometimes forward is the only direction. Walk, walk. Drive, drive.

Write. Write.

_________________

Raptitude’s Thoughts on the 40 Hour Work Week

I saw this article some time ago, but it’s been making the rounds again and someone pointed out how similar the thoughts are to my own:

Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

While I was always a fan of the article itself, I’m becoming a bigger fan of David Cain. While reading an article he wrote about his experience eating vegan for 30 days, he mentioned the difficulty of finding vegan options when you don’t control the menu. To which he added this amazingly precise bit of wisdom:

“This marginalization was a new experience for me, being a young, white, non-religious, non-disabled English-speaking male, and maybe it’s good for my character to get a hint of what it feels like to live in a world that wants you be different than you are.”

__________________

What’s Next

I haven’t decided yet.

I’ve finished the written aspect of my trip blog. I have several more photo posts to do, so those will keep coming for awhile. I never did do that packing list post, so you’ll probably see it before long. But more written posts? This specific blog was built to chronicle this specific adventure, so it feels strange to put anything else on it. It seems a shame to lose the connection to all this content, though I am running out of media space on my WordPress account.

This isn’t the end of my blogging, and it’s certainly not the end of my writing. I intend to turn my road trip into a book, hopefully in ready-to-sell form by the end of this calendar year. I know I’ll be blogging next summer when I attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, as I have done the past three General Conventions.

Until then? Some days when I need to write and I don’t have a project to work on, I just write about whatever interests me. I suppose that’s what a blog is supposed to be, but I’ve seen so many people start blogs with “This will just be where I post my random thoughts and whatever!” Those blogs rarely see a second post and never see much interest. Most people don’t want to follow randomness.

The unstructured “blog posts” I’ve been writing haven’t manifested into a theme as of yet. Popular topics include organization, feminism, TV, movies, productivity, writing, diets, and geek culture. The range gets laughable sometimes. I’ve got nine articles on business development. I’m finishing up a forth post on the Bechdel Test and female characters in popular film. I’ve got 800 words on what’s wrong with the song “Let It Go.”

So my blogging future is still undefined. Stay tuned for more photos and more info. Once I know where I’ll be putting my writing, I’ll be sure to let you know where to find it.

This is the real life. This is the fantasy.

It took me weeks to remember how to eat. It’s weird the way you lose certain things when you get out of practice. The first day after I was back I knew I had to go grocery shopping, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to get. I knew that before my trip I cooked all the time and had plenty of go-to meals I could make. I just couldn’t remember what any of them were. I had a lot of Thai take-out that first month.

There was much to do when I got home, which was good because it kept me busy. I was back at work within a week, but thankfully my boss agreed to have me be part-time for a while until my personal life settled down and we built a new position for me in the company.

I gave my tent a thorough cleaning in the laundry room sink and hung it out to dry in the sun.

I slowly remembered what things I liked to make and eat, and I filled the pantry and fridge again.

I put away all of the clothes I had been traveling with, and started wearing shirts I hadn’t seen in months.

I found homes in my apartment for all of my little specialty items, like my 5 gallon bucket and the last of my citronella candle.

And for a while, I felt terrible.

I certainly couldn’t have explained it at the time, and I can only guess at it now. There hadn’t been anything life-changing on my trip, and I hadn’t expected there to be. I came home to friends and family that I loved, and a job that appreciated me. Life was just as good as it had been before, but I was walking around in a daze.

I generally kept my feelings to myself, since I wasn’t sure what they were. My boyfriend Rob knew of course, since as my roommate he was present for all those times I just felt awful and didn’t know why. One such night he asked me if I thought a walk might make me feel better, since it usually does. He said over the summer he had found a little spot not far from our apartment that had a great view of the city at night. I told him I wasn’t sure it would help, but I’d give it a try.

It was October. Summer was over, and the Seattle evenings were getting chilly again. It was a clear night though, and the air was fresh as always. When we got to the spot we sat down on a bench. We were looking over the water as it reflected the city lights. There was a dull roar from the bridge overhead. He was right. It was beautiful.

