Well, you asked for it. Here we are. The first volume in the ongoing series of comics. Available in all the usual spaces…and for now, get it at https://www.createspace.com/7125650.
Thanks everyone for the incredible support.
Well, you asked for it. Here we are. The first volume in the ongoing series of comics. Available in all the usual spaces…and for now, get it at https://www.createspace.com/7125650.
Thanks everyone for the incredible support.
Part One: Well, what is it? A crisis? Or fun times? I can’t tell. Mid-life is often described as a challenge at best and a crisis for the rest. So where am I within that spectrum? I don’t know. I honestly don’t really know. Bloody moody though…
Mid-life, yep, I’m turning 50 next month. The number doesn’t worry me. But. What is the “but”? I’ve been restless for a few years now, needing more stimulus than a small village can give me, new conversations, new challenges. So what did I do? Apply for Graduate School. Me? The not so great student of my twenties applied for a masters degree without telling many. I didn’t want to explain the rejections I envisioned, ego got in the way. I’m glad though I kept it quiet.
Months passed, I worked on my home, finished a new outhouse, painted floors, fixed fences, and planned my escape. Just like when I was a teenager. I feel very much like a teenager again, all grown up and leaving home for new adventures. Sorry, Mum, I’d needed to leave home then. Sorry, Madrid, I need to leave home now.
It’s not an escape, not purely a running away, but with the acceptance to Vermont College of Fine Arts with their relatively new MFA in Writing and Publishing, I’m leaving home. My home that I built, foundations, walls, windows, electric, plumbing, stucco, all of it done by my rough hands and impressionistic nature. I did it. Now what’s next? The thought of spending the rest of my life here doesn’t appeal. In fact, it scares me, there’s such a huge world out there, I can’t stay in one place any longer.
So how did I decide on a masters degree? It was tough, a rough road to map out. The application process is draining yet inspiring. My biggest challenge was finding references as most here know me as a gardener and writer. They don’t know of my educational background, my time at London University, or Freiburg University, or studying spanish in Valencia. The classes I’ve taken over the last twenty years here in Santa Fe or San Francisco. My cover letter focused on a full life of making my own stories, communities I’ve been part of, what I’ve done with myself, self-taught, and productive on a daily level. It was enough aparently, and I’m offered a place at Vermont in Montpelier.
One of the faculty wrote me to introduce herself, praising specific lines and images from the writing sample I’d sent in. Julianna spoke highly of the emotional undercurrent and how it intrigued her, and that she was looking forward to working with me. I wrote back, “But I haven’t been accepted yet, have I?”
“Oops,” she wrote. “Let me check.”
Yes, I was in, a final reassurance and yes, I’m going to grad school! At fifty! In Vermont! Only 2100 miles away, the complete opposite climate to here, five months of snow, bugs the size of black beans, and… well, I don’t know what else. I’m trying to find out by spending hours online researching the area and the curriculum.
I’m moving. Oh wow, I’m moving. When I finally told my friends and neighbours here in Madrid, Andrea squealed, others hugged me and one focused on how she’d miss me. I get it. It’s like I’m jumping ship. I am, but I’m a good swimmer. I’ve been practicing once a week at the Chavez center in Santa Fe.
The logistics though are becoming a nightmare for me. Trouble sleeping most of my life, this level of anxiety and excitement is draining me with dreams of disasters, or rather details. Too many tangents to grab hold of, each with its own alley way to wander down, looking for loopholes and issues. One or two vehicles? How would I take my stuff across country? Do I fill the 4Runner with stuff and have a friend drive it while I follow in my camper van? Or do I drive the 4Runner with my pets and fill a Uhaul trailer?
I look at rentals. Well, not one offers a place for two vehicles. That limits me then. So what do I do with the van? Mary and Stacy will take it, keep it at their place inside a gated yard, with them using it every so often. That’s the latest plan. Open to changes.
My weakness has been for vehicles so it’s not just two: I have four. I need to take care of four. Oh shit. I can’t just sell them. I like them. Well, okay, I’ll have to sell one, I need the money to cross country. The motorbike then, I’ll sell that. Try to. The Land Rover though, I should pass that on. But the day I decided to sell it, five random conversations all mentioned Shorty and how cool it is to see me in it. Damn. It’s too cool to sell for school. Can I take it? Nope, but…? Nope, I have to store it somewhere safe, off its tires with the hood open, to keep it mice free hopefully. But where? Who’ll keep an eye on it?
