The Color of Dust

Outside the train’s window the yellow dust fills the air, turning all the light into a golden glow. As I watch the land pass by I take a deep breath and find that some tight place in me has released. Some tension in me has softened. Maybe in all this open space I finally have enough room to breathe. Maybe I’ve left my cares behind at the station, if only for a while. Or maybe I am just glad to get the hell out of Utah. Salt Lake City was not my place.

I’m sensitive to atmospheric changes. Every place has it’s own character and that soaks right into me. Salt Lake City gave me a strange sense of ennui. I felt a little offthe whole time I was there. It’s hard to describe. The feeling came from small things, from a deserted plaza, a place designed for noise and movement that is silent and abandoned. Like a house that is too clean to really feel like home. I wandered through, waiting for my friend to get off work, and my footsteps echoed on the naked concrete walls and planter beds.

The feeling comes again as I sit on a packed train from Sandy to downtown. There are people in colors for a team I don’t know, families heading into town for a game. A guy sits in the seat across from me. From the corner of my eye I get an impression of torn jeans and dark tattoos. I glance at him and consider saying something, starting conversation in the hopes we might find some connection. I have this feeling, one I can’t quite explain, that the way we appear to one another puts us on opposite sides of something. Some divide of social circumstance. I wonder what he thinks of me and if it would change if he knew me. But he doesn’t know me and he gives off a palpable sense of hostility. He pulls a long folding knife from his jeans pocket, turning it over in his hands, opening, closing it. He doesn’t look at me but I have that odd sense that his attention is on me, even if his eyes are not. I stare out the window, arrange my face into a mask of boredom. Unconcerned. Whatever, the set of my shoulders proclaims. But I wonder what he means by it. I sit and wonder and he sits with his knife, folding, unfolding, folding again. When we get to my stop I stand, walk to the door. As I get off I glance back at him. He is still sitting, his eyes carefully trained downward. He snaps the knife shut and slips it into his pocket. I get off the train and it carries him away from me.

Light heartThere are sharp edges hidden in this place and I’m glad that this train is putting miles between me and Salt Lake City. I stare out the window and there is nothing but golden light for as far as I can see. We cross the border into Wyoming and I think of what one of my favorite bloggers wrote in her new book. Every time she crosses a state line she throws her cares over her shoulder, leaving them at the border. There’s something to this, isn’t there? Going to a new place has a strange power, an ability to wipe the slate clean. So as we cross into Wyoming and then into Colorado, I feel I really have left my cares behind me. I am empty, wiped clean. Ready for a new beginning, where each day brings a new adventure.

Memphis Sunrise

I took an overnight train from Chicago to Memphis. I didn’t sleep much because the guy next to me wouldn’t stop moving. He was constantly twitching or talking or fiddling. It wasn’t hard to see the monkey on his back. I almost asked him about it, but it sounded like he was trying to shake it, heading to his mom’s in Memphis for a bit. If he didn’t want to talk about it I didn’t want to make him. He was nice too and I was glad I hadn’t just shut him out after first glance. He tried to help when my phone froze. He offered me his blanket. Part of me wishes he had told me his story but mostly I just wanted to get what little sleep I could. It was the first full train I’d been on and that made it a lot harder. So I slept fitfully and woke to a sunrise coming into Memphis. I got off the train and walked over the edge of the parking lot to take a picture of the sun rising over the rougher side of Memphis. Turned out Memphis had a lot of rough sides. After I took a photo of the sunrise I started walking out of the train station, but a guy who was unloading baggage on the train ran over and stopped me.

“Don’t leave in that direction, you’ll get robbed as soon as you leave the station.”

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Gated temples and eating your tail

It was a strange feeling, walking around Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There were so many ways for me to feel unwelcome. I was not from there, I was not mormon, I was not male. Those things that I was not seemed louder there, like the echoes of a bible dropped in a Cathedral, the sound amplified by the space around it.

I know what it is to feel like an outsider.

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The River Why

I only spent one night in Iowa but it gave me a lot to think about. I found a host to stay with on Couchsurfing with a nice condo with a spare room in “downtown” Burlington. It’s very quaint. I think there are less than ten restaurants, total. Iowans don’t really have an accent, but they have a distinct way of speaking. It’s a quiet tone, with odd syllables lengthened here and there like they’re in no hurry to finish a sentence. It made me slow down a bit and that was a good thing in my book. My host told me a bit about his life, his son and his business, and then he asked me ten thousand questions about my life. It was immediately obvious why he liked to host travelers. He just loved to learn about people. He wanted to talk about ideas. He made me really think about things.

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We ended up talking about money and how that’s not what I want to value in life. He asked me what I valued instead and, at the time, I didn’t have an answer for him. Well I’ve thought about it a lot since and now I think I do. I value stories. I find meaning and beauty in life through them. I don’t think its possible to communicate the deeper truths of our world directly—they’re too big to be defined easily. But through telling stories about who we are and what’s important to us I think we can begin to sense their shape. Like the shadow of a whale under water, you can’t see it directly but you know it’s there if you learn what to look for.

That’s why I’m out on this half-baked adventure. I’m here for the stories. I’m here to skim the surface of this world in the hopes of a glimpse of what’s underneath.

Safe travels,

Carol

The girl who goes alone

Izzy is always late. I probably shouldn’t generalize from only two data points but somehow I’m sure this is the case. It’s funny though, she’s so charming that you love her for it. Her lateness, arriving trailing a scarf off one shoulder and declaring that she got lost again, it’s all part of her charm. Izzy is from Australia and she’s traveling around the US in what appears to be a completely haphazard fashion. From LA to Portland to Austin to New York, there’s neither rhyme nor reason as far as I can tell. But this too is just so Izzy. She marches around as she pleases with a smile that can’t help but spread.

I can’t remember if she messaged me or if I messaged her, but we found each other on couch surfing and agreed to meet for a beer at The Commons Brewery. She comes flying in with only a half hour till closing and introduces herself. She orders what I’m drinking, a farmhouse ale worth writing home about. She’s twenty-three and fairly fresh out of acting school. She’s been saving up for ages to go on this trip. Her ‘mum’ spent months trying to talk her out of it. We commiserate on being a girl traveling alone and how often we’re told not to, told it’s not safe, that we should stay home or travel with buddy. Girls should be chaperoned. This is the unspoken message. I’ve had this fight many times with my own mother. When I told my mother I was traveling alone she managed to be so circumspect that I wanted to send her a fruit basket or something. Congratulations. You’re finally learning to stop telling me to live my life the way you’ve lived yours. I think my mother is risk-averse, to the point where I sometimes think she is just afraid of life. Afraid of the inevitable unknown that is the future. The only way you can make the future knowable is to keep it the same as the present. If you do the same thing and stay in the same place you can know what’s coming for you. Any change is a leap of faith really.

But in my perspective it is so goddamn worth it to take that leap. The best experiences of my life came from launching myself out of my comfort zone. Two years ago I decided to get up in front of a room full of strangers and tell a personal story at a storytelling event. I was so nervous  I could barely breathe. I completely spaced out halfway through and there’s this terrible long pause where it’s obvious I’ve completely lost my train of thought. But I did it and afterwards I was elated. It made me realize that I didn’t just want to scribble in notebooks anymore and then stack them in a closet. I wanted to share my thoughts with others and get feedback and improve. I wanted to get better at sharing my stories so that someday someone might read them and feel the way I feel when I read a good blog, or hear a great podcast. There’s something about stories, isn’t there? They have a power that I don’t understand. All I know is that they can change the way I see the world. They can shine light on me when I think I’m in unreachable darkness. Stories can take you places.

I took that leap of faith and started sharing my stories, such as they are. And I tell you, nothing has made me as happy as writing these little bits and pieces has. I’m grateful that I was given that push that made me take the risk. So I’m here, at this bar with Izzy. We’re taking this new risk together. I think she would agree that we’re both better for it.

Izzy left me with a gift and, as the best gifts always are, this one can’t be bought. She gifted me two phrases from her dad. Apparently he told her after she left for her trip that “after you left I had a bit of a blub darling.” I was so delighted with this turn of phrase that I had to pull out my notebook and write it down. Seeing my delight she gave me a second one. He once told her “well I felt just like a pork chop in a synagog.” I think I have been waiting my whole life to hear this phrase. I feel like this all the time and now I have the perfect simile for it.

Sometimes if you want to grow you have to be willing to feel like a pork chop in a synagog.

Cheers,

Carol

P.S. Here’s a cute cat I saw in Portland:

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This guy offered to get cat hair all over my yoga pants while I’m away from my cat Sprout, who is usually in charge of that

 

Title credit: The girl who goes alone by Elizabeth Austen

Trainhoppers and rose gardens—A simple life

Well, here I am, alone in Portland. So much has happened already, even though I only left home this morning. A transient man snuck onto the train and then refused to get off. I was sitting, drinking coffee in the dining car, when an Amtrak employee walked up to him and told him he had to get off. They were standing not three feet from me. They had a protracted argument where the employee told him he had to get off, he couldn’t stay on, and threatened to call the police. Then he actually called for police, and still he wouldn’t budge. The train hopper kept telling them to call Amtrak and they would say he had a right to be there.
Finally they made an announcement apologizing for the delay because they were “having issues de-training a passenger.” I don’t know why, but at that point he sort of deflated. He said “tell you what, I’ll go back to the station and you guys can be on your way.” Maybe it was the official feel of an announcement, maybe it was having it announced to every person on the train that he was making us all wait. Who knows, but he walked off the train. I’m glad he did, not because I felt any animosity towards him, but because I really didn’t want to see him get arrested. I worked at the public defenders office too long not too feel for him. I have an inkling of how hard his life has been. I’m glad he left before the police came.

The train hopper was in sharp contrast with my arrival in Portland. My hostel is in a really upscale part of the city. I ran to Washington Park and back, passing through some of the neighborhood. I ran past high end restaurants and beautiful old single family homes with Range Rovers parked out front. The streets are clean and landscaped and beautiful. I caught myself, as I sometimes do, picturing myself living here in a beautiful home on a quiet street. Walking to a restaurant on the corner for dinner. I fill up with this sharp sweet yearning. The thing is, this place feels like it is about money. It’s pay to play. And I know that the pursuit of money and all it can buy is not what I want my life to be about. I’ve watched my father spend his life chasing money and success. I’ve watched him buy new cars and move into corner offices. And through it all I’ve never seen him get any happier than he was before. At least not as far as I can tell. So as I ran past beautiful homes and richly dressed people I struggled with myself. I tried to remind myself of my values in life. I tried to remind myself that money is not what this life is about. For me, friends will always be worth more than money. Simplicity worth more than material possessions. And to be loved by one is better than having a hundred people reporting to you in your corner office.

Freedom, all the way down

My blisters have healed now and it’s time for another adventure. The idea has been in my head for a while now to do some solo travel. Every time I drive out to the mountains my hands start to itch on the steering wheel. When I get to the turn off, part of me wants to just keep on driving. I’m sure you know the feeling. I want to get the hell outta dodge. And it just keeps getting worse. I want to see some new things, meet some new people. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle and I’ll always come back here. But I need to get away for a bit and have some adventures.

My first idea was to drive in a big loop, visiting National Parks. While that is still on the back burner, I don’t want to do it this year for two reasons.

(1) Driving alone in a car isn’t very sustainable

(3) I can’t write while I drive

Part of what I want most from this trip is to write about my experiences. I used to do a lot of things while driving—I once ate an entire bowl of soup—but I know no one wants me trying to write an essay while driving. I’ve learned the error of my ways and the most I’ll do these days is listen to podcasts and public radio. I did hear a story once about a man who read the paper every morning while driving into work (I think I heard about this on public radio, of course) but I think he must have been an odd case. Or very lucky. So instead I have decided to take public transit. I will ride buses, trains, and other forms of communal land travel. I like the idea of it just being me and a backpack on the road, plus I can write on the bus.

The idea has been living vaguely in the back of my head for months now but today, it became real. Today I bought my first train ticket. I leave Monday. I am so excited! But also terrified. Last night I went into a minor panic about traveling alone, about spending so much time away from my partner. I fell into an uneasy sleep and had dreams about being chased by dinosaurs. Like dinosaur apocalypse.  I don’t know what that means, probably just that I’ve been taking too much Skullcap.  I bought it from an herbalist while I was still a stressed out mess, working at the public defenders office. I’m not sure if it helped me relax, all I could tell was that it gave me incredibly vivid dreams. So I’ve been taking it again recently just because it’s sort of interesting. But I digress. I woke up this morning and felt better. I felt excited again. It’s funny how different you can feel after doing nothing more than sleeping on it.

So on Monday I take the train to Portland. Then on Friday I’m taking an eighteen hour bus ride to Salt Lake City to visit a friend of mine. Then after that I’ll figure out a way to get to Denver. That’s as far as I’ve planned. From there it’s wherever I want to go next. From there I hope to realize that it’s freedom, all the way down.

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Bye for now, Seattle!