I was recently choosing an image for another blog and I wanted to use a topo map of the US like this one —
— but on my search I found a neat blog, Big Thinks, that compiles interesting data maps under the tag Strange Maps. My search led in a few directions from there.
I’m fascinated by this NYT map showing our country physically divided in two – Clinton’s America on the left as an archipelago, and Trump’s eroded land mass with lakes, on the right. This is according to 2016 election results.
I’m including some data from the article, and head over to the NYT if you want to see the beautiful full color illustrated versions of the maps.
I was recently singing and playing “This Land is Your Land” for a friend’s kid, and it got me thinking about our Cricket travels. So many of the verses speak to the beauty of places we’ve adventured in, and they make my heart melt with happiness.
I also like the folky depression-era populism of Woody Guthrie’s message, and the spirit embodied by subsequent adopters of the song like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen; especially the sometimes-left-out verse that begins, in one variation: “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.” (Hey Trump – it’s not gonna work.)
The melody of the song is lighthearted, and singing it with children is a bit of fun nonsense, not unlike singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
But whose land is this?
Chris wrote an excellent post last fall about our country’s lack of remorse for taking this land (our land?) by slaughter and misrepresentation. He wrote that our relationship with Native Americans is “an unhealed wound, ignored in the hopes that it will go away.”
In the version of “This Land is Your Land” that I’m playing, there’s one last sour chord, not found in the rest of the song, notable for its dissonance, and held for a long 5 beats. That cord speaks (for me) to this unhealed wound, to the fact that we’re celebrating enjoyment of something stolen (some would say won?).
Today while paying a bill “the old fashioned way” I remembered that I underestimated the number of checks I would write on our travels.
Bring more checks than you think you will need!
In “regular life” writing a check is pretty rare. I use checks for a few personal transactions and I do everything else with some form of online banking, or cash. As do you, right?
With camping, free is best, of course. The BLM is great for this! So are New York State Parks. But sometimes you have to pay.
A Forest Service campsite might cost $6 or $10 or $15 a night. There’s a small wood or metal box that you stuff your payment into, in a small envelope with tiny boxes to fill out in pen. There’s no credit card option. Cash works too, but with no “cashier” there’s no mechanism for providing change. And nowhere to get money in the woods!
Some places are more modernized. Private facilities take credit cards, for sure, unless they’re small town operations. I also reserved a lot of California State Park campsites using their online system and a credit card – but it only works on registrations a couple of days out. When you’re traveling day by day and you pull into a California campsite without pre-registration, you’ll end up wanting a check. The camper host will have a packet of envelopes. It’ll become a familiar process.
And if you’re lucky enough to be living like this long term — You’ll write a lot of checks.
We’ll be unwrapping the Cricket soon!
We’re not so idealized here at Curious Crickets and still we’re really excited to be getting the Cricket out of winter storage. Because waking up in fields and forests. Is. Awesome.
Maybe you’ve been wanting to get out for a week.
Are you curious about The Cricket?
Contact us if you’re interested in short or long term rental.
I’m taking off the tarp next weekend!
We’ll be using the camper on occasional weekends, maybe at MassMoCA, hopefully in the wild as well. We’re lending the Cricket to a friend in September for a residency in Maine. A few things planned.
There’s room on the calendar…
The Wall Street Journal recently published an essay called In Praise of a Nomadic Life, by Andrew Blackman. It’s a story about a particular couple, a 40-ish man and woman who decided to live on the road, mostly in Europe so far, driving around in an old Toyota, staying in hotels, and living on about $100 a day. They both write freelance to cover their costs (Andrew wrote the piece that I read); she also teaches photography. They’ve been at it for a couple of years.
The essay is published in the WSJ category “wealth management” and when I noticed this, it got me thinking about how people plan for their lives, and for wellness. It’s not really a wealth management article. In terms of a managing money, Andrew writes: “Our plan is to earn more and start saving.” For now they live comfortably, spending a little more per month than they did when living in London, and covering costs as they go (an example follows with the image).
Financial planning is really not this couple’s thing. I mean, they seem to be doing fine, feeling safe and secure, and having fun, but they’re not thinking about the future. The whole point of their travel adventure is to not have to think about the future. He writes about how he used to pin his happiness on future events, and how life as a nomad has allowed him to live in the present and enjoy what he has. “At the risk of sounding like a slogan posted on Facebook, I would say that for the first time in my life, I am living in the present rather than dreaming about the future.”
I’m curious about how and why this approach works for them because it doesn’t usually work for me. Sometimes I use cash-in-my-pocket budgeting as a mental exercise that can lead to thrifty decision making. It can be useful. It’s attached in my mind to romantic ideas about simple living. But honestly? It gets tiring. There’s decision fatigue in general, and the ways that poverty taxes the brain specifically. I’m so grateful that the exercise is optional, that I’m not stuck counting dollars all the time.
I think the trade-off approach works best with a long-term planning perspective. Rather than spending money and then belt-tightening to offset the things you got or did, it works in the reverse: choose something you want in the future, and make adjustments now that will help you get there. I find that having a goal in mind makes present-moment compromises feel much better. This is how we saved for the Cricket adventure. Here’s another example —
Chris and I didn’t get tickets this year in Burning Man’s main sale. At first I was really disappointed and I focused on other ways that we could get in, like working for a camp. But we’ve been talking about building a home, and as soon as I made a mental connection between using the resources we would have spent on Burning Man towards the house, I could let go of my perceived need to go to Burning Man. I’d rather use the money towards (some of) a hydronic radiant floor heating system, and I’d rather spend the time tromping around potential lots.
This idea about perceived value isn’t all about money, either. On our Cricket travels, I sometimes felt worn down by making all sorts of choices in each new place: where to buy groceries, where to get wi-fi, where to get good beer, where to sleep, where to make friends. While a general expertise may be cultivated (such as, in the art of finding campsites) the individual decisions didn’t seem to ever add up to anything lasting. The next day, you start over again. I almost always wanted to stay longer in places so that I could build on what I’d done the day before. I like it when parts of my life run on routine; this frees up some decision-making energy for other, more interesting, present-moment activities. I feel unenlightened writing this, but I’m happiest when my “now” is connected to a future that I’m excited about creating.
p.s. If you’re curious, there are people writing about how to blend financial savvy with forms of happiness that aren’t reliant on stuff. Mr. Money Mustache is the best, in my opinion.
Play is awesome. A Google search will give you a plethora of information about play’s useful properties, both for children and adults. I believe in this research but I’m also a big proponent of play simply for the sake it. That’s why kids do it, right? Kids aren’t thinking, “this activity will help boost my creativity and bring me closer to the state of flow as described by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, thus making me more productive at work.” Kids do what feels good.
Recently, Chris and I were waiting to enter TEKNOPOLIS, an exhibit of interactive art and technology at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Most of the patrons were moms and dads with children under 8 (the exhibit was listed as for ages 6 to adult). The line was a bouncing, waving, whining stream of child energy.
Along with the “everyone-would-categorize-them-as-such kids,” there were a mother and her teenaged son in front of us; he looked to be about 14 or 15 years old. He wasn’t quite full grown. He had long hair and was dressed casually. He looked around and expressed dismay at the preponderance of children. “I didn’t think there would be so many kids,” he said. His tone suggested that the kids made the event seem less cool, and that he didn’t identify as a kid. Like maybe he wasn’t in the right place.
This attitude isn’t surprising. I remember how it felt to be a teenager. I’d also heard similar concerns from Chris — to whom I simply kept insisting, “it’s all good; we’re giant-sized kids; this will be fun.” I told the teenaged-kid essentially the same thing. Turned out, I was right!
TEKNOPOLIS was FUN.
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Somehow, Chris and I ended up working our way through the exhibits on roughly the same path as the teenaged-kid and his mother, and that was fun too. When they opened the gate, we beelined for the virtual reality room upstairs and stood together waiting to use Google Tilt Brush — a 3-D virtual reality drawing program. The teenaged-kid went first. He was prepared (and, we learned, had been pestering mom for a home system) and he made a drawing that was recognizably derived from life. It was fun to watch.
I said to Chris, “I need a plan!” It was intimidating knowing that a line of people would be watching me. First though, I wanted to experiment with all of the brushes and to orient myself in space. The few minutes I had with the system went by quickly. I want to play more with this very cool tool!
Later, we went downstairs to the XYZT room. Borrowing from math for its name – x (horizontal), y (vertical), z (depth), and t (time) – the room was full of sensory, immersive, playful, and interactive technological innovations in black and white. The video below is from “Anamorphosis in Time” which transformed live video of exhibit-goers into wavy and time-distorted alter-versions.
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Another of my favorite pieces was the “Kinetic Sand,” a light-table-slash-horizontal-responsive-video-screen. It showed digital “grains of sand” that could be manipulated in patters by touching the table. We met up again with the teenaged-kid at this table. He watched us us play for a few moments and then started asking questions… “how does it work? … ” is it responding to your hand like there’s a gravitational pull?”
“Try it,” we suggested. We all played for a little while and then, as the group around the table enlarged, Chris and I wandered off. When we returned, the teenaged-kid was still there. He had played through each of the five or so cycles of pattern and physics that the table offered, and he explained to us how it worked. One pulled particles towards the hand, another pushed them away, and so on. We all played together a while longer. “What happens if …?”
Others joined, and the games continued.
That kind of engagement is why giant-sized kids are so cool. Chris and I had a blast running and jumping around the exhibits for our allotted two-and-a-half hours. We problem-solved our way through the interactive parts but it wasn’t a serious science project kind of vibe. It was play, curiosity, complete engagement in the moment. We were absorbed. We were inventive. We connected.
My complete attention to the moment reminds me of how I felt in the South Dakota Wind Cave. It also reminds me of long-ago adventures; early in our relationship, Chris and I visited Ireland together and spend days crawling around the Burren, amused by little more than limestone rock, tide pools, the smashing of waves, and each other.
Homo Ludens, a classic work on play by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, describes play as “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same absorbing the player intensely and utterly.”
That quote describes travel-adventuring at its best.
I am so grateful that we can still find the time and places act like giant-sized kids, even now that we’re living like grownups back home.
This is life. I am lucky.
These Crickets are pretty well settled back into (and enjoying!) the routines and rituals of everyday life. I miss the open sky and easy connection to natural landscapes, yet I’m glad to once again be part of the community structures within which I feel most intellectually and spiritually alive.
There’s a richness to life within a community; that’s an obvious point, but one that is under-appreciated because for most of us, social structures and our DNA are always driving us towards creating and maintaining connections. When you’re not living on the road (or otherwise reconstructing your life in some kind of new environment), you don’t usually have to think too much about it.
Networks of people have many functions. To mention just a key few, they help us meet basic human needs, bring us together to create and share joy, and offer us support during times of trouble.
In a talk this week at Smith College, Maria Stephan highlighted the importance of networks in successful nonviolent resistance to authoritarian regimes (this is her expertise). “A movement of movements,” she called it, describing the ways that working at a local level builds trust and loyalty that are needed for a sustained engagement. If these efforts are also organized with intersectionality and into larger networks, rather than in silos, they are more likely to succeed. If you’re interested in these ideas, this TED talk will give you food for thought about the need to mobilize 3.5% of the population, and what that means.
I heard about Stephan’s talk from someone at work, and I’m grateful for that. I love to build connections around my perpetual desire for learning and growth. One of my (several) favorite things about being home is that as I’ve wondered how to re-engage in democratic civil society, people I know have pointed me towards lectures and other resources that were just the thing I needed at a particular time. (I read a lot, but lectures are unique. To speak for an hour or more to a live audience is to create a particular kind of responsive long form journalism that requires a lot of clarity and care.)
First, it was Garry Trudeau. He reminded me that it can feel good to connect with people about distressing events, and that it’s possible to be entertaining and constructively engaged. Next it was Adam Gopnik, who reminded me that there’s precedent for dealing with uncertainty and ugliness. Societies are cyclical, vacillating in fairly predictable ways between openness and aggressive reaction. This can result in feeling disheartened and hopeless, but it can also help us use great minds of history to inform our thinking about the present.
Most recently it was Maria Stephan, who spoke cogently about action informed by history and brought up the importance of self care. She had already pointed out that it’s important to plan for at least 8 years of civil resistance, if not more. The divisions in our society are that deep and it’s a big mistake, she says, to allow people to become discouraged because of unrealistic hopes — we need to plan for a marathon, not a 400 metre dash. I’m drawn to think about deliberate nurturing as an important element of sustaining momentum. I already think a lot about the overlap between healthy shifting of awareness and unhealthy avoidance — how to tell the difference, and how to create practices that serve me well.
The day after the election, Chris and I happened to be near Boston and we visited the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. There was a particular installation by Sarah Sze (this page has photos and describes the enchanting piece better than the official Brandeis site) that allowed me to feel calm in a way I could nowhere else. We spent time exploring together and then, while Chris visited other galleries, I sat for more than an hour and sort of meditated in the large dark room. While that activity felt healthy, the desire to stay seated there forever did not (or wouldn’t have been in practice).
In the months after the election, I’ve felt a strong desire to escape. Burning Man has thus crept into my psyche; I’ve often been viscerally reminded of pieces like the lighthouse and I’ve felt a pull to run away to a magical place that doesn’t exist. I’ve also felt an urge to run away into the hills; I think lots of people feel that way, but for Chris and I it’s somewhat more of a practical option because of the ways we’ve lived in the Cricket. I’ve observed the blogs of fellow road travelers, noting that some have gone quiet (sometimes as their life patterns change, as ours have) while others keep up a steady pace of festive adventuring, no mention of the state of the world. I wonder if they feel as carefree as they seem?
For some time, those various couples were the network to which I related most easily; they understood and could inform that peculiar lifestyle of living together on the road. I wonder, would I would still be avoiding the news if Chris and I were still on the road? It would be easier to do so without the forces of community here at home inciting me to talk, question, and know. Or I might also be building networks of a different sort; I had one non-escapist fantasy that involved taking the Cricket to all those places we skipped and interviewing people who support Trump about how they feel and what they hope to achieve. I think it would make a great podcast (someone’s doing it, I imagine).
Chris and I hope to get tickets for Burning Man 2017; they go on sale soon. Burning Man is a once-a-year-extravaganza of departure from everyday life. I wrote last year that it felt post-apocalyptic. It’s also a place of super strong community and active engagement. A city almost unto itself, bound by both ritual and radicalism — and that’s exactly this year’s theme: Radical Ritual.
In 2017, we invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.
There will surely be rituals of cleansing escape and rituals of social action (along with everything in-between). The more I think about the networks of people volunteering year-round towards making the on-playa event happen, the more I realize that Burning Man isn’t quite as debauched as it looks while biking around, especially to an overwhelmed newbie. So maybe the question is, how does that energy translate now, post-Trump? As a healthy escape, a safe space, a refuge? Or is Burning Man more part of the activism of everyday life than I realize? A place where intersectionality already flourishes?
As I was thinking about Burning Man 2017, I looked at our photos from 2016. The theme was “Da Vinci’s Workshop” and as a small contribution to the Burning Man community, I had posted a “Leonardo quote of the day” each day of the event. Some of the quotes (as below) are strikingly appropriate to the concept of nonviolent resistance and social change, as part of a network.
I realize that quotes don’t change culture and Burning Man doesn’t represent any practical solution to the challenges of a divided America. Yet it’s an interesting piece of the puzzle, somehow representing both an effective system of connections and a place of renewal. As I talk with people about how they are making sense of the current social and political climate, I realize that although my dilemmas are specific to me, they’re not particularly unique. People who followed the campaign straight through are still facing questions about how to be useful and how to feel ok. I find it to be comforting that the Burning Man network exists (admittedly far more liberal and open-minded than the population at large) and succeeds as one sort of movement of movements.
Now, I need to dig into the many resources for organizing and action suggested by Maria Stephan and others. Radical ritual and life in action. My community has persuaded me that there’s no other choice.
(All photos in this post are mine from Burning Man 2016.)
The fact that I didn’t end up wanting to live as a digital nomad full time surprised me. I like travel. I like efficiency and technology. I like work. I like coffee shops and bars. I like digital nomads; their ethic and their methods make sense to me. Yet I also like creature comforts of an office that are difficult to organize without a home base. So I learned how to make it work.
In 1995 I set off to Europe with a train pass, a backpack, and an almost 7 pound Powerbook laptop. Back then, laptops were heavy, expensive and not in common use like they are today. Everyone advised me against it, but I persisted. I was convinced that I needed a computer. I loved writing on my computer! But I FedExed the laptop home about a week and a half later, wanting to be free of its bulk and the responsibility of hauling it around. I wrote in notebooks on that trip. (Remember film photographs? Saving the rolls of film to develop when you returned home? That too.)
The lessons of that earlier trip were useful on our Cricket adventure and we’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen months about what does really work — How do you live like a digital nomad when you’re not one at heart?
Lesson #1: Go light.
This one’s obvious, right? These days, it’s possible to get everything most people could want technologically in a pretty small package.
For example, Chris just got a new external storage drive that holds a terabyte of data. It’s smaller and has fewer bulky power cords than our old one. For a small cost ($50 to $75) it really increases convenience. You might be surprised at how much small conveniences mean when you’re living on the road.
Lesson #2: Don’t go more high tech than you will enjoy.
There are so many options these days. You can get the equipment and software to be outfitted like a pro for photo and video. This also means that you’ll be spending more time learning how use the features, managing digital media files, and caring for your equipment. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll use and enjoy.
For example: Backpacking in 1995, I didn’t really need the laptop for the kinds of writing I wanted to do. Driving around the country in 2016, I never used a digial SLR and lenses. (I could have left it at home.) I used a small digital camera on the rafting trip, because it was the safest thing to bring on the river. Even though it was a nice piece of equipment in its day (2008 or so), the video quality looks terrible now and so I phased that out. I pretty much only used my iPhone and iPad and I’m super happy with the quality and convenience.
