Road Trip 2013 – End of the Road

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.


No Great Epiphanies

P1190021 While I technically have a week to go for Road Trip 2013—heading to RI, Maine, New Hampshire, & Vermont tomorrow—in a sense this return to my apartment marks the ending of the main event. New England will feel more like a coda now rather than an organic part of the trip. I was not planning on returning here until the 15th and it feels a bit odd to have interrupted what was going to be a solid month of being away. Still, I needed the break and couldn’t afford motels anymore and so I did what made sense. Though I still feel like I’m in travel mode and am living lightly even in my own place. I plan on doing some laundry today, unpacking what I don’t need for the next week, repacking the car, getting a few travel provisions for tomorrow and maybe watching a movie. If I was hoping that this trip would solve anything in my life—and to be honest, at least a little part of me was so hoping—I would be let down. However, while I experienced no great, life-changing epiphanies, I did have a few thoughts that might be worth noting. – I am so amazingly grateful to Joya and her family for bringing me to Kauai in 2005 & 2006. Just knowing that it exists and that I feel like I feel about it means a tremendous amount to me. Even if I don’t move there in 2 years, the desire to finally rest myself on that island gives me a certain kind of purpose and peace that I don’t know if I would have without those two trips. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Joya, Erin, Cliff, & Ellen. – The west is heart-achingly beautiful. States like New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming stop my breath in the same way that certain women do: women who are hard, emotionally jagged, proud, and dangerous. Those lands entice, seduce with their examples of naked power, their huge skies, their promise that you are only one small action from possible death. Here, bullshit and poseur-y will gain you nothing. Thrilling and strangely peaceful, these places (and those women) are made of extremes and violent clashings where the sky and the land contend with one another with little regard for my tiny, human life. Bliss and radiance, parched and poisonous death. Yet, that said, I do not believe I could live there, for all its beauty and intensity. I am learning—slowly, slowly—what I need for happiness. While I will always be attracted to and by the stomach-dropping, adrenaline rush of an extreme landscape that promises defiant ecstasy through definite danger . . . I am not suited to such a lifestyle. – I am capable of having a fight with someone I care about. Not a physical fight, but one with words. This capability is entirely human and natural, but one which I have avoided for a lifetime. The experience felt awful and I am unsure what the fall-out will be in the long run, though I hope not too negative. Still. I engaged when I wanted to run and argued when I wanted to sulk. So that, is . . . something to be proud of? Maybe? – Movement distracts. Takes me out of myself and allows for a more grounded me. As much as I love stillness, I find that movement clears my head—thought I must be in a certain amount of control of the movement for this to be so. I need to find a way to preserve that feeling when I am at home. To see myself as always traveling. As always moving. I am no more trapped by this apartment, this university, this city, this state, this lifestyle, than I am “trapped” by the car that takes me, in the proverbial blink of the eye, to Phoenix, LA, San Simeon, Watsonville, Palo Alto, Merced, UC Davis, San Carlos, Fallon NV, Wendover UT, Big Springs NE, and Gary IN. This moment, this now is of my own choosing. Each moment, each now, I choose to continue as a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh. The world does not choose for me. Conditions make it easier or harder to make certain choices and I do not have the ability to choose to do anything, go anywhere. I am bounded by my previous choices, my body, my genetics, my freedoms, my capabilities. Yet, just because I do not have infinite choice, does not mean I have no choice. >D’you know like we were saying, about the Earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles and hour and the entire planet is hurtling round the sun at 67,000 miles an hour and I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world and if we let go… – Doctor Who, “Rose” – I am blessed that I know many people in many parts of this country that will welcome me with open arms and open hearts. Joya, Dave, Doug & Judi, Kellen, Wendy, Noelle, Patty, Joy, Sarah, and Kris: Thank you. To all those friends I did not get to see this time around, thank you for the knowledge that you too would welcome me. Peace.

Hitting a Wall – Not Literally

I am 18 days into my epic road trip and today the amount of driving and the amount of driving left to go really hit me. Also, an examination of my finances revealed that California was way more expensive than I really had budgeted for—and by budgeted for I mean just guessed in a vague way. So tonight, when I pulled into Wendover UT, I decided to contact the people I was supposed to see in the Teton’s and let them know that after I hit Salt Lake City I just need to head east and not take an extra full days travel to go up to see them. I’m sad, because my “uncle” Peter is the man I’m named for and I haven’t seen him or his wife in nearly 20 years and because I was really looking forward to the whole intense Tetons/Wyoming beauty thing. But I just don’t have it in me right now.

Now would be a good time for a travel companion!

So, the revised deal is that I’ll be meeting my friend Kris for brunch tomorrow in SLC, then will hop on 80 east and settle into a long 36 hours of travel to get to Rhode Island. I may, ironically and depending on the timing, even spend a night in my apartment before heading to New England. To be honest, the prospect does not thrill me—the travel, not the apartment, nor the heading to New England. Like I said, now would be a good time for a travel companion.

I was planning on going out about 10 miles from town to take pictures of the sunset at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but even that seems beyond my capabilities tonight. Instead, I’m doing a small load of laundry here at Motel 6, will upload some pics from the last few days, and then try for an early bedtime. The trip to SLC is only 2 hours so I should have time in the morning to get to the Salt Flats for some picture taking. Probably not as nice as it would be tonight, but thems the breaks.

Overall the trip has gone well so far. A few bumps here and there and some unwelcome tensions between myself and a couple of friends, but until tonight I’ve been enjoying both who and what I’ve seen along the way and the prospect for the road ahead. Tonight I just feel like the next several days will be days of tedium and endurance and that I can’t wait to get the travel part over. Hopefully I’ll snap out of this mood and feel more refreshed tomorrow. Still, it’s going to be a long few days ahead.

I’ll upload a few pics of today’s travels through Nevada to my [Flickr]( account and try to keep you updated with more news—and hopefully a better attitude—soon.