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.)
One of the nicest things about our travels is the greater ability to visit with the friends and family who live on the western half of the U.S. Both my parents turned (will turn) 70 this year and to celebrate this milestone, we all met up near Big Bend National Park in Texas. We chose this remote location for several reasons:
- It would be warm (a bit too warm in the end of April as we found out)
- None of us has been there
- It fell in line with our travels
- Several people recommended this park
Instead of lodging inside Big Bend, we rented a very cool adobe in Terlingua, about twenty minutes west of the park entrance. This gave us more space and a kitchen to make meals in. It was more enjoyable to come back from exploring the park and hang out in a relaxing place while cooking dinner.
Terlingua itself has a lot of character, thriving off of the many ruins scattered around. Once a mining town in the mid 1880’s, this area peaked with a population of about 2,000 people. The draw was cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted. Now the attraction is its location to Big Bend, drawing in tourists like us.
Situated on the Texas/Mexico boarder, Big Bend is a nice quiet park compared to places like Zion. It’s a long but scenic drive through western Texas to reach it. Their long strait open highways encourage a heavy foot as you cruse from one isolated town to the next. Marfa is one such town, surrounded by stretches of open country. This unique destination will be covered more in its own blog, but if you ever get a chance to visit Marfa, take it.
Out of all the states we’ve traveled through, I believe Texans to be some of the most welcoming and friendly folks we’ve encountered. Texas is full of friendly faces, welcoming smiles, and honest hospitality. Once while in Zion, I was inquiring about getting a tire patched at a gas station. The stations mechanic wasn’t in that day but the gentleman waiting in line behind me said he’d be happy plug my tire for me. He was a Texan, visiting Zion with his family, and was kind enough to help me out.
I think the last time we as a family all vacationed together was when I was just a kid. It’s always special to have everyone together, and even more so in a new place. Though the main reason for this gathering was for my parents 70th, Alexis and Andrea also had big birthdays as well, both turning 40. There was plenty to celebrate and there was no shortage of food and drink to do so.
I use to think 70 was old, and it use to be, but now not so much. We’ve met many retired folks on the road, active and enjoying a full life. I’m happy both my parents are able to do the same. I value now more than ever that time spent with them. Living on the East Coast, our visits are usually once a year. I’ve seen my parents three times already during our travels and my Dad four. I plan on seeing them at least two more times before we head back. It’s been really memorable to spend so much time with them. It was also a special treat to see my sister twice in one year; that rarely happens. So I’ll end this blog how I started it, saying how one of nicest things about our travels is that it has enabled us to visit more with friends and family in this neck of the woods. As our time wends down, I hope to see more of them before heading back east.
While we’re out adventuring, life continues back home … invitations for events we can’t attend come through the email, the creative district grows, our friends make families, our families continue their own adventures. Sometimes we feel lonely out here on our own. Thankfully we have each other, but friends along the way help a lot too.
Sometimes we manage to cross paths with fellow travelers. On the central California coast, we met Dakota and Chelsea of Traipsing About — and I hope we cross paths again. It was really fun to hike and talk travel life with a couple who know it well. Dakota and Chelsea have made their lives as travelers for some years now, and I had several moments of clarity talking with them about the nuances of this lifestyle and the ways it affects a relationship. (Short version: you have a ton of fun, get really close, perfect your team skills, go a little crazy sometimes, and then have more fun, repeat.)
Traipsing About was one of the blogs I read — often in bed on weekend mornings, saying to Chris, “hey, look at this!” — as inspiration for our own adventure. They have such an open-hearted approach to the ways they explore the world together, the ways they’ve learned to do it well. Talking and laughing with them definitely helped me embrace the messiness of this life a little and, during a month in which I often struggled with being cold and dirty and not quite in the zone, helped me remember what’s amazing about having an adventure partner with whom you get to make (almost) exactly the life you want.
Further down the coast, we met Cass and David, transplanted east coasters making life in LA. Their apartment walls are covered with cute pictures of the two of them exploring around the world and with her amazing photos of the scenery; their books represent dreams of future adventures; she also shares a fantasy about doing something like our current adventure. You can hear the sincerity in their voices when they talk about their love for the places they’ve been, especially around the american landscape.