Chris, on the other hand, hardly went anywhere without his digital SLR and possibly an extra lens or tripod. That worked for him.
Lesson #3: If you’re a Mac user, the Notes app is wonderful.
Notes is good on the iPhone for an incidental list or jotting down the name of a book someone suggests you read. More importantly, it also functions quite well for word processing. I use Notes on my laptop because the application doesn’t get sluggish like Microsoft Word does, and because I can then access the file easily (without going into Dropbox), on any of my devices. The Notes app keeps on getting better, too.
Lesson #4: Get your syncing in order.
At home, Chris and I were set up with backups of our mobile devices occurring at night over wifi. If you’re the kind of person who backs your stuff up (and this is important!) you probable have a similar setup.
Living on the road introduces a lot of unknowns about when/where there will be wifi or cell coverage available, whether it will be secure, how fast it will be, and how long you’ll have access to it. We had to reorganize all our auto-sync settings and learned to manually sync everything possible when we were in a good location.
Lesson #5: Headphones help get in the zone.
Distracted by your neighbor’s conversation at a coffee shop? Learning that libraries aren’t always as silent as they are supposed to be? Want to signal to your spouse (or that cute barista) that you aren’t available for chit chat? Headphones help a lot.
The big kind are best; they make it more obvious that you’re in that zone, and they’re better at cancelling out ambient sounds. I listen to a lot of music and ocean sounds. I also use headphones without any music playing, just to muffle the noises around me. It helps.
On our travels, I practiced a lot at slowing down. Decompression was harder than I expected, and the process of slowing down is one I persisted at. Habits that I thought would take a couple of months to slough off were actually much more ingrained. There’s a lot to say about how.
Also: WHY? Here are a few reasons slowing down is helpful.
- Slowing down helps appreciate what is rather than wanting more. Searching for different can become a habit. Checking things off a to-do list can become too much of the point, always looking to the next completion. Even progress has it’s follies. There’s got to be some balance to visionary thinking: the good in the now.
- Slowing down makes it easier to stay in your body, notice what’s happening, and adjust with it. The aches we have in our bodies are often byproducts of tightening in other places. By mid adult life, the ways we hold ourselves is so habitual. Clenching a fist and tightening your jaw can show up later in your shoulder. This happens for me with my toes and neck. Slowing down and noticing these reactions as they happen a the first step to feeling more physically comfortable.
- Slowing down makes it easier to catch a wave of flow. Sometimes immersion also involves a sense of urgency — the mad scientist frantically creating — but that’s not always true. I think flow is also often a slowing down, resulting in more engagement with the moment of making rather than hastening towards execution of the idea. Slow down and enjoy the act of creating.
Adam Gopnik was in town recently with the Salisbury Forum. He called his talk “notes of a reluctant pundit” and opened with a funny story about what he called his first experience with punditry, in the mid 1980’s in New York.
The short version of that story is that Gopnik gave a keynote, with almost no advance notice, to the Pluralism and Individualism Society. He had no idea what the group did but he figured the topic of pluralism and individualism was sufficiently broad to allow him to talk about modern art, which was something he knew about. The conference organizer told Gopnik afterwards that his remarks were healing. I mention this detail because Gopnik had a very similar effect for me.
In the weeks prior, I had been distraught about my relationship with the news media — I wanted to re-engage after our travels, but I couldn’t figure out how or where to do so thoughtfully, especially post-election. My interactions with radio news, newspapers, dinner-table conversation, the writing of friends, and snippets of television went badly. I was, at times, hysterical (and I don’t mean extremely funny).
Writing, thinking, reading, and talking weren’t helping me move through my efforts to re-engage. I was terrified and stuck. With examples from philosophy and history, Gopnik persuaded me that “writing sanely about politics in a less than sane America” is possible. To accomplish this, he cited Camus, Darwin, Lincoln, and many other people, many ideas about irony, (deadly) abstraction, truth, empiricism, tone, and civil society.
I’ve been trying to sum up that “spark” — how and why this moment shifted my thinking — and I’ve concluded it’s not possible to do so in a brief way. It was a long talk, the effect is a sum-of-the-parts. You had to be there. Gopnik did a good job of threading together complex ideas in a coherent and accessible way, and I think it resonated with the audience: they laughed, hmmed and mmmed, and asked questions at the end. His remarks also had personal resonance for me, because of the ways I try to understand the world. That’s all difficult to distill, as are the ideas of thinkers like Camus. In awarding Camus its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel Prize committee cited his writing’s:
clear-sighted earnestness [that] illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.
That’s not too much to want, is it?
Here are my notes.