Logistics, is this what stops others from making such dramatic life changes? Probably. Finding a home rental is the other biggest challenge. Who wants to rent to someone you haven’t met? I don’t. I’m going through the same problem with renting my own homestead. Sheesh. It’s too much. My days are highs and lows, with numerous naps between tackling the internet and filling out forms. Fun times, fun times, right?
Traveling with two dogs and a cat. Finding a rental. Finding a renter for my home. Vehicle madness. Yard sales. Craigslist. Scholarships. Funding. Moving. Packing. Decisions one after another. Where’s my dad when I need him? I crave sitting at the dining room table with my notes and brainstorming with him over a beer. Or at the kitchen table with Mum and a glass of wine, playing with ideas and options.
I’m not a teenager after all. I miss their help. I miss my mum and dad.
It must be an elaborate hoax, right? That my latest book won an award? That I’m being flown to LA tomorrow for a dinner downtown?
I’m packed, I figure even if it is a hoax, I might as well spend the weekend in LA. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, oh shit, that makes me old. Well, is there a big difference between that innocent yet brave kid and my current self? In some ways – no. I write, she wrote, we’re both restless and curious, not satisfied by the mundane but needing to find out other people’s stories and experiences. I’m excited to land in LA early in the morning and have the time to wander around, take the bus to the beach, wander up to Santa Monica to eat fish and chips at the British Pub that I remember.
The first time in LA, I was 22 years old with a backpack, a handful of dollars and one address in Venice Beach. I walked, talked, explored and stayed with a friend I’d met in Germany a year or two before. We’d gone to Freiburg University together, she was a good student, me not so much.
This time, I have a flight, a credit card, a small daypack, and no addresses. I’ll be staying at an Airbnb place near LA Live where we’re having the Awards Dinner. I can walk there and back easily and take the metro in the morning back to the beach before my flight Sunday night. Short and sweet a visit.
Is is hoax? What do I wear? What do I say at the ceremony?
What do I want from the experience? To network and talk to agents and publishers. To find a larger readership. To know that I am a writer after all these years. It’s real. It’s not a hoax.
From the website:
GREAT NORTHWEST BOOK FESTIVAL NAMES “VAN LIFE” FOR TOP HONORS
A woman who decides to hit the road with a van, three animals and her adventurous spirit is the grand prize winner of the 2017 Great Northwest Book Festival, which honors the best books of the late winter/spring.
Author Sarah Leamy’s “Van Life” (CreateSpace) is the story of a writer who decides that there’s more to living than working retail and yearning for adventure. So it is that she takes two dogs and a cat on a rollicking trip through the back roads of the Northwest, stumbling across rural villages and a microbrewery or three. Her stories of the locals, the scenery and her family of animals are funny, poignant and ultimately a satisfying read for any armchair adventurer who dreams of doing something similar. Leamy and others in the competition will be honored in a private ceremony later this month.
The Great Northwest Book Festival just honored my book VAN LIFE as the Grand Winner of their 2017 contest! I’m thrilled and delighted! They’re covering the cost of the flight out from NM to the awards dinner in LA and even are giving me an appearance fee. Bruce, who wrote to me, wrote: “Congratulations on a fun and page-turning read. Definitely one of the most fun reads I’ve seen in a while.”
http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/ for a link to their winners’ page.
For me, entering contests and festivals is a chance to find new readers as it’s mostly been word of mouth, going to events, chatting up strangers and handing off books and business cards. The opportunity of a book festival award opens more doors, tells others that my stories are compelling and that self-pubishing works. It does. I’m doing much better for myself these days although I’ll be honest, it’s a small time business, locally focused.
My goal then for this year? To find an agent. To have a chance at getting my books known nationally and internationally – it’s doable since I have a small steady following of readers here in the US and in Europe. I just need to build on that. And I will.
“Aren’t you scared?”
Just yesterday a friend asked me if I ever got scared camping on my own, travelling on my own. No. I don’t. There’s more to it than that, but simply put, no, camping on my own is where I am happiest and most relaxed. In towns, in cities, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, music, talking for the sake of filling in the silence, no, that is not where I relax.
Last year, I had the honor of being a panelist on a discussion about the art of solo travels. Overland Expo West 2016 had almost 10,000 people all interested in vehicle dependent travels, whether local or worldwide; we all were there to get inspired.
To hear the stories from others who just have the wanderlust in their blood like I do was reassuring for me. I’ve been settled for too long now, and I’m restless again. I have been for the last few years, working towards getting on the road again.