Via Cass & David’s hospitality, Chris and I ended up being able to bike up the LA coast from Hermosa Beach to Santa Monica, by way of Venice Beach. Our 30-mile round trip, fueled by yummy burgers at Bareburger (humanely raised meat, of course), gave me a chance to see several places I was interested in, but that we hadn’t been able to properly visit while towing the trailer (beach parking is tight). How better than to do it along the strand, on bike, on a beautiful March LA day under the spring sunshine.
We checked out the canals in Venice, Muscle Beach, the Venice boardwalk. We got pretty good at biking through sand where it had blown (it had been really windy) into piles in stretches across the sidewalk.
We also took a weekend ride with Cass & David to the Manhattan Beach pier, ate custom made ice cream sandwiches, looked at the big and often empty houses. (In San Clemente, where we’d spent six weeks over the winter, the architecture is a uniform pale terra cotta — so it was fun to see the conglomeration of styles in LA.) Sharp new glass and metal cubes next to their now awkward-looking 1980’s ancestors of the same materials, and then Italian villas with stone and pillars and exuberant style next to the few beach shacks that remain, New England-y wood shingles and simple design. The people watching was fun, too — the fellow bikers and dog walkers on the strand, many skateboarders, players on the volleyball courts (we’ve never seen so many volleyball nets in our life — all arrayed on the beach), people enjoying the nice days.
Cass is a photographer (her site was built with David’s web skills), and we visited a favorite gallery of hers, looked at beautiful large prints on aluminum, photos from all over the world. It’s pretty stunning how a directional lamp can use the aluminum to really make well-captured light in the photos glow.
As travelers, Chris and I have stayed at the homes of quite a few people — I hope we’re good at being fun-and-helpful-but-not-too-obtrusive houseguests. With Cass and David there was something really genuine about how easily we all got along. Their cats were even friendly, and reminded us so much our beloved Malachi.
We’re so grateful for the opportunity to meet these fellow world-explorers, and for one more adventure in LA. And if down the road, David & Cass start a blog about their travel adventures, I’ll definitely read it.
Throughout our travels, we’ve been the beneficiaries of great hospitality, generosity, and openness. That’s especially true of Oregon, perhaps because we spent so long there, perhaps because the state attracts a special kind of people. I’m not sure. Probably both, and more.
I’ve been meaning to send some gratitude out into the world for this. It’s a post I’ve been avoiding (I mean, we crossed the border into California two moths ago now) for various complicated reasons. Maybe I was worried that I’m not up to the task of properly honoring all the people I want to mention. Of course I want to make each unique. Maybe it felt too personal, as if we were exposing not just ourselves but also these other friends to the blogosphere. Maybe it just made me a little bit sad that we’re not there anymore, that it will be some time before we are able to return.
(We will return, no doubt about that. I have a list of unfinished business, things I still want to do, or to do again, people to spend time with.)
In keeping with Chris and I practicing routines, we’ve started an accountability group (a “group” of two). My goal for the week was to post the two topics I’ve been struggling with. So, here goes!
When we cruised into Oregon, we already had some social plans. Chris had connected with a woman who he grew up with, someone who had since moved to Oregon for college and then settled and started a family. I have to say, I was skeptical about meeting someone he hadn’t really spent time with since he was a child. Would we have any connection? What would we talk about? Was this nuts? Oh, Alexis of little faith.
Chris’ friend is awesome, as is her husband and their two small kids. Her mom even came to dinner! It was really good fun. Of course I’m grateful that they hosted us in their home, made us a nice meal, provided us a warm welcome. One night staying with them turned into a weekend of house and dog sitting while they went to the beach. We got to play at being regular people. That was cool.
The thing that has really lasted though, in my memory, is how completely open they were — the kind of people who seem to be unfailingly authentic, who are willing to open their hearts and their minds, who (seemingly) easily bring up “real” topics as easily as they do they “what to do in our area” kind of conversation. I won’t divulge all their secrets, or their not-so-secrets here, of course. Yet I have to mention how much it meant to me to spend time with some really genuine people. Living on the road can be lonely and isolating. I clearly felt a little bit cynical about my ability to relate. It was a good lesson for me to have this comfortable connection, to feel human. Thank you, Chris’ childhood friend and her family. That meant a lot.
