Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane

This is another long drive, made worse by losing an hour as we enter central time. We leave early, knowing rain is in the forecast for much of our route.

What we don’t know is that the rain is coming from a wannabe hurricane that has moved up from the gulf. It won’t rain much of the day, it will pour. It starts around Odessa and continues for the rest of the day, with only short breaks in the action.

We’re talking the kind of shower that makes you feel like you are driving through a car wash; one that is so loud you can’t talk or listen to music, and is so intense that you can barely see the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of you. We change drivers often because it’s exhausting at best and downright dangerous at worst. As we near Fort Worth, we start to run into the inevitable weather-related traffic accidents, and from then on we find ourselves in stop and go traffic in a downpour until we reach our destination.

A few years ago I made a play list of songs with the word “Home” in the title. I was moving across the country at the time, leaving my home of fifteen years, and I was trying to generate enthusiasm for making a home elsewhere. It helped.

As I take my turns driving, one of the songs keeps running through my head, I think because the chorus has something to do with stopping a hurricane.

Tonight, I won’t be in my own house but I’ll be staying at the home of someone I love, and I’m looking forward to it. There will be a home-cooked meal (and probably a very good one) and fine wine and a soft bed that I haven’t had to pay to sleep in. It feels welcoming as I drive through the storm.

I don’t have a rule of the road today; the best I can do is a guideline. (Thank you Jack Sparrow.) Avoid extremely difficult days as best you can and when you can’t, do your best to see there is comfort waiting for you at the end of the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive at your own home, or that of someone who loves you.

 

Day 19. A Border Crossing

You’d think it’s be pretty easy to wake up, throw all your shit in the car, and go, but it turns out is isn’t.

I have to dismantle a 6-man canvas tent, a shade structure helpful camp mates have skewered into the ground with lag screws, and a shelving unit I assembled on site. I have countless dusty bins of what-the-hell-is-this, not to mention 3.75 unused rolls of singly ply toilet paper and more lotions than I could use in a year. Nope, I was definitely not one of those under-prepared first time burners.

It takes me about three hours to do what I allowed 30 minutes for, and that’s only because I get a fair amount of help. My noon-time good-byes are rushed and sweaty, perhaps not a fitting climax to this amazing experience, but then again, exactly what about this experience has been fitting?

Because I am leaving a day before the man burns, I am avoiding the most crowded time here (by choice) and am also avoiding the up to 12 hour exit lines others will experience two days from now.  Even then, the five mile an hour drive out is slow and long. Along the way, I distract myself by cherishing my favorite moments.

There was the deep playa at night, my happy place if ever I’ve had one. There was the humor and playfulness. The kindness that was the norm, not the exception.

How about the nearly assembled 747 blaring out Santana’s Black Magic Woman as I rode up to it at sunset? For that matter, the mix of music of all types coming at me 24/7 was surprisingly entertaining and even soothing. The soothing part is hard to explain, but ear plugs and an eye pillow remain two of the things I didn’t need to bother to bring. Burning man lulled me into a sound sleep each night, and woke me each morning.

I never visited the MOOP MAP place (MOOP being matter out of place, often referred to as trash in the default world), but it’s location pointed me home to camp each night when I was done exploring. Thank you MOOP MAP.

I spent a few early evenings over at Vines Without Borders, a camp near mine that poured wines from around the world every night, offering both a great selection of wine and of people to drink wine with. They made me glad I brought a plastic wine glass.

I know there is so much I didn’t see, and I suppose that is part of the charm. I think this place works best if you leave deciding you found the things you were supposed to, and what you missed, well, it was meant for others, or maybe for you another time. Some of the art and camps do come back year after year.

I was warned it was common to feel a rush of emotions once one’s tires first touch pavement after the exit, and when mine roll onto the asphalt, I do. To me it feels like a border crossing, leaving one reality and entering another.

As I drive through Gerlach, I slow down with the same care I showed six days ago. I don’t need a speeding ticket, so I let all the sparkly memories settle into the back of my mind as I concentrate on the road.

I realize I’ve had a crazy week, but I wasn’t in a crazy place, just a different one; one in which I got to experience joy and sorrow and wonder, sometimes all at once.