That weekend at Overland Expo, I talked about crossing the States at 22 years old, hitch hiking with a small backpack and no credit cards or money, just following my distracted ideas of what to do next. I talked about riding my 1976 Yamaha XS750 across the Midwest repeatedly even though it would break down every other day, street performing in Guatemala, and driving the high elevation passes in Colorado in a 1973 VW Beetle. I never knew what to expect — these stories are part of me. I lost my two front teeth in Tarancon, Spain. I woke up on a train in Switzerland, not quite sure which country I was in. Hitched to the Munich beer festival. And yes, I travel alone. And I like it.
I admit, I once traveled with someone. It was 1989. Steve joined me in Chicago, a friend from my small hometown. I was walking down the streets in the city, knowing we’d find each other somehow but since neither of us had phones or hotel rooms, it would be a challenge. I walked with my backpack clunking away against my hips when I saw Steve sitting on a bench smoking. I sat down next to him and took his smoke.
We crossed to Maine, New York, Washington; we took trains, hitched, and then stayed at random homes of the families we met along the way. It wore me out. Steve let me make all the decisions. It wore me out. The responsibility. The constant discussions as to what we would eat that night, where we would sleep.
There have been other moments, a week here and there, spent on a road trip with a friend, but nothing as extended as that initial travel with Steve, bless him. Since then, I tend to go off on my own, I’m happier that way.
You see, it’s that on my own, I’m free to follow my nose, or rather the signs that capture my attention. It’s usually the ones that say ‘lake’ or ‘4wd only”, and off I go. I generally have a loose plan, places I’d like to visit if I’m in the area. I set a few goals, for small weeklong trips and for the extended travels. These days with the Internet, I plan a lot more, looking at photos, reading forums, and asking for suggestions. Whether I follow the ideas, that’s another story. I tend to forget to read my own notes.
Since I’ve done a bit of everything, backpacking, hitching, motorcycles, busses, trains, VWs, trucks and now a van I’ve learned that I have to be aware of what I bring. Packing has become more complicated nowadays, as two dogs and a cat come with me. I’ve made a short list for this latest configuration, and with the idea in mind that I might have to abandon ship (van) in an emergency, all the necessary items must fit in a small backpack too. I can leave the rest. I have before, in a dead VW bus in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I never did see that red camper again. I miss that van. Oh, well. But it was an adventure…
I love that I can eat what I like and when I like. Frito pie for breakfast? Bacon sandwich before bed? Chocolate? Cheese and crackers? Veggies and eggs? Whatever I like, when I like. It’s wonderful and one of the biggest perks for me.
As a solo traveler, I interact much more with locals. Since they appreciate how trusting I am, it’s always come back to me that these strangers treat me with the same level of trust.
As a twenty-two-year-old, I was hitching through Wisconsin, heading north to catch a ferry across to Michigan. My destination was a tiny village along the small blue highways in the Midwest. A truck pulled over, and two men started chatting to me. Two men and myself as a young woman? I talked to them, the father and son, and they offered a ride, but first they wanted to call ‘Mother’ and ask about dinner. I listened in as one of them chatted away, grinned, and said it was okay with her but I had to agree to come over to meet her! We ended up sharing a meal, they put me in the son’s bedroom, and dropped me off at the ferry in the morning, after introducing me to the Ferry Master. Safe? Yes, I remember them so clearly all these years later.
You see, I’m curious. The people I meet and their stories feed me. I also found that when I first crossed the States alone that many families I met wanted my stories of other states, places, towns, ones they had never visited themselves. My anecdotes of their own country paved the way for their hospitality. It was a trade in a sense. The armchair travelers got to explore their own country through me.
But I have to admit, I’m not very safe. I go places I shouldn’t. No one really knows where I am these days. I follow roads, conversations, and dreams. I have no back-up plans. I take risks. I fly by the seat of my pants and all without a safety net. I like it. Traveling like this wakes me up. Opens me up. To answer the question I started with, have I ever been scared? A couple of times. That’s all. First was when I had to get myself back from the South of France as an eighteen-year-old who’d been fired from her nanny job. I had a passport and a plastic bag of clothes. No money. No credit cards. And this was before cell phones, not that I would have called my parents, I preferred to get back and then tell them. I didn’t like to worry them! Poor buggers. I stowed away on a train, stole food, had a guard try to rape me, smashed him in his privates, and locked myself in a bathroom on the train. That was the first big solo trip and the sense of achievement at the end was incomparable: “I can improvise. I can get out of trouble. I should keep traveling!”
