@BEunsettled Travels with Henry

“Do something and do it big.” My daughters said. “You are unhappy, so you need to just do something.” My throat tightened as it always did when it seemed I needed to cry, but really, I needed to speak.
That was the beginning of the scariest decision I have made in a very long time. In 2017, I was going to leave my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, my work and friends of 30+ years, and return to my childhood home, Illinois. A state I had not lived in for over 30 years.
I packed to vacate the house that I had shared with Airbnb renters, dwindled all down to a 10×10 storage unit, load up my Prius C, the very smallest of the Prius line, settle my chocolate Labrador in the back seat and head out.
We traveled through parts of the South that showed me exactly why our politics were in the state they were in, and because my dog is an ambassador, I met and talked to people I would never have spoken to, thinking we had nothing in common. But soon into a conversation with a complete stranger, I learned we had much in common, though I will still never wear camouflage pants or hats. I don’t find that I need to hide.
My decision to trust, believe in not knowing, and put one foot in front of the other, opened doors I knew were there, but I was too afraid to open.
My dog and I lived in a room at an Airbnb in the Chicago area for about one year, where we worked in a therapeutic elementary school and a hospice giving comfort to those there. And then, with the idea that I had collected necessary memories and done what I needed there, I bought a Trail Vail for my hatchback, met some friends from a distant past, comforted Henry in the backseat, and started camping our way out to Oregon.
We, Henry, my dog and I, have lived in Oregon a year at another Airbnb, and I am leaving again. For now, we will return to the Bay Area for the holidays, and then I don’t know what is next for Henry and me.
Thank you @BEunsettled for making a life unsettled a bit more of a thing, crazy but doable.

Trusting, in Layers

Bridges, they are like chapels as if honoring the water below and the magic of crossing over.

Trust I

Her work was to trust, and she studied and thought and studied more in trying to make trust just something she did.  Her trust had grown in a way she had not anticipated.

She had let go of her home in CA, sold it, moved up north to Oregon, at least moved her things, got her Oregon driver’s license, registered her brand new Subaru in Oregon.  And each step of the way, it seemed okay.  At first, she felt anxious, and then she let go of that. After apprehensively getting her driver’s license, by the time she registered her car, it felt okay to be there.  Here certainly felt better than there.  She still rented a room from a stranger that placed her in aesthetically challenging surroundings.  But she was indeed not ready to be anywhere that was just hers. She could feel the time coming when she would want her own place once again, but it wasn’t yet.

Trust II

Today was a day of testing trust.

What did she trust in when her friend was finding out about the sores on her body and masses found inside her body.  When on this same day she left her dog behind a cage door at the Vets so he could have a growth cut out along with a tiny mass on the bottom of the same paw.

Two beings who are so dear to her.  Two beings who have thoughts she will never know. Two beings who she looks to for comfort, for grounding, for sanity.  One blond with laughter, one covered in chocolate fur. Both touch her heart, her soul and keep her company on this journey of her life.

Since she started this, her dog’s lab tests came back, saying no cancer. “Phew,” as one daughter said.  He had Trichoepitheliomas which arose from cystic hair follicles (follicles that have closed over, like a sac) and created a growth, which looked like an extra toe.

The blonde in her life will see the oncologist tomorrow.  It is hard to believe she is or will be okay. She keeps getting new sores and the ones she has, keep getting worse, and those are just the visible ones.

All of a sudden she found herself on a journey with this friend which was different than when they started.  When they talk now, she finds that she wants to catch every wise word coming from this friend, her buddha buddy, as they had come to call each other.  She wants to remember every conversation as if filing all of this for reference for when this friend is gone, and she won’t be able to pick up the phone to hear her legal knowledge about this or that or hear her worldly wisdom.  And all that resides in the assumption that her friend will leave before she does.

Trust III

Trust takes on new dimensions.

The friend is leaving.  She has stomach cancer that metastasized to her lungs, liver, bone, breast… She had been to see the friend in Hospice, in Seattle 2 times, just arriving back yesterday from the most recent visit.  The friend is letting go, slowly, stubbornly.  For the first few weeks, she believed she could fight cancer and win.  The last several weeks have been filled with confusion, bewilderment that she was dying and battling surrender to the reality of death.