Today’s Rule of the Road: When you cross the border into another reality, cross it.

Today’s song? I must have heard this one a few times, as I rode around and as I slept.

 

Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help

As I leave this morning, I know I’ll be driving everyday for the next five days. This will be the most demanding part of my journey. Today should have been an easy bite but yesterday I realized my departure time put me driving through Denver at the height of rush hour. I checked out a traffic map at 5 pm and found more red and burgundy than any driver wants.  But wait. I saw a clear alternate route veering off of I70 at Limon. Just what I needed. I decided to ignore all of Google Maps various suggestions and go rogue.

Given that Google has spent so much effort trying to reroute me onto slightly more efficient paths on all my previous days, I also decided I’d try this without its assistance. Like turned off. I mean, it looked pretty direct. How could I go wrong?

The day started out rainy, with the intermixed heavy showers that make any travel challenging. The mysterious highway 86 out of Limon turned out to really exist, which was good news, and to even be a decent two-lane road through wide open plains. It had almost no traffic, which was great. It also had almost no homes and absolutely no towns and went on for at least thirty miles more than I had guessed. This unexpected lack of civilization, lasting for an indeterminate length of time, came up against two problems: my increasingly full bladder and my emptying gas tank.

So I gave up and turned on Google Maps, only to discover it was sulking at not having been consulted sooner. Well, okay, maybe I projected the sulking emotion on to it, but it was now insisting it could only work offline and show me my blue dot and road outlines but not give me any street names or directions. That does sort of seem like sulking, doesn’t it?

I finally reached a small town with a gas station and as I left the rain came down harder and my phone rang. I was enjoying a conversation with my daughter when I noticed several things had happened. Denver seemed to have spilled down into this area, with congestion and construction now springing up all around me out of nowhere. A glance at my phone showed my blue dot was nowhere near where I thought I was or ought to be. How did this happen? Worse yet,  what was I going to do about it?

It’s lucky my daughter is savvy with maps, and she was able to find my route on her computer, figure out my location from intersections I saw, and direct me through the mess of traffic to where I needed to go. Let’s hear it for humans helping out other humans.

The day ended well. I’m in my fourth Airbnb of the trip, and every one has been fine. This one has a view of the canyon.

I did a little exploring before dinner, and found the one gem I wanted most: the small cabin I lived long ago, when I wrote my first science fiction story. The sight of it brought back a flood of precious memories. My time there remains one of the more special times in my life.

After a nice dinner out, I’ve retired to my room to relax with a glass of wine and to share my thoughts. Today’s rule of the road? When all else fails, it’s okay to turn to another human for help. And today’s song? One I saw performed live, thanks to the same helpful daughter. It was one of my most amazing concert experiences, and I’ve had a few of them. Cheers, and enjoy!

(For other posts from this 28-day journey, along with my rules of the road and my song for the day, see Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles, Day 2. Rules of the Road, Day 3. Rule Three: Just Don’t, and Day 4: Be Where You’re At all on my d4 blog. Then check out Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect. and Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn. both on my x0 blog. You can find Day 7. Like Tears From a Star on my z2 blog. Yes, the daily posts will keep on coming until day 12. Then …)

I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing,  I love to be loved , Remember My Name and What’s the Point? )

Like Eating Crab

Some journeys are a juicy strawberry, sweet and easy to enjoy. (Think beach vacation at an all exclusive.) Others are more like eating vegetables of which you are not all that fond. You know that hiking like this is good for you, but you’re not having that much fun. Then there are chocolate cake travels, and glass of champagne ones. Some of the best feel more like a bowl of popcorn and a root beer on a lazy afternoon.

I like them all. I love to travel, and I do my best to embrace the types of joys my current journey has to offer. Last week, I went on what had to be an Alaskan king crab sort of trip.

That would be a journey in which one has to work to get what one is after. Long flights, language difficulties, bumpy roads or high seas can make this a kind of vacation that many would be loathe to take. But the reward is seldom seen beauty and unusual wonders, and sometimes, a sense of personal accomplishment.