And I have. Looking back, even in the last ten years of ‘settling’, I took a ferry back from Alaska and a salmon cannery down the Canadian coast, camped all over the Southwest, spent three months in the Northwest, took a winter living on communes in North Carolina and Tennessee, rode my motorcycle across Wales and Ireland, studied in San Francisco, and had many other random shorter trips in the States. Not bad, not bad…
In my twenties, I just traveled without thought, it was an addiction, a need. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few months. I settled for a while but that addiction has kicked back in. I built a home, worked, settled and now the last few years, the need to explore new places has taken over.
If you haven’t traveled alone before though, you’d need to ask yourself: Where are you happiest? How do you spend your days? Are you mostly surrounded by friends and co-workers? Or do you work alone? Live alone? What are your social needs in other words? Think about what stresses you out and what makes you relax. For me, time without words, yes, I know, ironic since I’m a writer, but still, empty heads talking at each other wears me out. I like silence. I like mountains. And I like the company of animals more than people. But that’s me…and then after a couple of days alone, I love to sit and chat to friends and strangers alike. I have the energy and desire to hear their stories. To tell mine. To connect. Knowing yourself is one of the amazing benefits of solo travels, you have to take care of yourself and you will. There’s no one else. Each time, I learn new rhythms and routines that are mine, pure and simple.
Close friends still ask, how do you find meaning when you have no one to share the experiences with? But I do. I write. I photograph. And simply sitting next to a lake in the mountains alone with my dogs, I know that our world is magical, stunningly beautiful whether I am there or not. I am a very small speck in a huge world and that is reassuring to me. I relax.
There is an art to solo traveling and the more I travel alone, the more I appreciate nature and the random conversations with people I meet. I am not afraid. I am open to life and adventures…and after doing this since I was a teenager much to my mum’s horror, I’m getting the hang of it. Finally. The question for me is where next? And when?
To hear more about Sarah Leamy’s solo travels, check out her book, Bring a Chainsaw & Other Stories From My Solo Travels.
As a lifelong writer, it’s a complete switch in direction to suddenly, obsessively, sketch. First thing in the mornings. Before coffee. As I’m hanging out with friends. In the winter’s evenings. I’m committed, and addicted, to sketching. Doodles? Portraits? Still life? Pen and ink? Landscapes? Watercolours? Cartoons? I’ll try anything.
And I have to wonder how this changes my writing. Will it? Will it make my stories brief to the point of novels becoming a short story in a magazine? Will I master the art of slow-reading, editing out every other unnecessary word in my own works in reaction to this simplification?
I’m curious. Yet, I can’t stop sketching long enough to read anything of substance nor to write much beyond a short article or blog. I must get back on the word-wagon though. That’s why I quit my day job, right? To focus on submitting, working at, improving my writing. I give myself a hard time, the days seem so long, what am I doing with myself? Flake!
Then I look at all that I’m working on, learning, and researching. Since quitting the retail job, my income has dropped significantly, yet my interest in people and their stories has increased. I have time for you, mostly. Tell me what you’ve read, experienced, but not just how much you drank on the weekend, although maybe that will be the next book? Drinking as the social outlet in small towns?
Flake? How can I call myself a flake? Because I work from home? Because my days are my own? I don’t know but it’s true, I am hard on myself. More. More. Must do more. But let’s see, remind myself of all I’ve done in the last few months. A book length travelogue. Three photo essay books and another in the works this week. Four photography calendars. Three articles for fempotential.com’s travel section. Two articles for Classic Land Rover magazine in the UK and a position on their staff for a new section called Stateside Stories. Postcards of five of the cartoons from the Before Coffee series. A Flickr account. Two stock photography accounts with well respected websites. Two interviews for upcoming essays. Submissions each week to various publishers. A press pass for a huge Overland Travel Rally in Arizona. Yep, it’s coming together. I’m reaching my goals steadily.
In the meantime, life revolves around researching online, following the calls for stock photography, setting up more platforms on social media, looking for the magazines and papers that take submissions on travel related essays complete with good quality photos. BE SMART says my notice board in the kitchen.
My morning is feed the critters, make coffee and go back to bed with a sketch pad. Then it’s time for a walk with two dogs in the brisk sunrise quiet of New Mexico. Back to the home and with laptop warming up for me, I make a quick breakfast. Check emails. Check list of goals for the day. Research the questions that came up from the day before, for example, what is the industry standard for single panel comics? When is the deadline to submit the watercolours to the gallery in Madrid? Mornings are full of online work, the writing, following threads and taking notes. I get overwhelmed by words, by the ideas and potentials and it’s hard to focus. Hence the lists for the next day, a way to allow those ideas to settle into priorities and action plans.
