Mid-life Fun times/ Crisis?

 

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.

 

 

 

Calendars: A photo essay

Walking around Madrid, NM on the weekend, I spotted a new gallery. Popping in, I had an epiphany. Photography! It’s a passion of mine, another that I’ve been dabbling and studying all my adult life, even getting on an 18 month professional training in London as a 23 year old. It was too easy; I took it for granted and since then photography took a back burner to my wanderings and writings. But why?

Carlan Tapp has published numerous articles, had various photo shows, and published books of his motorcycle travels with his Harley. The gallery was on Hwy 14 and was brightly lit by sunshine and good humor. We chatted for ages, all about our travels and the cameras we’ve loved. Right now he uses a Fuji dSLR and strongly recommended I look into them. I will. It’s time to upgrade. His photos are a true travel essay, a way to describe a vanishing Americana. Backbone of America is available online as a photographic journey, an interactive book with maps, routes, motels and all that he recommends from personal experience. He rode his Harley from Highway 50 from Missouri to California, all on small local roads, talking to the folks he met, staying in mom’n’pop places, and recording all with his camera: Black and white strong iconic images of America.

How could I not take myself as seriously? What have I done since leaving England in my twenties? What do I still do? Travel, write, and photograph. On motorcycles, on a route very much like Carlan’s, I took Hwy 56 from Santa Fe, NM to northern Michigan, on my own with an unreliable 1976 Yamaha XS750, stopping in some heavy monsoons at a truck stop and being adopted by a group of truckers. When it was time to leave, they drove their semis on all sides of me, keeping the other night drivers in that storm from running me off the interstate. When my exit came up, they all slowed down, flashed lights and wished me well on my solo travels.

But why haven’t I told you about this? Why no photo essay either?
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This summer, three  months in a van with Harold, Rosie and the cat called Stephen, my focus was consistently on photographs, wishing the camera was a dSLR for more control. Coming back to NM, I’ve since written up the trip report and published a travelogue. The photos lingered on my computer, tempting me to do something with them.

Talking to Carlan was a revelation, his positive attitude, like-minded presence, stories and willingness to chat with me about our road trips and photos has inspired me to take the photo essay seriously again. A documentary about squatting in London was the entry in that full time course at Pimlico. So why not start again? Refresh my skills?

With that in mind, I just signed up for a photo class at the local college. I’ve set up an account with Lulu.com for publishing calendars.

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There are now two calendars available. The first is focused on Land Rovers, the old classic Series III. The second calendar offers up the night skies of New Mexico. Please check them out. This is a new beginning. A photo essay book is in the making.

Driving in the City Different

Santa Fe prides itself on being unique, different, and well after twenty years here, I have to say it is. Driving alone will wake you up, but no, you don’t need a passport as some from the Midwest think. I do recommend a good defensive driving class though.

“Slow down, there’s a town just around the corner.” Karen lit a cigarette and calmly opened the side window in the little green Toyota truck.
I clumsily down-shifted to third. “Oh shit, you weren’t joking!” I braked, crunched gears again, and slowly we drove through Madrid, New Mexico. “I had no idea. This is cool!” My head swung from side to side, taking in the run down wooden structures, a few businesses open, and swerving around the wandering lone dogs. Karen gave me the history, a short version, it only takes a few minutes to drive from one end to another, and then we hit the open road, heading for Albuquerque. “Change gears, you should be in third up this hill.”

Such was my learning to drive in Santa Fe County in 1993. Yes, I was in my twenties and didn’t know how to drive a car, stick or automatic. I’d been a biker since sixteen, and living in Europe, you didn’t need to drive. It was too expensive anyway. A bike fit my needs just right. Here I was though, living in a cabin in the Sangre De Christo Mountains, with winter around the corner, thick snow threatening to trap me up alone. It was time to learn. Karen, my sweet friend, a calm (mostly) presence, unflustered by the crunching of gears, the panic in my eyes, she explained a few basics, put her sunglasses on, and we drove to Albuquerque on highway 14. Now, I love to drive, constantly taking huge roadtrips.


The driving test then and now is a bit of a joke too, I have to admit that I’m glad. Well, I was glad at the time. Now though, having seen so many accidents and read of so many wrong -way drivers crashing and killing others, perhaps it’s time to revisit and strengthen the standards for all drivers? Defensive driving 101?

Yes, people drive the wrong way on highways and interstates in the City Different. A plea bargain was just accepted by one such drunken driver, dating back to a crash caused in 2013. This last month alone, there were three arrests for wrong-way driving on the interstate and two deaths. Seriously?

The history of wrong-way drivers is linked to the high DWI rate in New Mexico. Put it this way, when the courts decided it was no longer a good idea to have drive-through Liquor Stores, the state was in an uproar. Not that long ago, either folks. In the last ten years, we’ve had about two serious accidents each year, all caused by those ‘buzzed’ drivers heading south in the northbound lanes, or vice versa, even one in 2009 when a driver decided to do a u-turn on the interstate. Most of these crashes have lead to aggravated DWI charges, rarely manslaughter even though so many have died as a result. Crazy isn’t it? In 2007, within a couple of months of each incident, there were two DWI wrong-way crashes. In 2008, a two car crash, one DWI charge. In June 2009, a driver with twice the legal blood alcohol limit, crashed into a car of five teenagers, killing four of them, and yes, on the wrong side of the road. In 2010, two were killed in another such crash, the driver was five times the legal limit. In 2013, a three vehicle crash occurred on the interstate after the driver had been drinking, she got confused and took the wrong lane.

The wrong lane. The left, the right, the southbound, the northbound. You’d think it’s easy to remember where to place your car, right? It’s not. Not for me anyway, my body memory fights my mind as to which side of the road I should drive on. Growing up in the UK, I learned by osmosis. Now as an adult in New Mexico, I still get confused. My 1972 Land Rover doesn’t help: it’s a right-hand drive one, that is the steering wheel is on the right. Weird to say the least when driving an empty backroad into the middle of nowhere. It’s not too bad if other traffic is around, I follow their lead. When it’s empty, I just hope I got it right.

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Now though, Santa Fe County has gone beyond itself in being ‘different’. Earlier this year, the powers that be decided to work on the I25 and Hwy 14 exits. Citing concerns over potential accidents, they’ve spent 19 million revamping the area. I asked a few local EMTs and Paramedics, and no, that junction was never a problem for crashes, fatal or not. So 19 million was spent. I thought they were joking, that it was just a phase of construction, but no, they have really done it now. Oh so “City Different” they are, now we drive down Hwy 14, stop at a traffic light, cross onto the southbound left lane for 1/4 mile, then we stop at another traffic light and revert to the correct side of the road.


I’m sure it looked pretty on paper, but what were they thinking? Seriously? After all the deaths, accidents, wrong-way drivers and drunk drivers in the area? You seriously think it’s a good idea to make drivers go against their instincts and drive in the left hand lane?


It’ll be interesting to count the number of accidents bound to happen, at a junction that had not been an accident zone until now. On a snowy night? Fog? Dark sky and no street lights? Seriously? It’s bad enough for me, one who’s easily confused by right and left, I imagine other visitors coming to that junction at night, unprepared to enjoy the lovely sweeping curves and gentle landscape, and fight the urge to stay in the correct lane. Me too, what if I’m tired? I can’t see the road ahead?


On another note, I thought I’d take the Land Rover down to town and grab some groceries before nightfall. Although, the turn signals died last week. It’s okay though, this is New Mexico, right? Anything goes as far as driving in the City Different. Or am I then part of the problem?

“Do What You Love” I said.

Rebecca, recently retired, sipped her wine as Suzy and I listened to her rambling on about looking for something to do. She talked about how she’d always wanted to try pottery, missed doing her weaving, etc etc. Suzy, a long term friend of hers perked up.

“Don’t you still have a loom?”
“Well, yes, but it’s too small. I want the full size, four feet atleast so I can use the peddles and my whole body. You know how I used to make the rugs? Well, Keith had some friends visit us last week and Jane gave us a hand made rug as a thank you and I”m so jealous. I want to do that again.” She finished her drink and talked more about what she ‘should’ do. I listened in and drank my beer as the two friends talked. They both used to weave and so talked of who in town has a loom, who’s done what recently.

“What are thinking about?” Rebecca woke me from my daydreaming.

“How alive you are, talking about weaving, the types of looms, the way your eyes are all lit up. I reckon you should try it, find another bigger loom, why not eh? You have the yurt you can set it up in, don’t you?”
Suzy and Rebecca grinned back at me and started brainstorming, both excited at the new direction, the old direction.

I keep thinking of this moment and ask myself the same thing. What do i really want to do? What makes me excited? Writing, road trips, camping, planning trips and reading maps, driving little used back roads, hiking with the dogs, that is what I love. So why not do what I love? Write and photograph my road trips with the dogs?

Driving the National Forest roads in my 1972 Land Rover, towing my 1947 Teardrop trailer, packed with dogs? Why not? yeah, why not?!