Leaving Portland for the Coast
While in Portland we also saw a former colleague of Chris’, someone who had recently moved out west. He and his other half are on an adventure of their own, and it was really fun to feel that spark. We met at cool place called the Hungry Tiger and had a fun evening of conversation about the area and their discoveries, both logistical and personal. It was exciting to hear about how their careers are developing, how they are exploring the world, finding things they love. I so admire their willingness to pick up and go. We wonder whether we’ll find a place on this travel adventure that we might want to relocate to, but it’s a pretty scary proposition. There’s something about the safety of the network at home that’s pretty hard to break. I so admire the bravery of these friends for getting it done.
Plus, they gave us some great suggestions, including a list of galleries to visit. Several weeks later, when my mom was in town, we used that to create a half day art outing. While we might have found the galleries on our own, they felt more intimate for having been suggested by a friend. I regret that we didn’t properly connect back to him to say “thanks” and share what we enjoyed, or that we didn’t do another outing with these folks. It wasn’t because of them. If anything, it was because of the ways we were discombobulated by travel at that time. I hope (I think) we are getting better at being appreciative visitors.
We also had a couple of lucky friend-of-a-friend meetings. One in particular bears mentioning for that same reason again — the openness and willingness to make time for a real human connection. In this case, with an almost complete stranger!
Let’s see if I can make this make sense — a friend back home had made an introduction for another friend we know when she was living in Oregon (but who sadly for us, went back east just before we arrived out west). So friend #2 (who I adore, but who was properly Chris’ friend through the arts long before I came into the picture) provided an email introduction. We thought Chris and I would stop in for a visit, but logistics worked out that I would be going alone while he was in Alaska. So these lovely people in Oregon found themselves wondering who this woman was — a friend of a friend’s of a friend’s partner, or something like that — arriving at their house to stay. I found myself wondering about them, too! (Yet also trusting our friend’s recommendation, as I suppose they did.) We sorted some of this out via email, and I arrived, trailer in tow.
This couple, who are closer our parents’ age than our own, had long lived and made their careers in Corvallis, but had recently relocated to Bend for a variety of personal reasons. That is where I visited them. The visit was a whirlwind of activity and energy. Multiple hikes. Directions to some of their newly discovered favorite eats and drinks / and discovering some new ones with them: ocean rolls at Sparrow Bakery, Looney Bean coffee overlooking the river, savory yogurt and other scrumptious middle eastern treats.
As someone who tends to be calm and watchful, I am in complete admiration of the energy radiating from the female half of this couple. She had the two of us writing together and the three of us playing drawing games; she was cooking and coming up with ideas; asking me to read them my poetry; showing me their art. He shared his music with me, and his interesting mind.
I feel like this is where I start to fail in my ability to describe these connections – especially the one in Bend. When I write it down, it sounds like a list of stuff! These details are part of my memory, but they don’t capture what seems so special, so unique. That’s more personal, intangible. I liked that I immediately felt like almost an old friend, a trusted one. It’s a nice quality, to make someone feel like that.
Some connections were more fleeting, but cool all the same. I visited the oldest cemetery in Eugene with a new friend, a fellow traveller, adventurer, and camper-liver. We wandered the moss covered hills for a couple of hours, talking about life, appreciating history. She showed me a slice of this town that I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered.
And finally, we made another set of new friends who might be lasting (we hope!). They are a sweet couple roughly our age, so full of excitement for life, especially life in Oregon. Once again I’m going to fail at describing everything I appreciate about them. They provided thoughtful lists of things to do in their city and around the state. We discovered Cape Perpetua because of them — a place we went back to again and again to watch the surf and to crawl around tide pools. They might someday (when parenting responsibilities allow for it) travel camp like we are doing. I know they’ll come up with some grand adventures, and will do it with full enthusiasm for all this planet has to offer. I hope that we can repay some of their kindnesses then, with some recommendations of our own.
I’m not sure if I’ve done any of these people justice. I wish I could mention everyone else, too, outside of Oregon. For now, I’ll just shout out to a couple of cool people in Poky. You know who you are. We appreciate you, too.