My trip to Kenya was months in the planning. The journey needed multiple immunizations, 18 days worth of Malaria tablets (still taking them) and a visa. Then came a thirty-six hour journey which included three flights, two of them over eight hours long. Fourteen crying babies, two long layovers, and five bad airline meals later left me and my friends in a position to take an eight hour drive which, we learned once we arrived, was mostly over a highly-rutted, single-lane dirt road.

Crab style journeys are prone to unexpected problems, and ours had car engine trouble seven hours into this eight hour drive. We stood in the afternoon sun while our tour guide tinkered with a mysterious electrical problem and distant zebras and wildebeests looked on. Finally, one fellow traveler began an impromptu stand up yoga class. Oh, it felt so good to stretch.

Our guide finally parceled us out into other passing vans, and bit by bit we all arrived at our destination. To our surprise, it was not the budget camp we had been promised, and had researched and deemed as okay. It was a last minute substitute.

We received the least friendly welcome any of us has ever had at a place we paid to stay, then we were shown to tents lacking a single amenity (by amenity I mean a towel, lamp, table, bench or chair –these tents had nothing) and attempted to use attached bathrooms in which neither sink, shower, nor toilet worked. When I pulled down the mosquito net to go over my bed, it was filled with fist-sized holes only partly covered by assorted pieces of old duct tape. My tent mate broke into hysterical, exhausted laughter. This journey clearly was not going to come easy.

Our trusty guide was back with our broken car having his own problems and unavailable to help us. So, options being what they were, we made ourselves a round of gin and tonics and hoped for a better day tomorrow.

The days did get better, and the total experience ended up including a wealth of high points. I’ve put some of my favorite photos from the trip throughout this post.

What do you think? Was the total experience worth the initial effort? It was to me. But then again, crab legs are one of my favorite foods.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Replacing me with … and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

A no-peeing section of the pool

Once upon a time, you could specify whether you wanted to sit in the smoking or the non-smoking section of an airplane. It was a choice between between being surrounded by smoke or merely having it waft by you in smaller doses. Incredible as this now seems, the rationale for being able to smoke cigarettes while in flight was a common one: what I do shouldn’t affect you, so get over it and let me make my own choices.

But the problem is that my choices sometimes do affect you, and my viewpoint often depends on whether I’m the doer or the one dealing with it. I want to be able to lead my own life and not consider you. On the other hand, I don’t want you to be able to shoot off guns near my property, litter in the street or keep roosters next door. (I don’t mind your chickens, but I’m not listening to that damn rooster for six hours every morning.) You get the idea. I want all of my freedom and your good behavior, and we all feel that way.

So, as a society, we must compromise. In the Unites States we err towards personal freedom; it has been a cornerstone of our culture. Recent fear mongering has pushed some of us into demanding that all new-comers “act like us,” which, if you think about it, is a very odd demand. Anyone who acts like themselves is behaving like an American, aren’t they, here in the land of individual freedom?

Some areas are less open to compromise than most, even in the U.S.,  particularly those that involve caring for our common safety. My right to dump my toxic waste, to create fire hazards, or to drive as fast as I like all collide with your right not to die an timely death. Yet, reasonable people can and still do disagree about where these lines should be drawn.

The one area in which we are unarguably linked together is in the realm of insurance. It doesn’t have to be that way. We could live in a world in which if your house burned down, or you were in a traffic accident, or you were diagnosed with cancer, then you and your family were simply screwed. End of story. The 90 percent of us for whom everything was going well would feel bad for you, we really would, but hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But that’s not our world. Some enterprising people came up with the idea that if we all paid a little into a pot called car insurance, or home-owners, or auto, or health, or life, then the lucky people would keep paying into the pot and get little to nothing for it. That’s right, the lucky ones. The unlucky would get back far more than they put in, but as they dealt with illness, devastation and loss, they would not be rendered penniless as well. And, of course, the insurance salespeople and their companies would make a nice bit of profit as well. It has been a wildly successful idea.

Consider that insurance is quite contrary to the American concept that my choices don’t affect you. Once we agree to insurance, we agree to be part of a larger pool. So enter health insurance. Like life and auto insurance, some people are deemed higher risk than others and not everyone pays the same. However, if payments (commonly called premiums) are allowed to deviate so wildly that those most likely to use the insurance can’t possibly afford it, then something in the system is out of whack. And it is.