The afternoon is less word oriented. Reading has fallen aside in the last three months and I know that as a writer, I need to read more. Yet, I can’t. It’s time for a break, for new inspiration, and that’s coming from sketching, and from asking my professional artist friends, and even watching Youtube videos on beginning art techniques. The amount of people with quality tutorials leaves me in awe, the notepad filling, and yet more ideas pop up.
With a hike in the hills with the dogs, watching the sunset with the dogs and Little Stevie at the overlook by my home, we settle in for the night. Another few hours of sketching, trying out techniques and styles, a last minute look online at social media, and then to bed with a magazine or short story, it’s all I can manage. I’m tired.
My articles have started appearing regularly in a few places, and it’s an amazing feeling. There are many submitted that weren’t exactly rejected, but no one responded. I’ll wait a month and check in with those editors. I need to learn a system for keeping track as my notebook is a little distracted as am I. Classic Land Rovers, travels as a solo woman, the pets, and simply put this life of mine. I’ve not yet looked into writing about the off-grid homestead of mine, why not? It’s just what I do, nothing special to build a wooden outhouse one weekend? Or to fix a leaking roof? To wander around my home with dogs, cat and two chickens following along?
These sketches of mine, the daily practice is taking me along fast. I don’t know where this new discovered talent will take me, but aiming high, how about getting published? Syndicated? Well, hell, why not? It’s good to have goals…I’ll work on it. I will.
From these beginning doodles in January:
And to this, the last week in February, I’m happy and amazed at the learning curve. Where will I be by the end of the year? That is the commitment, to sketch every day, and I’m on it.
It’s going to be interesting to see how my essays change as my focus is now on being brief, direct, and still quirky. We’ll see. It’s a process. I’m not stopping.
February. Most of my friends are having a hard time. Winter never really came, the snow didn’t turn town in a wonderland, it’s just been cold and the tourists left us alone. I like it. Winter that is. I do. I like wearing layers, making fires, cooking big hearty meals, and sitting in bed early as I draw, write or read. It’s a good time for me. Usually.
This year is different. The snow didn’t fall, well apart from a dusting once or twice. There’s been no challenging drive through the drifts in my four-wheel drive, no tromping through the untouched crisp of ice and sugar frosting. My home is comfortable, maybe too comfortable for someone like me. It’s, well, boring. I’m done. The floor is in. The wood-stove is oversized and I sit around in tee-shirts and jeans. The windows are now double-paned, and curtains keep the heat in over night. Not so long ago, when this was a shack and nothing more than dirt, broken windows, and one room, I’d wake up in a union suit, shivering and cursing, struggle to light a shitty little leaking wood-stove, and then with the insulated coveralls on, I’d set up up the camp stove to make coffee. It was great!
This year is different. Here I am in tee shirt, the dogs and cat are lounging around near the wood-stove, there’s a spitting of snowflakes on the dirt outside, and I’m in limbo. It’s not just the time of year, not just the weather, or that I’ve renovated my shack into an off-grid comfortable home, it’s more.
Last year, I spent summer living in a van with the two dogs and a cat called Stevie. We wandered around the Northwest for months, finding little towns, great back roads, camping in the hills and on the beaches. It was incredible, so inspiring and relaxing. I read tons, day-dreamed, wrote and photographed the time we spent together. While on the road, I kept checking out each town, each area, talking to locals and visitors, seeing how they found those places. I was looking for a new home.
I need a challenge apparently. Life is just a tad too easy on me right now. I’m enjoying it, being self-employed, scrambling for money each month is nothing new, and I’ve found a talent for sketching, for cartoons and that keeps me engaged in the morning and evenings when the computer and internet are turned off.
I need more. Does that mean I lack a sense of contentment? No, for me it means that I know life is precious, a gift, there are no guarantees. I want to grab life, force myself into new situations, discover sides to myself I’d not noticed earlier. I want to live. Fully.
It’s not enough to stay in this little village of three hundred or so. It’s not enough to talk about the weather, the return of the local band, or who was so drunk the other weekend. I like all that, I do. The familiarity. But it’s like I’ve grown up, I need to leave this family of sorts as if I were a teenager again. It’s time to claim my place in a bigger world. To discover and be discovered. I don’t know how that looks, but it’s time to leave the nest.
With that in mind, this winter has left me living in limbo. Each day I sketch, learn from artists, and practice drawing. Each day, I write and submit to magazines and newspapers. I read avidly, although I’ve a had a few weeks with no writing or reading, unusual for me. I’ve applied for freelance work and seasonal work. I’ve sent out ideas all across the Northwest and even the Midwest. Now I wait.