It is a rare occasion to see someone in the process of dying.  It is like the insides leave bit by bit, and what remains is the skeleton, the skin, hair, and eyes. What can it mean to trust here, while watching death do it work?  Where does trust fit in?  The friend is afraid she doesn’t know how to die.  Is that the final trust?  Knowing that one way or another we all die?

I Am Not Who I Think I Am… I Am Not Who You Think I Am

The fairy child, is the changeling, the one who grew up with the humans.  

I am the human child taken to live with the fairies.  Or, I have a secret wish that that is what happened.

She told me when we met that she was not a nice person and said it more than once.  When would I just take someone at their word???  Really believe what they say?  Instead, I respond out loud or in my head with, No, you really are a nice person. and I know the nice will come out.  What keeps me from hearing them and letting go of them?

It was a screaming text that jumped at me.  It said, Who are you? Who were you? And then,  You are removed from the group.  I stopped text-talking to her at that point.  The texting that lead to this was fast and furious, she seemed frantic. But who can tell from a text?  I had angst that felt like high school, a feeling I never wanted to feel ever again.   The vibration of anxious drama was too old, like a stale brioche and too familiar, like an old grimy college couch that swallows you because the cushions have lost their bounce.  A lot was said but she didn’t seem to want a conversation.

Needs were spoken to the wrong person, me, a person who could not fulfill what was being asked.  I did speak/text that to her, as kindly as I could.  I did say what was my truth about my limitations, but it was not a wanted response.

There was a time that I fit a picture and my life looked like it was “supposed to”.  I worked hard to wrap myself around what someone else wanted from me.  Something just to the side of truth that put me beside my self.  It made a rosy picture of okay-ness surrounded by geraniums.  Things looked like they “should” and that pleased me for the moment and seemed to please others, though I don’t really Know that last part.

What is that “supposed to”?  Currently, I am not married, I don’t live in an upscale neighborhood, I don’t have a station wagon or van parked in my driveway,  my partner is my dog and I live in a room in a house with a family I met through an Airbnb rental.  And, I am happy or better said, I am content.

If you had told me at 18 that this is where I would be at my mature age, a part of me would have been excited at the thought.  Another part of me, the part that won in those days, would be terrified and would say, absolutely not!

How much fear runs us, runs us all the time?  I think we become so accustomed to fear being a driving force that we barely recognize it for what it is and what power it has over us and our decisions, how we live our lives.  The fear of losing something or someone, the fear of losing ourselves or the fear we have already lost our self, surfaces, and panic ensues.

Anger and fear are drivers that are too often drunk.  They lead us down conversations we might wish we’d rather not had.  Let me say, not always. But I can’t think of a time I chose not to speak from anger or fear and regretted it.  I can think of more instance than not, that I spoke from anger or fear and definitely regretted it.

It is a time for women to be speaking up.   I am a woman learning to shut up, learning to speak when necessary, and for now, life works better that way, at least in my head.

A special thanks to Kim for helping me keep my mouth shut.

Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

Traveling in the Present

4/7/17

“The role of the traveler today- like the role of any artist who treads outside the bounds of mainstream cultural imagination- is to be a storyteller of new possibilities, and most importantly of all, a messenger of hope.” Simon Yugler -Travel Alchemy

Traveling has a very special alchemy.  It gives me the freedom of being outside my normal day to day and places me right in the present; a much more pleasant and freeing place to be than my past or future. It helps me really know what I don’t know and I am relieved of the pressure of pretending to know. Travel gives me hope about humanity and expands my world by leaps and bounds.

There is a spirit among fellow travelers that says, hey, we are on the same road, at least for a moment. We share some unspoken part of being human. It’s as if we know in our bones that our ancestors and the many ancestors before were nomads, or travelers with a yearning to know more, learn more, see more, typically in search of food.  As travelers, we are trying on a nomadic life, sharing our stories, enjoying company with strangers in the strange lands where everything is somehow familiar, everything is new and we are looking for food, gas and perhaps a connection.