Perhaps part of the problem is the cost of the medical care itself. We may have evolved a system in which we simply spend so much on our health as a society that even when we spread out the costs, we still can’t afford it. Maybe it is because of more expensive procedures and medicines, or a bloated system supporting too many employees, or individuals or institutions demanding a larger profits. Maybe it is a little bit of all of the above.

Maybe part of the problem is the health insurance industry, too. Has this group become too large for us to sustain or has the cut demanded by the insurance industry itself become too high?

Perhaps those with little need for health care now ( young single healthy males) would rather pay far less or nothing and not worry about the needs of families and aging until they have families and are feeling the effects of aging themselves? That’s understandable, when viewed through the eyes of ones own needs.

I say males, because women have additional health needs based on their reproductive systems. Contraception, check ups, prenatal care and childbirth are issues for the vast majority of females. It might be easy to say, well, that’s your dumb luck but not my problem. And in fact, some of the modifications being proposed to health care in the U.S. do say exactly that, to females, to those who are older, to those with pre-existing conditions or mental health needs.

But is that a wise thing to say? I once had a similar argument with someone who had no kids and therefore didn’t want to pay for public education. “Don’t you think that living in an increasingly ignorant and illiterate society would make your life worse?” I asked. “And do you really want to grow old depending on these people you refused to educate to keep your groceries coming and your lights on?” Public education benefits all of us.

So does basic health care for everyone. Contraception? Prenatal care? Whether you are male or female of any age, do you really want to live in a world with more unwanted children? More unhealthy children? A world in which those needing help with drug addiction or mental health issues cannot get care? By carving out pieces of health care and making them expensive add-ons, we bequeath ourselves a society that is worse for us. Not for those other people. For us.

I once read that having a no-smoking section in an airplane was like having a no-peeing section in the pool. Exactly. Those of you who want really low premiums for a health care system that provides you with almost no services, you can go stand over on that side of the pool, and just pay for what you need. The rest of you, well, you stay on this side here and do the best you can with this broken system. And if you just can’t help getting a little pee in the water, I’m sure those folks over there won’t mind.

Hey, everybody. Make sure you don’t swallow a gulp of water when you swim.

 

 

“Get Out of This Town”

We’ve all had that feeling. We’ve got to get somewhere, anywhere else. It can be a combination of weather (it’s snowing again?), friends and ex-friends, relatives that are driving us crazy, an insane boss or teacher, or in the worse of cases, all of the above. Anyone’s couch in a town far away sounds incredibly comfy.

Teddie hits her fed-up point mid-winter in Darjeeling, as she shares a room with a friend training to climb a mountain and finds herself avoiding everyone else at the school because she is tired of their questions about another friend who has gone missing. She doesn’t have the luxury of leaving, but at least she has her music, especially “Get Out of This Town” performed by Carrie Underwood

carrie underwoodDarjeeling stayed dreary and cold as school started, and for days on end the beautiful mountains could not even be seen. Teddie spent a lot of time avoiding the other students at the school so she would not have to answer their questions about Michelle, even though her slightly drafty dorm room was not the refuge she would have liked.

Haley spent most her free time in the room as well, using the impressive array of workout equipment that her father had insisted on sending back to India with her. She had weights and ab straps, rotating push-up bars and some sort of cardio jump device, and she used them all like her life depended on it. Teddie supposed it kind of did. However the net result was that the dorm room was generally filled with Haley’s grunts and groans, and it was now starting to smell like a locker room too. Teddie went out and bought some fruit-scented air freshener.

She tried doing the few exercises that Lhatu had left her with, but compared with Haley’s workout, they just seemed silly. Lhatu’s one week of waiting dragged on to two, and Teddie found herself spending more and more time curled up in her bed under the covers. She wanted to go home. She was supposed to be home, dammit. She found “Get out of this Town” on her MP3 player and started to listen to it over and over until it became her personal anthem.

You’ll feel like you’re exactly where Teddie wants to be; in a front row seat in this country-western bar in Green Bay Wisconsin as you watch this homemade video of Carrie Underwood performing her hit song live.

You can purchase this song at Amazon.com.