There is nothing I can do but wait. Practice, draw, write, read and research. I wait. I’m told that by the end of March, I’ll hear back. In April, my brother and his family are visiting me here. It might be the kid’s first and last time in Madrid, I might be gone. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
And this state of limbo has me appreciating the snowflakes on the doorstep, the muddy prints across the kitchen floor, and the conversations with old friends. You just never know. I’m grabbing each minute here. With my friends and family. You just never know.
Crazy times, crazy times.
I live in a small town of around five hundred people, one with a reputation as home for artists, free-thinkers, vets and the odds and ends who resist the mainstream media. The night of the election 2016 will stay with me. The local tavern was full of locals, a big screen had been erected on the stage, and early on in the evening, the conversation flowed. Families and friends sat at the tables sharing dinners and drinks once again. It’s a ritual, one I’ve experienced here in New Mexico for years now. This time though, the conversation began to die after the results came in strong and hard for Trump, a predator, a public figure spouting hatred, deportations, and so much more that scares me. It should scare you too.
The conversations died, faces became blank, and the bar filled with anger, tears, and disbelief. This is a progressive place, that’s what I’d thought. Yet, some folks at the bar admitted to voting for the sexual predator, the racist white rich man who refuses to pay his own taxes. Others, friends of mine, admitted to not-voting. “It makes no difference.” Are you serious? Do you not pay attention?
I’m all right, Jack. That is the mentality that stuns me into silence. I don’t know how to confront, to talk reasonably, or how to stir that attitude into action. I’m all right, Jack.
Even my close friends this Christmas talked of how we should keep focused on our little town, that’s all. Nothing else, it’s community that counts. Yes, it is. Community has saved me many a time, kept me strong when I lost all, supported my writing and encouraged my wanderings. I appreciate that, I do. But. But…
Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, all were powerful men, able to rouse strong emotions in their supporters, encouraging actions of hate, murder, and terror. What did everyone say though? What did the common man do? They looked the other way. I’m all right, Jack. I’ll focus on my town, my neighborhood, my street, or even just my own family. That’s what is important, right? Take care of your own?
That’s what such regimes rely on. Our looking the other way. The focus on what I need, what my family needs. Me. Me. Me. We need to look beyond our own comfort zones. We have to stand up regardless of how comfortable we are in our towns, neighborhoods and families. I have to. It’s bigger than my own small life here in New Mexico.
We need to pay attention on the actual issues. Each time we or the media disparages the Predator-elect for his looks or his public personality, we’re giving him free advertising and more fame. It’s his actions and those of his supporters that need to be watched and questioned. The Democratic party could look for ways to work with the new president, make him follow up on some of his campaign promises, such as improving the nation’s infrastructure, and calling him on his own business practices of shipping work overseas and asking for waivers for immigrant workers when there is no need as we have the workers here. (And I say this as an immigrant myself.) Critical thinking is needed and we can’t trust mainstream media or social media, we have to research and question for ourselves. I’m trying. It’s in the details. We need to focus on details not his personality, right?
But my voice isn’t heard. It doesn’t make a difference. Wrong. It does, each voice has an energy, a worth, some of us spoke up on behalf of the group Rockettes who were being forced to perform at the inauguration, threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t. Public opinion held power, the Rockettes are no longer performing for that fateful day. I signed a petition. Thousands signed that petition. Social Media brought too much attention to that simple issue of women being forced to dance for someone they didn’t support. And now they don’t have to. My voice was one of many. It was heard.
Planned Parenthood is one of many organizations under threat. Women’s health being of little importance to many people, this right wing “christian” threat to dismantle PP is being ignored by many friends of mine, even those with daughters. These fathers (usually) don’t see how Planned Parenthood’s future affects their own families. It’s in conversations like that which leave me speechless. I’m no great orator, my mind blanks, I’m so stunned at the short sightendness of these friends, that I have to leave in disgust, partly at myself for not talking it through, but at my neighbors for the I’m all right, Jack mentality. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s major provider of health for women, men, youth, and race, religion, immigration status, or income matters not. This is a huge much needed resource. We all need to stand up and protect their services whether we use them ourselves or not.
Such I’m all right, Jack thinking will allow such places as PP to lose funding or legitimacy if we don’t stand up, speak up, and support them. No, I haven’t used their services, do we even have such a place in our town? No. Does that mean I shouldn’t pay attention? No. We have to look beyond our own needs, our neighborhoods, our towns. We have to look up, out, and take action. Focusing on my town allows dictators to gain even more power, it allows others to lose their health, their ability to live by their own religious beliefs and cultures. Do you get the difference? How else did Hitler’s Brown Shirts take the “Jews, the Gypsies, or the Homosexuals” away to the camps to be tested, stripped, starved and ultimately killed? People looked to themselves. They looked the other way.
I’m no historian, no politician, nor a great essayist. I’m one voice, it’s a voice of a woman, queer, immigrant, living below poverty level, who is trying to live a good life. Turning my focus onto this little town isn’t enough. At school in England in the Eighties, our history classes talked in detail of the Second World War, it was real to us. I read the books, learned the stories, and couldn’t believe that more people didn’t stand up in protest. Too many looked the other way and in my mind, that holds them culpable. They didn’t help but nor did they hinder the fascism, the destruction of communities based on religion, race, or sexual orientation. They looked to themselves. I’m all right, Jack.
For me then, what do I do? I don’t honestly know. The commitment to sign and share petitions that resonate with me is solid. Our city to the north has promised to remain a safe sanctuary for immigrants. There are groups focused on educating immigrants on their rights and legal ways to stay safe and in the community. The Muslim community is scared, and rightly so, as Trump’s website still has a statement of his about stopping all Muslims from entering, as well as forcing them to register. Kinda like the Jews in Germany, right? Or am I missing something here? But do resolutions from city councils make a difference? I don’t know. Without those statements though, who could feel safe? Don’t we all want our communities to stand up around us, keep us strong, keep us welcomed?
I’m all right, Jack is no longer an option. We have to stand up for those under threat by policies, rhetoric, and the new regime. We have to take our heads out of our small towns, out of homes and look for how this new political climate will affect others. Health, housing, work, immigration, environment, all of it is under threat. What I can do about any of this, I don’t know. I still don’t. I have no real answers and all that is online is just as vague. Somehow though, I will stand up. I won’t look the other way. I’m all right, Jack is not good enough for me.
Trundling around Europe in the back of a Land Rover, it was never a question of ‘are we there yet?’ but more of ‘where next?’
Decades pass and the restlessness rarely leaves me. I crave another trip, another adventure, something new please. Engaged by curiosity, I lose interest in the familiar. I’ve read enough books about how that’s a lack of contentment, spirituality, blah blah blah but this world is made up of the curious. New inventions, new paths, new works of art, and yes, new books all come from a curious mind. Curiosity killed the cat is one of the most annoying and limiting phrases thrown at me over the years. Familiarity kills the spirit. My spirit that is. I’m not saying one way to live is better than another, just that for me, it’s different.
A map, a road unknown, a small town cafe, a bookshop, an empty beach, a mountain path, that appeals. The sense of what next? Where next?
This last year has been one of readying myself for the next phase in life. At thirty, I was deported, sent back to England with a hefty slap on the wrists and nine months in limbo. At forty, I graduated from professional clown school in San Francisco. Now at forty-nine, I wonder. I don’t know.
In preparation though, I sort through another drawer, pulling out old photos, cuttings from newspapers, ideas scribbled on paper as my mind whirled late at night with stories and events worth remembering. A basket for paper to be burned. A lockable truck for the goodies I still care for. It’s about half and half it seems, which fills fastest. One drawer down. Two.
I turn to the closet, well, cupboard and pull out all my clothes one by one. It’s a compulsion. A need to lessen the load. To look at what I own, and to question why. I find it releasing, a lessening of the the claustrophobia that lingers in my mind, threatening to make me hit the road and leave it all behind. I’ve done that once before. Walked away with only a backpack. Claire was left with it all. I’m sorry Claire, I didn’t think of how it would affect you when I left London like that.
After clearing out my parent’s home, I understand how hard it is decide what stays and what goes. How was I meant to pay respect to their belongings when Peter and I weren’t able to house all this stuff. A minimalist most of my life, it overwhelmed me. I refuse now to do that to my family and friends. Being a morbid bugger, knowing too well that lives have to end and usually surprisingly suddenly, I throw out old letters, old clothes, anything that weighs me down. I dread for my anyone to have to sort through my belongings because I can’t. That’s one reason I’m such a minimalist.
The other reason? A vagabond perambulator I am. Happiest wandering around, watching, chatting, reading and writing. Then setting up a temporary home in some simple cabin, here in New Mexico, in Guatemala, in Wales, in North Carolina and even Tennessee. It doesn’t take much for this scruffy english woman to relax and make a home base.
