Tuesday, December 30, 2008

of the gut and the heart

As I approach the California/Arizona border, a collective of saguaro cacti flags me from the mountainside near the freeway, turning their hands up at Vanta C as if trying to stop me. "Wait! You can't leave us; you've only just arrived!" they implore. As I continue to drive westward, they grow taller and more resigned to their despair, helplessly tossing up their arms as if to say, "Well, you seem to have made up your mind; nothing I can do to stop you. Fine, then. Go."

And all I can do is smile and wink and tell Ralgh to join me as I wave goodbye.

It happened in Austin. Like the past few months of my Vantasy, I listened to my gut, allowing it to tell me when it was time to leave a town and move on. Only this time, it said, "go home, Eva. It's time." And it was time. I had $1800 left, which would be even less after paying for gas from Texas to Portland. I didn't want to return and have to acquire credit card debt. I was ready to get back to work. I missed the structure of having a job, and the discipline involved in doing good work.

And I desperately missed my dear friend, Trina. I missed our Jazzercise, coffee, and quiche habit, but mostly I missed our time of talking for hours and hours. We have the ability to talk forever; we are thoroughly engaged in each others lives, but also gab about women's issues and existential philosophies.

So I began the drive home. Straight across New Mexico and Arizona, waving at cacti, turning right at LA and flying up I-5 toward Portland.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in the City of Rocks

Vanta C sits atop a hill, surrounded by boulders up to twenty feet tall, overlooking miles and miles of New Mexican desert. It's so quiet that when you actually stop to listen your ears hurt so badly that you worry for a moment that they might burst. Low clouds roll over the dark mountains in the distance as the sun falls toward the horizon. The sky goes from deep bright blue to lavender, then flashes orange and red as it sinks below the earth. Hundreds of more articulate folks than me have attempted and failed to describe the sunset over the desert. This phenomenon, like love, resists encapsulation by our limited words. It is indescribable. Even a photograph, taken by the most expensive camera fails to do it justice. I'll stop when I'm ahead, then. All I will say it that it was the kind of sunset which forces you to realize that love is all around you, even when you're alone. It forces you to know in the deepest depths of your being that no matter how bad things get in your life, there is always, always something to be profoundly happy about.

The plan this morning was to drive the four hours from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona, arriving in time to eat some Chinese food and watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at the cineplex. It's what the Jews do on Christmas, and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. As I drove westward across the desert, Vanta C rocked and swayed on the interstate, struggling to accelerate, only to max out at a nervewracking fifty miles per hour. I drove this way for about an hour or so, and finally stopped in Deming, New Mexico.

While driving down the main street in Deming, I noticed the Grand Motor Inn Restaurant and Lounge. The parking lot was full, the neon flashed 'OPEN', and a cowboy walked out the front door as I slowed. "A cowboy!" I turned and exclaimed to Ralgh, who feigned interest. The decision had been made. Christmas dinner was a tuna sandwich, fries and a salad (eerily similar to the truck stop salad of the previous night, in which the tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and dressing somehow all managed to be the same color) eaten at the counter of the run down diner filled with elderly folks and cowboys, while trying not to notice the waitresses standing with their backs turned toward me only a few feet away, complaining bitterly about the couple at the middle booth, who may or may not, but probably didn't, have a conversation about how the short-haired girl at the bar can blog a ridiculously long sentence which is full of commas but somehow manages, in spite of the author's mild intoxication at the present moment, to make sense.

The wind was still bad after lunch, so I checked the free campgrounds website to see if there was anything nearby. That's how I ended up at City of Rocks State Park, watching the sunset and marveling at how much I love my dog and how this could have been the most perfect Christmas of my life.

Season's Greetings!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

another day on the road

Last night, after nine hours of driving, I ate dinner at a Flying J truck stop in El Paso, Texas. If you're an RVer like me, the Flying J truck stops are your best friend. They pump propane, which is amazingly tricky to find when you don't use the exchangeable bottles. They have RV sewer dump stations and fresh water for filling your tank. They allow overnight RV parking, have clean showers, and stock a wide variety of Pringles and personalized flashing mini liscense plate keychains.