I tried to tell him why I was upset, which was hard since I didn’t know myself. I started rambling about society and expectations and housing and marriage and worst of all – the 40 hour work week. There had been so many things I took for granted as normal before. I guess in my time away I’d seen so many people go against the norm – including myself – that I couldn’t bear to think I’d still have to live under it my whole life. I couldn’t bear to think that everyone else was going to do so without even knowing there was another way.

FootprintsThe blogosphere is saturated with people trying to tell you to go on adventures and live your life and give up your day job and make money online. I know because they all sign up to follow my blog, probably in the hope that I’ll follow them back. I don’t though, because most of them are trying to sell that life to you. They’re trying to convince you that for as little as following their blog or as much as buying their book, you too can live a life of happiness.

But it’s a lie.

You don’t even need to do that.

Nothing life-altering happened to me on the road, and that is the idea that altered my life. There was nothing I did that is not entirely achievable by the vast majority of people. We convince ourselves such things are out of reach because it’s so much easier to not do anything at all. It’s easier to take on the hardships that we recognize – the hours of monotonous work, the unending mortgage, the debt, the drinking, the kids, the suits, the air conditioning. And ultimately all of that is no more or less work than climbing out of a canyon or confronting your enemies or spending hour after hour with only yourself for company. Settling down is just as hard as staying rootless. There are so many things to do and be out there, and we choose so few of them. When I got home I couldn’t stand the thought that I was still a part of that machine. I won’t work 9-5 forever, but 9-5 won’t end when I stop. Because everyone I meet will still be weighed down by the expectation that this is all there is, and I’ll spend my days being told I’m brave or I’m lucky or maybe they’ll say nothing and just give me that same suspicious smile.

It’s been a year since I left. The world spins on and so do I. I have dreams that I’m working towards, and I intend to reach them. And in those dreams I’m doing that which makes me happy and fills me with joy, and I am not burdened with anything I don’t absolutely adore. In those dreams I work only as much as I need to, and never because I have to. And in the most fantastic of those dreams, no one thinks it strange.

Kootenai Falls

On our way back from Glacier my folks and I decided to stop at Kootenai Falls, a nice little road side spot outside of Libby, Montana. The falls themselves are a short hike from the highway, and the feature is more about width than height. Had I been in charge of naming them I probably would have gone with Kootenai Rapids, but perhaps that’s why I’m not in charge. The main viewing area for the falls is from a large, open slab of rock. It made my acrophobic mother terribly nervous to have my father and I standing in the open without guardrails or clear paths.

Dad and the Rapids“I think we’re supposed to watch them from back here,” she yelled to us from her stable position on the trail.

After taking in the view and beginning our walk back, we came across a fork in the path that lead to a rope bridge over the river. We stopped for a moment and my dad looked over to the bridge with longing. My mom looked at him.

“How long do you think it will take us to walk there?” she asked, with a tone that implied, “because we don’t have time and should be getting on the road.”

“We don’t have to go if we don’t want to,” Dad replied, looking back at the bridge and shrugging.

“You want to go to the bridge, don’t you?” my mom and I said simultaneously. Dad laughed and we started walking.

Bridge with StairsThe bridge itself was suspended from the top of a tall and sturdy flight of stairs. “Oh boy” my mom sighed as she looked up at the stairs. I told her she could stay right there, she didn’t have to go with us. By the time I finished my sentence Dad was already at the top of the stairs.

I walked out to the center of the bridge with my father. It was swinging in a way that would make you nervous even if heights didn’t bother you. The drop was a long way down to cold, dangerous water. After enjoying the view for a minute, Dad and I turned to see my mom at the top of the stairs. Her arms were tensed up and her grip was solid on both handrails. She placed a single foot on the bridge and Dad and I froze. The bridge swung with every shift of weight, and we wanted to keep it still for her. She was staring straight down at the planks and moving very slowly. At ten feet she looked up at us with a nervous smile.

“I’m on the bridge!” she announced proudly.

“Nice job, hon,” Dad said, congratulating her with a smile.

Mom on BridgeThat was quite enough for my mother, who immediately turned back and shuffled her way to the stairs. Dad and I joined her on solid ground, and she looked like she’d just jumped off a cliff she was so jittery. We walked back to the cars and got back on the road to Washington.