Perhaps then, this current discarding of belongings is to set me free once more? To allow me to take trips whenever I feel the urge, to rent out my own cabin in the mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico? I don’t know. I really don’t know what’s next. I’m throwing out so many ideas into the world, acting as if each and everyone will happen, I keep moving forward. The freebox in Madrid takes my clothes, tools, furniture and books. I sell what I can, give away others, and burn the paperwork that holds me down.
Too many hats. I have too many hats. They’re my parents. I can’t give them away so I bring them with me. Yes, I do keep some things, a table from my great-grandfather, paintings from my gran, books of my dads, hats and photos from Mum. Peter’s cast-off clothes, the benefit of having a big brother.
But what is next? Where is next? West or Mid-west? North or south? I pick at my belongings, less and less is kept, and my closet is bare. The sentimental stuff of childhood in England is boxed and under the bed. The paintings hang on the wall above my bed, and the hats are above the front door.
Where next? Do we ever know? I’d say no but I’m ready for upheaval. For big changes. Hopefully that is. And yes, all the critters are coming with me.
Dynamite kills house fires but I don’t recommend doing it these days. You wouldn’t be popular. When Madrid was a mining town in those long ago days, water was so scarce that they couldn’t waste it on fighting fires. Instead they would blow up the homes near by, eliminating the fuel source (the wooden homes in this instance), and the fires would die out on their own.
I like fire. I’ll be honest; I’m drawn to flames. I used to breathe and juggle fire for a living in my twenties, not that I was very good mind you. Joining the Madrid Volunteer Fire District made sense to me though. That first Tuesday of the New Year, I walked into the Firehouse to check it out. Amid much teasing for ‘finally’ showing up, my friends took me around, talking to me about time commitments, the pumper tank, the engine, the wildland brush truck, and even the EMT vehicle. I held my training manual tight, and tried not to feel overwhelmed. This was the beginning. My curiosity kicked in luckily and I took the manual home and read it, not exactly understanding much, but I wanted to learn more. I came back each Tuesday. I researched online. I took home more books. Finally I got a tee shirt. I was hooked. I even signed up for the Wildland Firefighter Academy in Edgewood and drove there each weekend for over a month. Now, wildfire fighting appealed the most to me. The classes took place inside and out, we ran with packs, we dug trenches, we watched presentations about weather, fuels, and the environmental and geographic challenges to fighting and understanding wildland fires. I loved it.
Then one weekday, my beeper went off. I raced to the Firehouse and grabbed my bag of tools and gear, slipping on the coveralls and helmet as the Chief drove us all towards Golden, NM. Firefighters from all over the county arrived within minutes and by spreading out along the highway, we spotted the flames high in the mountains to the east of us. As a probationary member I wasn’t meant to do much of anything, but I was the only one with a compass, my dad’s as it happens. Clinton and I drove further down the road for me to take three different compass readings to triangulate the fire’s position. A decision was made to wait it out as the fire would probably only climb the mountain and then die out at the peak from lack of fuel. MVFD was sent home. I clutched my compass proudly.
So why did I leave the MVFD since I obviously liked it so much? It’s hard to explain. I came in with question of how could I help when these are my skills and challenges. Mixed messages answered me. A few members welcomed me with open arms, explaining the many roles and ways to help, from traffic control, to admin, and the academies and trainings offered free of charge. Another attitude expressed was that it is all or nothing if you join up, in the sense that you have to train as EMT, Firefighter and yes, Wildland Firefighter too. MVFD mostly deals with medical emergencies and accidents, not my thing considering my overactive imagination and queasy stomach. The Wildland Training I loved but my knees didn’t. All that hiking into mountains carrying shovels, picks, drinking water, and wearing all the gear, nope, I couldn’t do it. The Firefighter Academy wouldn’t work for me either, not being one for a militaristic teaching method, too much of an independent sensitive soul for that paradigm. So I quit instead.
However, I have all the respect in the world for those that embody the commitment and integrity of the Santa Fe County Fire and Rescue mission. Our Madrid team is small in number but amazing, putting out information to the community, fire safety tips, reminders to check our chimneys and CO detectors. They have saved so many lives of people I care for. They’re there for us. I trust them completely. It’s pretty incredible what they do for us.
For those interested in finding out more, turn up on a Tuesday, listen and learn, read the manuals, ask questions, and simply try it out. I’m glad I did. You’ll never know if it’s for you unless you just show up. Go on. Show up. Please, Madrid needs more firefighters, EMTs, and yes, behind the scenes assistance. You’ll get to wear a uniform. I like uniforms. And Harold liked being the Fire Dept. mascot.
As published in the Madrid Artists Quarterly. 10/2015