So, after driving across the massive state of Texas, with it's barren shrubby expanses, I reach the El Paso Flying J, nearly out of propane, nearly out of clean water, and with a holding tank that's making my home smell like a Greyhound bus. I spent an hour taking care of that business, and decided to give my eyes a rest and eat at my first Flying J truck stop restaurant. I ordered a cup of coffee and the only vegetarian item on the menu: the salad bar, from which I uncerimoniously consumed two plates, almost without tasting it. Not because I was in a rush, but because it didn't have any particular flavors to speak of.

I finished off my meal with a helping of chocolate pudding, on a fresh, clean plate. As I sipped my black coffee, I looked around at the others in the restaurant. All truckers, taking advantage of the free turkey dinner in exchange for showing a CDL. A black man crumbled a piece of cornbread with his fork. A hispanic gentleman hovered over the buffet. A weathered woman with a leathery face smoked her cigarrette, eyes on the tv hanging in the corner. We were all together in our solitude, if that's possible, sort of how I imagine evenings in the common rooms of a mental institution might be. We avoided eye-contact, using the edges of our forks to cut our bland food, bucking the lessons of our parents use your knife, Eva! Poor manners, the lot of us, but who's to notice? Even if someone did, reputations only last overnight here, because when the sun rises over the periwinkle mountains in the morning, we will all climb behind the wheels of our rigs, maneuvering humming engines away in all directions, an asterisk of trails from the Flying J nucleus.

But not me. I did not sleep in the Flying J parking lot. I elected to travel another 45 miles or so to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I spent an evening drinking an eight dollar bottle of Pinot Noir out of a plastic tumbler while checking Facebook and stroking Ralgh.

Oh, did I mention that it was Christmas Eve?

While families around the world settled in around fires or dinner tables or in pews at midnight mass, I cozied up to Ralgh in a Walmart parking lot and thought about the people I love and how much joy I experience. I thought about how this scruffy mutt is my immediate family, my companion, and how happy he makes me on a daily basis. Ralgh and I have each other, we have full bellies, and we have the best Christmas gift of all: the amazing freedom and adventure of the greatest road trip we've ever seen!

Life is good.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

single-serving friends


The last couple of states I have been cradled in friendship, surrounded by temporary, new, and even some old friends. These impromptu alliances are one of the things that make the Vantasy special. While I've temporarily lost communication with some of my best friends in Portland, it's been neat to see the space they've left filled by unexpected folks. Most of these are people who I spend maybe one special day with and will probably never see again. I keep feeling like I should be getting tired of having single-serving friends like this, but there's a open-minded freedom and intimacy to these relationships that long-term friendships don't always have. We don't expect much from each other, we don't get worked up over missed phone calls, we don't really care if we have a lot in common. Our job is just simply to enjoy time together and learn about each other. We try each other's lives on for a short time and see what happens.


There was Brian in Madison, who invited me into his home to hang out with his roommates, watch tv, drink beer, and cuddle his dog. We bonded over our love of Vonnegut and I painted a large "asshole" for the wall in his room (read Breakfast of Champions!). In Lawrence Kansas, there was Nate, who looked like he should be a TV star and quickly introduced me to his giant group of friends. Suddenly I recognized people all over town; it was like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood all over the place. In Corning, I spent the day with Amber, who walked around the glass museum with me and made me one of the best lunches I've ever had. In Brunswick, Georgia, I met George, a civic-minded business leader who introduced himself over a beer at the bar just before he had to leave for his Republican party meeting.


It's never clear when these connections will be made, and you can't force them. They just happen naturally or they don't happen at all. They are the spice of the Vantasy.