Traveling gives me the opportunity to widen my vision, open my eyes, feel the air, smell the atmosphere and take the opportunity to slow things down enough to see that every moment can be sacred, a little, tiny journey in itself. I see things I like and things I don’t. I hear things that hurt my heart and other things that grow it. I find atmospheres that sooth my soul and others that make my soul curl into a tiny ball trying to protect itself.

Now that Henry and I have arrived in Evanston, the traveling becomes something else.  It becomes the contrast to “on the road” traveling.  It is discovery and finding the places the fit us.

Evanston is a city, like every city, where you are expected to know, know what lane to be in for the turn you are about to make, which streets are one way, or where to park to go to the grocery store, what the customs are around leash or no leash for Henry, even when the law says leash and all kinds of everyday things. The expectation of a city is that you know what you are doing at every moment.  “Knowing” is how not to get in the way of anyone’s rushing and the very important business of getting to the next place or meeting, or appointment.  When I get it all right, I avoid the glances at my license plate and then at me, that clearly state that I am a foreigner here. The angry, dirty stares that say, “Oh, right, you are from California, of course, you know nothing about being here. You idiot, learn the roads here!” They don’t know I grew up here, I own this place.  Grant it, I have to relearn landmarks and roads, but I belong, even if my license plate says I don’t. At least my license plate says I am pretty cool.

At the end of the day, we are two tired travelers. We’ve arrived. Henry lays with his tail curled under in an attempt to achieve the fetal position and stop moving just to go inward. I have never seen him curl up so tightly. His eyes are bloodshot and I imagine he feels as I do, a sensation that we are still hurtling through the air, on the road at 60-80 miles an hour.

 

Tired Henry
Four Dogs Tired

I have been trying to tell Mr. H no more endless car rides for a long time but he just doesn’t seem to be listening.  It is as if he is saying, I am too tired and I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

GPS on “Walk”…Wait, What?!

4/6/17

Last night in Tulsa OK, Mr. H and I took a long, leisurely, kinda’ southern stroll, through the historic Swan Lake neighborhood of Tulsa. With the GPS set to Walk, I found the restaurant Roka and got an amazing dinner to go. Just easier to get food to go while traveling with my buddy.  As we waited for the food, H and I chatted up the incredibly kind waitress at the restaurant and met some folks that fell head over heals for the buddy.  We also met a fellow Airbnb host, originally from India, who invited us to stay on our next Tulsa visit.  Hmm, as beautiful and friendly as this area was, I am not sure when a next visit would be.

 

This morning I loaded the car with my belongings along with my very reluctant dog, put my phone in its holster, and set it for the next stop The Magnolia Hotel in St Louis.  I looked at the google map enough to see a 5 and read it as 5 hrs.  I was so happy it was not the expected 6.  After grabbing a wonderful latte at Shades of Brown Cafe, I was puzzled that the GPS was taking me on lots of side streets and roads that went right next to the highway and wondering why it wasn’t putting me on the highway. I was enjoying the greens and browns of land, the old broken down houses which were once someone’s dream, the gentle hills so much, that it didn’t occur to me that the GPS was telling me the walking route to St Louis and that it would be 5+ days to get there!  Not 5+ hours.

I did get to see lots of Tulsa and things like the self-proclaimed,  “Most Inspirational Rest Stop”.  It was an absolutely huge cross that made me think about who built it and how it would be to have that smack in the middle of a lawn.  It sure is a way to remember that you’re supposed to remember god, or faith or whatnot. Not my cup of tea, in fact, it was really off-putting for me but I imagine it is something someone is very proud of.  Now the windmills, that’s something that inspires me and even makes me proud, like I own energy saving ways.

This whole walking route also made me think about Forest Gump and wonder if I would want to walk my way across the US sometime.  Still thinking about it.

The GPS and I reconciled our differences, her British accent helped a lot with that. We got on track with Drive not Walk and continued on the road.

After several Rest Stops, tumbles and rolls in the grass, we made it to St Louis about 3pm, walked around the amazing Arch, saw some really disturbing history about slavery and got to see what an amazing city St Louis is.

Henry rolling around the grounds whenever possible.