Back Home?

I’m in Memphis, my home for most of my 68 years. A rig repair at my RV dealer necessitated that I return to my old stomping grounds. Memphis has soul and other wonderful attributes. It afforded me a good life but it began to lack intrigue for me. My history in Memphis includes both personal gain and loss. Some of the losses have a visceral charge, especially the death a year ago of Sarla, my wife of 20 years. Though she is still energetically present and is a cherished memory, taking up residence in my rig has diminished the touchpoint of my loss.

I’ve got family in Memphis that I enjoy and love. These feelings are not in conflict with enjoying the personal space that living alone affords. Being together less frequently may create opportunity for connection that is more precious than routine. I’ve got close friends in Memphis. Friendships that matter endure the test of physical distance.

I’ve gotten feedback about my blog. One suggestion was that I express my sense of humor more. Another was that I write less about contemplative topics and more about everyday meanderings. Someone else suggested an interest in knowing where I am, and I received a suggestion to include a map. I started out writing my blog so that I’d have a trip journal. Then others declared that they’d like to stay in touch. Journaling morphed into blogging at which point this process became about writing not just for my documentation of life on the trail, but also for an audience. I appreciate your comments and feedback.

I read an interview with Neil Young about 10 or 15 years ago. He was asked why he chose to leave Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at a time when the group was on top of the music world. Young replied that he “followed the muse.” He embraced whatever struck his fancy. He had earned that luxury. Whereas Young’s solo work hasn’t excited me as much as his earlier work with CSNY, his commitment to following his muse is creatively and professionally courageous. He is in touch with the life he wants. I’m equally inspired by his quest as I am by his past. I’m following my muse.

People often ask me if I’m enjoying my current nomadic path. Rod Stryker, my former yoga teacher once said, “Your work is to identify what you love, and then do it.” My journey is not to identify what I love but to learn to love what I’m doing. I heeded the call to roam on my own. Loving the path I’ve chosen is a process, not a decision. I’m focused on the quality of my day-to-day experiences rather than whether or not they’re right for me. It’s sometimes out of my comfort zone. I set out to shape my future so that it’d be different than the existence that I left. I’m collecting life capital, building an experiential bank account. I trust that the process will lead me to an outpost to witness the landscape until it sends me forward again.

Don’t Half-Ass It

In his book, Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey recalls the time he told father that he was going to become an actor. His father’s reply, “Don’t half-ass it,” surprised him. McConaughey took it as an affirmation.

“A job’s not worth doing if it isn’t done well,” is a statement credited to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield in the 17th century. This declaration and the response of McConaughey’s Dad contain elements of the same decree to follow through when making a personal commitment.

Being in my rig is a lesson in not half-assing it. If I half-ass my water supply, the toilet doesn’t flush. If I’m not plugged in and I half-ass my attention to battery charge, the electronics that control the refrigerator don’t work. If I half-ass my attention to tree branches, my exterior gets scratched. If I half-ass my awareness of my diesel exhaust fluid level, the rig won’t progress any faster then 5 miles per hour. I’ll not fail to attend carefully to these jobs.

Not half-assing it requires more than intending to engage in a task or accepting a responsibility. It means committing to its fulfillment. I’ll use friendship as an example. Having good friends and being a good friend are at the top of my priorities. My friendships are a matter of choice, not utility. My relationships give me perspective that is different from what I gain from time alone. The people with whom I surround myself shape my life. My friends can double my fun. The satisfaction and love that I derive from meaningful friendship outweighs what I put in. During this first month on the road I’ve spent time with 9 different friends. I don’t know where the credit for the following statement rests but I love what it asserts… “The non-goal oriented time we spend messing around, doing nothing in particular, and simply being together with friends has about as much impact on health as quitting smoking cigarettes.” I’ll not half-ass my friendships.