Couchsurfers enjoying the dinner I cooked

On my last day in St. Augustine, I had $8 in my pocket, which I hoped would last me for another week. I'd spent the day knitting, reading, and writing in my van, and had taken two EXTREME walks with Ralgh around the old part of town. After a few hours hanging out in Vanta C, I started doing that thinking thing that I always seem to do. I hadn't showered in a few days, my hair was looking greasy and BAD. I started feeling ugly and boring, so I put earrings, a hat, and a dress on and decided that today I should spend a few bucks on a glass of beer and see if I could find someone to talk to before I went crazy. I tried to go to this little cafe I'd heard about, but when I got there it was empty. I didn't want to waste my money in an empty bar; it was the company I wanted, not the beer. So I went next door to a little thrift shop and tried some clothes on. After deliberating for way too long, I settled on buying a cute pair of pants for $1.99 and when I paid, the cashier said, "you are really gorgeous." I nearly wept all over myself right there, and told her how I hadn't talked to anyone all day and how I was getting depressed and somehow that was exactly what I needed to hear and thank you thank you thank you... I'm not sure why thinking that I look pretty to other people is enough to radically change my mood like that; it seems stupid and superficial, but I guess I'm not perfect.

Anyway, she told me that that evening was the town art walk, so I ended up looking through all the galleries and getting drunk on free wine. I strolled into a tattoo parlor that was filled with cool-looking people who were my own age and they threw a Natti Ice in my hand and the rest of the night was history. I'd found my crowd of single-serving friends. Total cost of the night: $1.99 for the new pants.

St. Augustine crew

Saturday, December 13, 2008

For Dan

I got married on June 28th, 2003 in a backyard overflowing with blooming flowers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was 24 years old and my husband was the greatest man alive. A genius, when we met Dan had just returned from an academic trip to China and Europe, where he studied circus arts. He'd been awarded a prestigious Watson Fellowship, and used the money following all sorts of off-beat circuses around; he even started his own in Sweden. I had just returned from my study abroad trip to Sydney, still dizzy from flying halfway around the world, when we met on my first day of work at a coffee shop in Ann Arbor and talked about our love of travel in the dim pre-dawn light over the smell of fresh brewed coffee.

Dan and I had our first date on his last day working at the cafe. He taught me to juggle. From then on we spent every day together. We were in love. I remember about three weeks after we started dating we had a conversation about how neither of us believed in marriage, and that was the exact moment that I knew I was going to be his wife. A year later, we were married.

Marrying Dan was an easy decision because he was a good man. He was a domestic terrorist, doing dishes, laundry, and cooking for me. The man lived to make me happy, and I'd never known that was possible in a relationship until I met him. He taught me about generosity, how to take care of your mate. Our relationship was essentially a competition over who could be nicer, and we'd do sneaky things to win. Our friends told us that we were an example of how great a marriage could be, and we knew it was true.

I can't say enough nice things about Dan and my marriage to him, which is why our divorce after five years was so baffling. For a long time, I couldn't even give a reason for our separation. It took a lot of soul-searching to figure out what went wrong, and I think I might finally be getting to the point where I know.

Although terribly sad, our divorce was easy as divorces go; we didn't fight at all. We parted with love. Dan lives in Albuquerque now, where he studies in the graduate program in creative writing at UNM. He has sent me some of his work and I've sent him my blog postings. We were talking about once a week and I had plans to visit him in New Mexico on my way through.

Since our separation, our friendship has been delicate. There's so much pain there, and neither of us has healed completely, but it seemed like it was going to work out. Our recent conversations were full of smiles and laughter, and we both looked forward to my visit, until the last time we talked. Something happened; the conversation went south and ended in tears.

Two days ago Dan sent me an email saying he no longer wants any contact with me. He called off my visit and asked me not to call or write. Being in touch with me is too painful, he wrote, and he needs to move on with his life and find happiness.