I’ve said before that I don’t like it when people call me brave for having gone on my trip. I don’t think you’re brave by virtue of doing that which would scare others. It’s true that on my trip I did a number of things that scared me, though most didn’t compare with how much it scared my mom to walk out onto that bridge. Bravery isn’t how far you get, it’s how hard it was to get there.

Call Your Mother: Safety Advice for the Solo Traveler

Be easy to follow but hard to track.

If you intend to make your travels public, consider making them tardy. During my trip I never published any post about a city I was still in. When I did post things immediately relevant, I kept the details purposely vague. The whole world doesn’t need to know where you are when you’re traveling alone with several thousand dollars worth of camping gear and electronics in your car.

Train yourself to be startled correctly.

The vast majority of pickpocketing and street theft relies on the victim being too distracted to notice what’s happening. The most choreographed of these crimes often involve startling the victim, since it tends to draw focus from even the most diligent of travelers. This is why I’ve trained myself to put a gentle hand on my bag whenever something happens. And I mean anything. Subway finally arrived? Hand on bag. Ticket taker is here? Hand on bag. Tourists need their picture taken? Hand on bag. Any time there’s a change in my surroundings I confirm that everything is where it ought to be. This alone is enough to ward off most potential thieves. Pickpockets aren’t usually in it for the challenge. Don’t be an easy mark.


Hide everything so it looks like you’ve got nothing to hide.

My car was a thing of beauty by Trunkthe end. I had managed to fit almost all of my stuff into my trunk, which meant the cab looked like it could belong to anyone. I made the vehicle as pedestrian-looking as possible. I never left valuables in the cab unless I could conceal them under something innocuous. I also did my best to never open the trunk at the a location I intended to park it. I didn’t want anyone to see me walk away from a car full of goodies.

Make sure someone will come looking for you.

Before I left, I gave my boyfriend the passwords to my email and CouchSurfing accounts. If he couldn’t get a hold of me and was worried something had happened, he could easily look up who I had been communicating with most recently. I tracked where I slept every night in a spreadsheet, and I shared this with both him and my parents. I updated it regularly, and at any point they could pull it up at home and see where I was staying that evening. I’ll admit I wasn’t very good at calling my mother specifically (I don’t like talking on the phone), but I made a point to stay in contact with people back home on a daily basis, if only through facebook.

Befriending strangers isn’t a bad idea either. If you’re going on a hike, talk to a ranger first (the park may even have a check-in program for solo hikers). Ask the hotel manager where the best attractions are in town, and make it clear which ones you’re leaning towards. More than actual safety, there’s real piece of mind in this. If I were to be injured or abducted, there are eye witnesses who can say when they saw me last and what I said I was about to do.

Be like NASA and assume the worst.

I recently heard an interview that Commander Chris Hadfield did on Fresh Air. Terry Gross asked him about being scared in space, in light of all the danger. Commander Hadfield explained that no matter how scary the situation gets, no problem surprises you in space. As an astronaut you spend months beforehand working with the ground teams to think of ways you might die. You go over every disastrous situation from every angle to determine the best solution. Then you assume the first and second solutions fail and you come up with a third. No matter what happens to an astronaut in space, there’s a good chance he or she planned for it some 12 months back.

DangerWhile I don’t think you need to pour over every possible danger, planning your reactions is a great way to guarantee you’re prepared. Let’s say you’re worried about getting a flat tire in the middle of no where. First you’d probably try to fix it yourself – do you have all the supplies you need in your vehicle? Maybe you’re worried you won’t remember how – could you watch a video on youtube to refresh your memory? Perhaps your tools will break – could you bring extras of anything? Maybe the spare is flat too – do you know who you’ll call to get roadside help? Perhaps your phone battery is dead – could you get a car charger? Maybe you don’t have service – do you have shoes that could handle a long walk?

The list could go on forever, and mine often did. But once you know you’re prepared to do things like walk by yourself for miles, recover copies of everything in your wallet, and palm-heel an attacker until he deciders you’re not worth it, a lot of problems aren’t so bad. You don’t have to be a safety nut to be a safety guru. Just live your life, pay attention, and every once in a while, call your mother.