Road Trip 2013 – End of the Road

2013-07-23

This weekend I finished the package of pistachios I bought at a farm-stand on the side of the road while driving to see my friend Noelle in Merced CA, as well as finishing the last of the dozen eggs given to me by my friend Mary-Ellen from the chickens she keeps on her 13 acre property in Rindge NH. Although my road trip ended less than a week ago, in some ways it feels like a much longer time. The adjustment to being back in a home that doesn’t feel like a home has been harder than I expected. I have been fairly good at accomplishing what I wanted this week. Beginning to get back into regular exercise in the morning, for example, as well as working regularly on creative writing, web projects, school prep, and dissertation work. Still, I haven’t seen a single person socially since my return and have felt, generally, ill at ease, discontent, and vaguely sad. I think that is partly why I have resisted posting final thoughts on the trip. But some form of wrap-up is in order, if only to remind myself that the friends and experiences I had are not gone. Not really. And memories of fun, centeredness, and the smiles and embraces of friends can only mean more if I don’t let them dissolve under the acid weight of mundane, everyday, somewhat stressful and somewhat lonely, Pittsburgh living. In no particular order then, and with no particular theme, some thoughts. ##Music There is something utterly unique about driving and listening to music and singing at the top of your lungs. I did not do it regularly on this trip, but I did sing along and loud to four albums in particular. The first, The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, was not so much singing loud as singing passionately with the album every time I listened to it, which was often. Released shortly before my trip, and with their June 11th live concert still fresh in my ears, this became the most played album of the trip. Each song connects deeply with me, exploring something about my, either from the narrator’s point of view or, and just as often, from what/who the song’s narrator is describing. The music is dense and complex and yet sincere and straightforward. The second album, Prince’s Purple Rain, was brought on deck for some night driving through Nebraska and I totally sacrificed my voice to keep up with his purpleness (and with Wendy & Lisa’s vocals as well). I haven’t listened to that album in its entirety for probably two or three years, but because it is one of the foundational records of my teen years, I still and will always know it. A few tempo mistakes, a handful of lyrics that I forgot, but 90% of that album is in my body, as good as muscle memory. The third and forth albums were both brought out on my last day of the trip, doing a 10ish hour drive from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh. My energy was flagging, my mood was a mix of looking forward to being in my own home and an uneasiness about returning to a place that feels lonely and sullen. Pink Floyd’s The Wall seemed a natural choice. I can’t remember the last time I listened to that in its entirety, probably at least 4-5 years. However, like Purple Rain, The Wall is integral to . . . well, me. A major soundtrack to my teen years, the album seems a bit immature to me these days, though it has some truly great songs. Still, perhaps that very immaturity made it perfect for listening to it loud and singing/screaming out lyrics. As a teen I would have found it an album to fall into, finding bits and pieces of myself inside the lyrics and the music. Now, I am far more likely to do that with a band like The National or the music of Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. But it was fun, speeding along concrete and calling out, all anguished-like, “hey you!”. After that, I went with one of the most anthemic albums for teens in the 80s that likely cuts across most divisions of musical taste: Violent Femmes’ first album, Violent Femmes. Damn that was fun! 🙂 Sure, I’m considerably far from the emotional tenor that the album is pitched to, and it doesn’t resonate in the same way that it did for me in the 80s, but a) it’s a damned good album, and b) sometimes it’s fun to reconnect to your young self and just scream out angry, angsty lyrics. And scream I did. Which I wouldn’t do nearly anywhere but in a car by myself. Which is a shame because the experience can be truly cathartic and is one I don’t really allow myself in my daily life. Maybe I need to find a place to scream/sing more often? ##Photographs Over this trip I visited a good number of people who I care about, and made some new connections and friends as well. Yet, I took not a single picture of any of them, or even any of them with me. I took plenty of pictures (not the amount a real photographer would take, but somewhere around 400), but none of them were of friends. Why? I honestly don’t know. I think party of the answer is that when I was with people I spent most of my time present in that moment, enjoying the feeling of being around people who I care about and who care about me. A feeling I don’t get enough of in my life here in Pittsburgh, especially with the departure of Kellen, Michael, and Elizabeth last year. When on the road, a lot of my pictures were taken in order to share them with friends and family, which is why I started making the videos I posted. When I was around friends and family, the desire to document those moments was never really there because I was living those moments and already sharing them with people, so why take a photograph? This is not new, I don’t have a lot of pictures of friends. Sometimes I wish I had a few more, especially since my friends seem to be scattered across a very large country. But it’s a wish I never really think about until after I’ve left someone. This was especially the case after meeting up with a few friends and family and the Mews Tavern for my birthday. Chris N. and Nick M. both came down to celebrate with me and they were my two closest friends throughout high school. The three of us probably have not been in the same room for something like 25 years. Here we are on our high school graduation day:


Me cn  nm
I would LOVE to have a current picture to post but it occurred to none of us to take a picture or have my other friend Ryan H. take a picture of us. Of all the opportunities for photos that would be nice to have, including spending time with a cousin I haven’t seen in thirty years, I think not getting a picture of myself with Nick and Chris—considering Chris is moving to Germany this week—is the opportunity I most regret. So, I guess what I’m saying, is that the next time you and I hang out, let’s take a few pictures of us together, even if it feels a bit sentimental. 🙂 ##Control There were a number of reasons I wanted to rent a car and do the trip in the way I did, and it is no surprise to anyone that my experience of travel when I am in control of my own path and schedule is far less stressful to me than traveling based on bus/train/plane schedules or at someone else’s schedule. However, Road Trip 2013 certainly reinforced just how much this is the case. As tired and weary of driving as I became sometimes—and sometimes it was very tired and weary indeed—when on the road I always felt in control and centered in a way that I often don’t as a graduate student. I enjoyed this strange mixture of freedom and control and a sense of giving myself over to the road, which restricts options, enforced a set of limited choices and narrowed my possible actions to those things necessary to a) not drive off the road b) not drive into other people or animals, and c) not run out of gas. Yes, there was a lot of pretty things to look at on the way through, but being on the road itself meant something, physiologically, mentally, and emotionally. It gave me an experience that balanced freedom with discipline and which is exactly the experience I struggle to shape my life to each and every day. And which I fail at most days. Or at least that I perceive most days as a failure in that regard. Mostly it’s the discipline part that I never seem to get right. I’m trying. I’ve set myself a number of regular times to exercise and to write and to work on making music and to work on my prospectus and, since I’ve returned, I’m achieving these probably about 60-75% of the time. But the road . . . the road makes it easier. A direction. A path. Yes, there are branches to take and decisions to make, but when on the road, even turning one’s direction from west to east still keeps you on the road. The path remains, no matter who long you stay in one spot or in what direction you go or how often you stop or which roads you actually take: the road remains and while on it, you remain poised on that precipice of freedom to turn, to stop, to go faster and the discipline necessary to stay moving, to keep driving, and to submit to the asphalt rules that, at least for the time being, trump all other considerations of your life. The road trip must, of necessity for most of us, end. And so it ends for me: writing these words slightly more than a week after returning and with many, many observations, thoughts, and ruminations left unwritten here. My love and thanks to all the friends and family who helped make this trip happen and who happened to welcome me in to your homes and your hearts. To those I missed seeing, I hope we will find ourselves an intersection at which to meet soon. Love. Peace. Namaste. Aloha. Rock on.


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