I know that I can't force him to be my friend, and because I love him I have to respect his wishes. I just hope there comes a day when he decides that having me in his life is worth the accompanying pain. As for me, I'm desperate. I'm broken. I feel like I should fight for him, but at the same time I know that if I do things will just get worse. I suppose it's really selfish for me to think I can divorce him and then expect him to keep being my friend. I've hurt him; he's probably right to cut me off. But I'm devastated. I just love him so much and I can't believe it's come to this. He was my family.

A special moment

Dan, I respect your choice. You have to make yourself happy. I think it is brave of you to do what you need to do; it can't be easy. But, if there comes a point down the road, in one year, ten years, or twenty years, that you feel complete and healed and think, "I wonder how Eva's doing," then please know that I will be waiting for your return into my life. I'll always be in awe of you and I'll always think you are wonderful. No matter how many years pass, there will be a hole in my soul where you belong. The good thing about love, though, is that I can always love you, no matter where you are, and no matter how long it's been since we've talked. I'm honored to at least be able to do that, and you need to know that I will.

Friday, December 5, 2008

the neverending career crisis

"I'm just an honest man, provide for me and mine
I give a check to tax-deductable charity organizations.
Two weeks paid vacation won't heal the damage done;
I need another one.
Still, things could be much worse:
natural disasters on the evening news.
Yep, things could be much worse;
We've still got our health, my paycheck in the mail.
I promised to my wife and children I'd never touch another drink as long as I live.
But in the end it sounds so soothing to mix a gin and sink into oblivion.
This will all blow over in time."

-Cold War Kids, We Used to Vacation

I tortured myself during my twenties, constantly looking for that golden purpose in my life. I remember thinking, "I know I'm meant to do something extraordinary, and I'm not doing it." But, agonize as I did at the time, making lists, talking to friends and Dan, reading books, I couldn't figure out what that extraordinary thing was. Up until I was in my early twenties, I had been a dancer, with the extraordinary goal of dancing on the world tours of pop stars, but after studying in Sydney, I realized that I loved dancing, but a professional life wasn't for me. I was tired of doing plies, I was tired of staring at my body in the mirror and always finding something wrong with it, I was tired of competing, competing, competing always to be the best. And I just wanted to go to happy hour instead of always being in class.




But taking myself away from my career as a dancer left a big void. It had been my identity, it had been the answer to all of my career questions for almost my whole life. I no longer had to chose between LA and New York City, and I suddenly faced a world of possibilities. I totally freaked out after a couple of years had gone by and I was working a job that I hated, making barely enough money to survive. This was not the life I was destined for. I was destined for spotlights and sequins, music and make-up. What I had were papercuts and photocopies, file folders and staff meetings in which I could barely keep my eyes open. I started dancing again, but quickly realized it wasn't the answer.

Now that I'm older, I cut myself a little more slack. I did learn that the 9 to 5 office nightmare wasn't for me, so I quit. I started waiting tables and bartending, which made me really happy, even though it still didn't get me any closer to solving my career dilemma (did it?). What it did for sure was ease my suffering and pay my bills for long enough that I was free to relax into my questions and let the answers come to me on their own time. One answer did come, clear and without debate: it was time to travel. On that day I had borne this little bouncing bundle of joy, measuring 19 and half feet long, and weighing, well, weighing a lot. I named her Vantasy.

The Vantasy hasn't solved my career crisis either. Actually, it has done sort of the opposite. When I get back to Portland I'm going to be broke, and the pressure will be on to find a job. And then I'll have to ask myself, "settle on something quick so you can pay your bills, or hold out for the dream job?" Problem is, I'm not sure what the dream job is.

I do have a clear idea of what I do want, though. I want health insurance. I want an irregular schedule, not 9-5 everyday. I prefer working less than 40 hours a week, but I'll do it for a while if I have to. I want a boss who respects me. I want to be able to see the outside, and not be locked in a concrete building all day. I want to be around people. And I want to be able to afford to live off my wages and have enough extra to save for my next adventure or for a house. I almost had all of that at the Lotus; it wasn't that bad of a gig, actually. I think I can do better, though.