I’ll also not half-ass what I need to do to feel good. I’m no good to anyone else if I fail in the self-care department. Self-care leads me to consume mindfully, to speak carefully, to lead an active life, and to be contemplative. Writing about my experiences is an act of self-care. It gives me a record of my journey. Maybe later I’ll reread what I wrote and it’ll serve me with wisdom. The extent to which my blog influences others to care for themselves better is out of my hands, but I don’t think that it hurts. I doubt that Matthew McConaughey’s father could have imagined that someone like me, upon learning about what he said to his son, could have been so inspired. It’s a calling to keep writing because every story shared represents a chance to say something that might have meaning for another.

When I Have Nothing to Say

In John Prine’s song “Angel from Montgomery,” he says, “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, then come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?” I ruminate about blog topics, sometimes coming up empty handed. I want my posts to have greater value than idle chatter. Can I write anyway if I don’t open the process with a grip on what I have to say? It is better to be mute?

My environmental impact is often on my mind. I’m at Roan Mountain State Park in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Though the sites are nicely spaced and there are trees between us, big rigs are piled up all around me. Lola and I are ensconced in the outdoors, but getting here came at a cost of emitting carbon into the environment. I’m conflicted because I love Mother Nature and it takes a lot of gas to drive my rig from place to place. I take some solace in asserting that my carbon footprint is less than it was when I was living alone, heating and cooling a 4200 square foot house. I wonder if those who crawl along the highway in 45 foot monstrosity motor homes at 6 m.p.g. have similar concerns. Today I’ll find a carbon offset project to which I’ll give what I can.

I set out to intentionally spend time alone. But I’m amid sites where campers are enjoying the company of their significant others and their families. I wonder what that feels like. Loneliness begets sadness. I’ve felt tinges of both. Does spending time alone enable my unique creativity to flourish? Is gearing down in solitude peaceful, refreshing? What do I see with all of this time to look inside? Will this time make me more apt to show up better for the people in my life? Some questions merit being followed rather than answered.

I could offset solitude with imaginary conversations where I speak both sides…Imaginary speaker 1: ”It’s cloudy today.” Imaginary speaker 2: “The sun always returns.” Imaginary speaker 1: “Want to walk the dog together?” Imaginary speaker 2: “Sure, it’d be good to get fresh air.” Imaginary speaker 1: “What would you like to have for dinner?” Imaginary speaker 2: “I vote for grilling. Why don’t you choose what we have?” Sharing simple conversations is relationship bedrock.

I’ve just returned from a walk up and back down the mountain with Lola. Hiking is mentally stimulating without mental exertion or situational manipulation. For instance, I wondered this morning about those characteristics that I brought into this world and those that are existential. I was born wired in to hike. On the other hand, loving music is existential. Music from her favorite classical station stirred my mother’s soul. In his song “We Make The Way by Walking,” David Wilcox speaks of being relieved from ghosts of the past…”I walked a little bit further, and the walking set me free.”

There are bears in this area. About a half hour into this morning’s hike, I contemplated meeting one on the trail and I turned back. Had we confronted a bear, Lola and I would have been outmanned. But my fear was projected, and it evoked the question of justified versus unjustified fear. I elected not to be present to uncertainty. Wariness about a possible bear encounter is wise. Fearing it didn’t eliminate the fear; it escalated it. This morning’s fear was a metaphor for my shadow of desire to assuage all of the discomforts I feel inside.

I fear having nothing to say. When that comes up, it’s time to blog.

How My Feet Strike the Ground

I’m at a bucolic setting outside of Sperryville, Virginia. Today my friend and I hiked Little Devils Stairs along the Shenandoah Mountain Ridge. We crossed a beautiful, rocky stream many times as we curved our way up. I divided my attention between my footing so I’d be stable and the sights in my environment so that I wouldn’t miss the beauty of the forest. The wildflowers were spectacular. I was uninterested in being reminded that rocks are unforgiving when they serve to break a fall. I proceeded apace without falling. My feet were placed carefully and they met the ground consciously…heel first, followed by a gradual shift of my weight onto the ball of my foot. My back leg was my ballast until it followed suit.

As he aged, I asked an accomplished runner and friend of mine how he managed to skirt injury. He replied that it was all about “how your foot strikes the ground.” His words implied full engagement of the mind and senses. I enjoyed running back then and I remember the protective feeling associated with reciting this friend’s statement to myself as I clicked off the miles.

In 2002 I attended a Peace Walk led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han. Serendipity worked in my favor. Thich Nhat Hanh ambled towards the beginning of the walk just as I was entering the event through the same portal. I had never seen anyone whose feet struck the ground with such careful placement. He wasn’t just stepping. He was feeling the earth beneath his feet. There was a palpable exchange between his absorption of the energy of the earth and the earth’s absorption of his energy. It gave me pause. I was mesmerized by how Tich Nhat Hanh’s carried himself on the planet. It was conveyed by the way his feet met the ground.

I participated in walking meditations during several Buddhist retreats. Walking meditation involves deliberately thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. It called me into consciousness. One of its rewards is a elevated level of awareness can be brought to any everyday activity. It heightened my sense of presence. The walking meditation began with establishing intention for how my feet struck the ground. The intention was fulfilling.

How does becoming aware of how my feet strike the ground have application to other areas of my life? It offers guidelines for how I approach relationship…with respect, with awareness, with my feelers out, with senses open, and with an open mind for connection. Connection is tactile. Just ask my dog. Our feet often strike the ground in unison.

Power and Practicality

My journey has started off with a 2 1/2 day deluge. It’s perfect if you’re an inexperienced rig driver with an inkling for driving a 25 foot truck over curvy mountain roads with diminished visibility. It’s ideal if if you like sleeping with a wet dog. It’s a bonus when your back up camera becomes obscured by a cover of water and you have to turn a 25 foot rig around in a small parking lot. Lola, my canine copilot, didn’t come with backup assistance training.

The lessons of the road already loom large. Awareness requirements spike up. For example, I’ve reached my zenith in energy supply consciousness. My first five days have been at sites with no electrical supply. My house battery is too small to support many basic applications for much longer than a day. Lights are nice but if the energy supply is running low, conserving everywhere is paramount. Flashlights, lanterns, and candles are God’s gift to low power. My refrigerator runs on propane when I don’t have plug in power but it needs power from the battery for its electronic parts. The water pump that pressurizes the faucets and the toilet needs power from the battery. Message to self…when the battery gets to 1/2 power, charge it with the generator while I have the battery power to start it. In late June I’m having solar panels installed. The sun will become my filling station. I’ll add 2 1/2 times the battery capacity so I can avoid relegating myself to sites where big rigs are side by side with lawn chairs set up for their occupants to watch reality shows on outside TVs.

My rig didn’t include an attached ladder to reach the roof. The manufacturer may not have wanted me up there. Though climbing up on my 11 foot high roof doesn’t make OSHA’s list of safe practices, I’ve got awnings on both sides that need to have fallen tree debris removed from them before they are retracted back to the body of the rig. I haven’t figured out a way to accomplish this task without climbing atop the vehicle with my battery powered leaf blower. Not having an attached ladder may be the beginning of discovering a whole new world of impracticality.

Propane is another matter. I’ve mentioned that it is the power source for the refrigerator when there’s no electrical plug-in source. Whereas there are enough gas stations strategically placed to keep me full of driving fuel, propane suppliers are much farther apart and less easy to locate. Plugging my refrigerator in and forgetting about it is a luxury of my past. In spite of its inherent hazard, I’m beginning to understand why Ben Franklin took his kite outside in a thunderstorm with a key tied to its string.

Between the time I leave North Carolina on Friday and my solar installation in June, I’m going to stay at sites with electrical hook ups. It’s practical. It’s powerful.

Anxiety Rears Its Futile Head

My sister came for a visit at the beginning of the week. I laughed so hard the first night she was here that I thought my ribs were going to break. Our laughter was an antidote to my anxiety. I’ve begun to feet anxious about being suspended in the vacuum of not knowing, the very state that I’ve scripted for myself. My rig has been in the shop for a week. I’ve been told to expect its return today or tomorrow but expectations come without a fulfillment warranty. Since things went awry during my first week with B0bbie, my rig, this second week is rife with the creeping sensation that the dark side has more in store for me and Bobbie.

I espouse that that anxiety is a useless emotion. Mastering a state of the absence of anxiety is more than flipping a switch. If it would help, then taking advantage of being anxious when the opportunity arises would become commonplace. But it causes heart palpitations and ensuing tension. I’m working with the antidotes in my tool kit…meditation, yoga, walks with my dog, Lola, music, and laughing.

Yesterday I spoke with the service manager at the facility in Mississippi where my rig is undergoing its repair. He spoke with a strong southern accent.

Me: “Hello, Dan, Can you tell me what caused the leak in my rig?”

Dan: “A cla-ump came aloose. That’s the matter with yur fresh waters.”

Me: ” Seems like a simple fix.”

Dan: “Yep, We got ’em parts a comin’ in.”

Me: “When?”

Dan: “Don’t rightly know for shore, but ‘spec today or t’marr.”

Me: “But there is another plumbing issue as well?”

Dan: “Yessir, Yer tank waste line’s broke. Yer jack foot tore it when it drug the road.”

Me: “And the parts for that repair?”

Dan: “They’s on the way her, too.”

Me: “What about the jack stabilizer that malfunctioned?”

Dan: “Hits on order, also, but it could take a week, maybe two. You wanna come back fer it later, we’ll put your name on it.”

The degree of what I don’t know has been lessened. I do know that I can jaw in Mississippi tongue. I ain’t anxious about them conversations.

Who Is This Rig?

I picked up my rig, temporarily christened “The Beast” on Monday, April 12th. It is much bigger in real life than it appeared in its photographs. Maybe I’ve shrunk since first contemplating becoming a nomad. Its stature intimidated me. But reality isn’t a good choice for an adversary. It has everything that I wanted and I need to befriend it.

A good friend of mine said, “The Beast? How about a softer name like Bobby the Beast? Or how about just ‘Bobby’?” When people hearing of my journey asked if I planned to give it a name, I stated that I was considering not naming it. I’d refer to it as “the rig.” Everyone names their rigs. I want to be unlike everyone else. But “Bobby” is growing on me. The “Beast” is an unfriendly moniker. Bobby is friendly. I’m contemplating finding a door mat with “Bobby” inscribed on it. I envision “Bobby” being tattooed on the inside of a lover’s arm. It could either be a badge of honor or a mistake that can never be completely erased. Mistake or not, my rig and I are riding off into this next chapter together. 

I initially thought of Bobby as a guy but we may get along better if he morphs into “Bobbie,” Bobby’s female counterpart.

On Monday I was given a walk-through introduction to Bobby by a young man who spoke at the speed of light. His speech was interspersed with “as I said” numerous times as if to make an impression on me to remember his words. As a cautionary move to prevent my failure to remember the lessons he was teaching, I made a video of our 45 minutes together with my Iphone. Three days later, when attempting to retrieve it, I learned that that the video had disappeared from my phone. I surmise that it drifted into a video atom smasher. I’m beyond the point of being effectively taught in a warehouse classroom setting anyway. 

I experimented with putting my kayak paddles atop Bobby’s slide out feature, only to get them stuck when I was retracting it back in. I managed to get the paddles unstuck with no permanent damage to the paddles or the slide out. Bobby intimidated me all over again when I became aware that I could feed it kayak paddles, he would eat them whole, spit them back out, and not lose a beat. 

Today I filled my water tank. The water leaked out from the bottom edges of Bobby. He wet his pants. I called my vendor and prepared to drive 25 miles to the shop so the leak could be located and fixed. About a half mile away from home, I heard a nasty loud noise made by some unidentified part dragging against the asphalt. I pulled over on a side road, looked beneath Bobby’s belly, and noticed that the stabilizing “foot” that is one of Bobby’s amenities had spontaneously deployed. Bobby dragged his foot so badly that it wouldn’t retract and he had to be towed in for repair to northern Mississippi. He’ll get a diaper for his leak after which the motorhome podiatry department will fix the dropped foot.

I’m feeling better because I took the time to write today. It gave my tired mind a chance to think on paper. Otherwise, I’d be stewing in my own anxiety about me, the Beast, Bobby, and Bobbie.

Leisure

Leisure

by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure implies taking time out from being busy.

Rhetoric is an art of discourse. Davies asks the rhetorical question, “What is this life?” He implies that pacing is an essential consideration. In his book Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman imagines a world where time stands still. If time stood still, and we weren’t about to run out of it, or fail to accomplish our aims within designated time allotments, we might be better at standing and staring. When time stands still, everything around you seems to stop. I intend to stand and stare. I’ve got a lot to learn by emulating sheep and cows. Sheep and cows personify leisure.

My attraction to subtlety grew when, after practicing yoga for some time, it became apparent that transformative change occurred more powerfully in subtle realms. Provided that I pause long enough and pay attention to subtleties, then I might see where the squirrels hide their nuts in grass. 

In the fourth couplet, Davies suggests that daytime is the time to thrive, He implores us to embrace the light as we would if we were star gazing at night. I remember nights in northern Wisconsin during my childhood when we’d lie on our backs on the ground waiting for the thrill of shooting stars to appear. It never occurred to me that I was frittering away my time.

Davies says that Beauty dances. I’m consciously open and looking forward to moments when I can see Beauty dance.

In the next couplet Davies suggests that Beauty can get short changed if we only stick around long enough to glimpse its smile. Instead, he encourages us to watch it envelop the entirety of a mouth. John Prine said, “A clown puts his makeup on upside down, So he wears a smile even when he wears a frown.” If you can’t find enough time to listen well to John Prine, then you are at risk of making the mistake of thinking that a frowning clown couldn’t be smiling.

Regardless of whether you are on a figurative or literal journey of your own, I implore you to join me in my commitment to stand and stare. In another one of his books, In Praise of Wasting Time, Alan Lightman mentions the irony of increasing isolation in our hyper connected world. Becoming disconnected is the result of being so over connected. Disconnection begs for connection. Going outdoors keeps my spirit alive and my connection intact. My surroundings are my teachers. I’m more likely to encounter simple, subtle truths and to experience the rapture of being alive by taking time to stare at nature.

Interiors

Indoor life mostly cycles between the bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen. This triad of influence guided me in the selection of my motorhome, a Jayco Melbourne 24L.

I thoroughly looked at used rigs and found that the most appealing part of the search into a second hand vehicle was finding attractive prices. However, price became subordinate to satisfying three criteria: a dedicated bedroom, a bathroom as close as possible to feeling and functioning like a conventional household bathroom, and a kitchen that would afford me the confidence that I can prepare food equivalent to what that I can prepare in a conventional household kitchen.

Some rigs are efficiently equipped with seating areas that convert to beds. They require preparing the bed for slumber and then dismantling it the following day so that seating can be restored. If efficiency was paramount for me, then a setup wherein the seating converted to the bed would have been fine. But I set my sights on a bonafide bed that would be prepared to receive me when I was ready to hit the hay. When my day is done, I often fall asleep before my head hits the pillow. My rig’s equipment will include a queen sized murphy bed that flips up and converts to a wall when the rig is on the road, and flips down in preparation for the supine nighttime stretch.

The second criterion that I required was a well equipped kitchen with maneuvering space. The sink, the counters, the refrigerator, the range, and functionality of space were all considerations. My rig has a kitchen that gives me confidence that I can prepare dishes on the road that are equivalent to those that I can prepare in my kitchen at home. I was a natural foods retailer for 18 years. My intention then was to connect diet and wellness by providing ingredients that customers could buy to take home and prepare meals from scratch. The energy in a meal prepared from scratch at home stands apart from commercially prepared food. The same applies to food prepared from scratch in one’s kitchen in a rig.

The third criterion that I needed to satisfy was a real bathroom. Some rigs have bathrooms that are “wet rooms” wherein the sink, toilet, and shower are nested together inside the same four walls. Everything gets wet when someone takes a shower. It’s efficient because it lessens space consumption. I wanted an enclosed shower in its own dedicated space, a toilet that stays dry, and a sink that doesn’t share the same space as the shower. The bathroom bookends the day; it’s where it starts and ends, both critical junctures. Occasionally great ideas come to us in the sacred space of a bathroom. Bathrooms come with a privacy guarantees. Private space is a hotbed for freedom of thought. I intend for the bathroom in my rig to be a hospitable environment for my emotions and thoughts.

Once these conditions were satisfied, the rest was gravy. When I’m parked at a campsite, one side of my rig will slide out, expanding my space. The center aisle will become wide enough to practice yoga. The kitchen cabinets have LED lighting underneath so the counters are illuminated for food preparation. When parked, the driver and passenger seats in the cab swivel to face the body of the living space.

I’m queuing up. There are many better deals than the rig I’ve bought. For others, a better deal is a wise choice. There are many more luxurious rigs than the one I’ve bought. Nevertheless, the cycle of indoor life between the bathroom, the kitchen, and the bedroom will continue uninterrupted in my moving abode as I transition from a life in a conventional house to life on the road in the rig that satisfies my three key criteria.

Tethers

A mention of “tethers” recently occurred in a conversation with Chris Coniaris, my friend and yoga teacher. Chris lives a rigorously simple, mostly untethered life. I admire his spartan ethic. A tether is typically considered a limitation, something that ties one down and restricts range of movement. In its most restrictive application, it’s incarceration.

Free is tether’s antonym. Is freedom a luxury? A security? Is it a source of comfort? Discomfort? Do you want it and do you know what you’d do with it if you had freedom? Who can handle it? If you disconnect from your tethers, then does liberation follow? Are commitments tethers? Can a tether be a responsibility with a reward? Without tethers, we’d never own houses, we’d never have children or pets, and we’d not have as much opportunity to reap dividends gained by overcoming difficulties.

After years of ruminating about the meaning of life, reading about it, listening to lyrics about it, and discussing it, I’m still not absolutely clear that I know what this is for me. I do know that I’d be unlikely to find meaning in the absence of relationship to others. A close friend of mine and I have an agreement related to the end of life. In the event that either one of us loses cognitive or other functional facility to sustain relationships. the functional person, where possible and legal, will assist in the non-functional person’s elective euthanasia. Life without relationship isn’t worth living. I’ll not give up my tether to relationships.

My dog Lola is a tether. I wouldn’t give up my relationship with her for anything. The love I’m able to give and receive turns the tether of this responsibility into its own reward.

I neither plan nor desire to live the rest of my life as a single person. I want and need to bump up against a significant other. I have a girlfriend, Sheila Cullen, with whom I’ve been an open book regarding my needs and interests. She knows that I love her but she also knows that I need our togetherness to accommodate my independence. My relationship with Sheila is a tether that I embrace.

Tethers come with more questions than answers. This conversation about tethers ties back to my previous post about decisions. Barring unforeseen circumstances, my RV will arrive in April. I’ll be tethered to taking good care of it, paying for it, insuring it, and improving it. I relish the opportunity that comes with this tether. My decision to not replace my home at the time of its sale is about a tether that always has taken time, energy, and resources that come with the territory. The home that I’ve lived in for 15 1/2 years and will part with in a month takes more out of me than it gives back to me at this time in my life.

Becoming untethered is being set loose. I’ll take advantage of being set loose but I’ll not disconnect.