Though my career questions have still not been answered, I've come to the point in my life where I've realized that it isn't what I do for a job that matters. My identity isn't based on my doing something extraordinary, it's based on who I am. Being extraordinary doesn't mean I have to be famous or rich, or in a career I've always dreamed of. I know now that it means living a life of integrity. It means living honestly, treating people well, and taking care of those around me. It means never letting fears keep me from doing something I want to do. It means challenging myself and never getting bored, but also taking joy in the routine aspects of my day. It means loving, and letting go of grudges. It means taking big courageous leaps and laughing when I fall.

I know I'm living an extraordinary life, even though I still have questions... Hmmm, maybe having questions is actually a sign of an extraordinary life.

Anyone for a drink?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vanta C rolls on...

It's tank top weather here in St. Augustine, Florida, but I was wearing a really ugly sweater and a mismatching hat at 9:00 this morning when I rolled out of bed and drove to Winn Dixie. I needed groceries, but I had a more urgent and pressing need. The same need which often lands me in grocery stores in the early morning. Let's just say that today groceries were my number two priority.

Being a regular (ha!) morning shopper these days, I've noticed something and I'd like to pass a warning on to the ladies out there in blogtown: Apparently, the morning isn't just the time for stocking at grocery stores, it's also the time for stalking. On three recent occasions, including today, I've caught men staring at me. You know the stare I'm talking about: the baby, I want you to notice me noticing you stare. It's always carried on for too long, and is usually followed by some feeble attempt at conversation like, "did you make your outfit?" or, "Do you have a business card?" This happens to me almost always in the morning, and almost always when I haven't yet brushed my teeth and my hair is sticking straight up on only one side and there are crusties in the corners of my eyes. Someone tell me, why do I always get hit on when I look like the corpse of Susan Powter? Is there something about pillow wrinkle marks on a woman's face that is irresistible to men?

These early morning grocery store pick-up attempts always result in having the opposite affect than intended. Instead of wooing me, your stares freak me out a little. Now not only do I have to poop, but I also have to watch my ass. Today I was actually followed around the store!

Gentlemen readers, if you do this in an effort to pick up women, PLEASE STOP. It's CREEPY.

Stop the insanity!

Anyway, back to the Vantasy. In the past week, things have really gotten rolling. Ralgh and I have got our adventurous spirit back and we're really enjoying our alone time. We spent a quiet Thanksgiving in Georgetown, South Carolina. I drank a glass of wine while I made lentils and wild rice with cherries, sundried tomatoes, and southern kale thrown in, with a side of kim chee on crackers. And I shared with Ralgh. We took some long walks, but it was a really quiet day since no one was downtown and my phone was turned off. On Black Friday I headed down the coast to Charleston, and then continued to Savannah, and then Brunswick Georgia and Jekyll Island. Ralgh and I have spent heaps of time on ocean beaches, walking and picking up seashells. Ralgh absolutely loves the beach, because there are a lot of really disgusting things to smell, roll in, or crunch on, and I like the salty air and rhythmic waves. I sure am going to miss the ocean on my way back across the US.

Speaking of: St. Augustine is a special place, because it is the last stop for me before I turn and start heading in the direction of home! The Vantasy is half way over. Can you believe it? At this point, I can say that I'm in a really happy place. I've sorted through quite a bit of baggage and kicked the garbage to the curb, which feels great. I've spent so much time trying to navigate emotional breakdowns in the last month, that I almost forgot that I was doing something amazing. Now that a lot of the work is done, I can just enjoy my travels, my good old dog, and my freedom. Life is beautiful. The Vantasy was my dream for a long time and I made it come true. In an apathetic world where people spend a lot of time making excuses for not being able to do what they want, this accomplishment is profound.

"It seems to me like this. It's not a terrible thing - I mean it may be terrible, but it's not damaging, it's not poisoning to do without something one really wants... What's terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better."

-Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook