Yesterday, I got a bit stuck in the mud. I put sticks and cardboard under my rear wheels like some kind of a vanagon owning witch. No go. Help was promised and after waiting 2 hours, it didn’t come. By this time, all of the other 4WD trucks in the lot were gone. I got anxious. I decided that I might go backwards a bit and see if I could get any better traction. But that’s not the best idea, on hill and in a thunderhailstorm. In a worse way now, I decide it’s time to call for serious help. The tow truck was a 3 hour wait. I drank a beer for lunch, did a drawing of a tree and then saw a friend loading his car. I jump out to say hi. He and this other guy decide that they could push me to safety! It all happened so fast. I really didn’t want to go deeper into this marsh, but they were right, it was the shortest way to the road. This is where I knew better. The embankment was not passable. Now I’m deep in it. The tow truck arrives and tells me that he can’t help me. I hike back up to the house to charge my dead phone and figure out what’s next. One of the guests wakes up and says that he can help me, once the truck is done moving sound equipment. I help. I’m adamant that we need to either push my van back, or get a really long tow strap, because the ground is not stable enough to tow me from close range. Guys and their trucks!!!! So, what’s next? Their truck gets stuck. We call another tow company with 4WD. We think it’s over. 4 hours later, a third tow truck has to come and rescue the tow truck. I don’t even want to talk about the bill. I had a very bonding day with my new van. I even slept in her last night in my driveway. Canceled plans to go to the hot springs. Canceled plans to go rafting. Good thing that I’m one of those people that make the best of everything. So many lessons. Time to work in the garden!
I painted this 18 years ago. It’s a self portrait that is almost always met with the adjective, “disturbing”. When asked who that is on my back, I’d say that it’s the real me; perhaps even more disturbing. I was onto my own game at 23 years old. I couldn’t really see from inside, how I’d become trapped, I just knew I was. I attacked this crafted version of self, imaginary guards standing by to make sure I wouldn’t break under my own critique, no matter how harsh. I was sure that I couldn’t truly express myself and the pressure was building. I can feel the pain of that in recollection. It’s easier now. These two have become close friends, despite their flaws.
In considering a new painting, I revisited the memory, the poems, the drawings of an old lover. A young lover. The one I lost my virginity to. His ideas influenced my malleable young mind and educated a good bit of my reality. I thought he was a genius. I was in love. He discarded me after three loooong weeks. Years later he returned and our love was rekindled. He moved to Miami to “be with me” but also to escape the woman he got pregnant and the future he imagined would be inevitable, if he stayed. After a year and a half of what might have been the greatest adventure of my life, he left me, again. Of course this was a blessing in disguise; it turns out that a vagabond, alcoholic, writer was not who I was destined to spend my life with. For 3 years I wondered and imagined seeing him again. He tried to contact me once and I impulsively flushed his number down the toilet, in a moment of delirious self respect. And then he died. I just found his 22 year old daughter on Facebook. She has his eyes. I can tell that she’s the kind of girl that he would have been impressed by when he was her age. He would have been a proud father, had he ever accepted being one, or considered life a gift in the first place.
I was just thinking about how I wish I could go back and offer my younger self some of the wisdom that I’ve gained. And then I thought, I can’t, but I can call upon a future, wiser version of myself to guide me today. And then She told me that I can actually do both!
About six years ago this neighbor of mine stole a bunch of stuff out of my house. He had been doing some yard work for me and had the code to my garage. Stuff slowly disappeared—at first from the garage—and he stopped waving to me, all at the same time. Seemed fishy, but I did, from time to time, leave my garage door open far too long. It could have been anyone, really.
One day, my laptop went missing from my office. Later I’d discover that my DVD player, hedge trimmer and a tool set were also gone. This was the last straw. I went over to where he lived and told his sister that I was terribly sorry for making the assumption, but that if my computer, the source of my lively-hood, didn’t show back up in the next 30 minutes that I was calling the police. 20 minutes later he showed up, with my laptop. It appeared that he was in the grips of crack addiction. He yelled to me that he had bought my computer “from some crackheads down the street”. I was pissed. I tried to shame him but he just held to his story. His sister bought me a new DVD player and kicked him out. About two years later, he moved back in… in a wheelchair. He had had a stroke.
He spends a lot of time on his porch, smoking cigarettes. When I’m outside, he seems to glare angrily in my direction. I imagined that he did this to avoid guilt or shame, by holding really tightly to his story about how I wrongly accused him of theft.
Yesterday, I was delivering the neighborhood newsletter. His house is on my route, the first house, actually. He was smoking on the porch when I stepped up, coming face to face with him for the first time in 6 years. I said “hello” and called him by name. He said “hi”. He didn’t have a free hand and I asked if I should just put it on the door. He said “yeah”. I asked him how he was. He said “good”. I said “have a nice night”. He said “thank you”. His voice and his face softened with every reply.
The rest of my route and my night I felt light and free. Where there had been a quiet bit of resentment, there was compassion for the whole world and myself.
I’ve been back in the states for one week, now. It’s not as strange as I’d expected it would be. I thought that it to be like watching TV for the first time in a really long time, the way it all seems so fake. All in all though, it’s just life in a different place. I’ve experienced so many in the past month that coming back here is just one more–one final destination, home. Upon my return I feel full, I feel voluptuous and I feel like I have more to offer my own people, my own little world.
The Places I went
The People I Met
The Food I Ate
A few things that I learned while in Europe:
• Beauty can be expressed so easily and simply.
• Just because there’s Arabic on the sign, doesn’t mean that it’s a falafel shop.
• The meaning and full expression of the word “licentious”.
• I want a waffle maker.
• Men can carry purses and be cool.
• Tobacco is the club soda of pot smoking.
• Be really nice to your travel companion.
• A pocket full of change can buy a lot.
• Always carry condoms.
• Real freedom comes without a price tag or a drive to increase your earning potential.
What I’ll miss most:
Spontaneous public gatherings – This was my very favorite thing about Europe. The cops do not chase you away when you gather outdoors for the sake of it. I know this makes me sound like a big boozer, but the “open container” laws in the states really squelch the potential for the kind of community that I witnessed in the cities I visited… mostly Paris, Cologne and Berlin.
Making Art Everyday – I am an artist!!!! I forget this most of the time, ’cause I get so caught up in my everyday life of work, laundry, gardening, meals… you know how it is. My busyness really makes it difficult for me to find the time to be a creative. I know it’s possible though. After all, I’m not in prison! Being an artist for 19 days while I traveled really woke something up in me. It’s now my responsibility to not let it fall asleep again. Cynthia wrote about my creative transformation in her blog, check it out >
Urban Living – I’m such a city girl! I think that I’m meant to have the city street just outside of my window. Luckily, I can at least see the city just through my window at home…. but there’s something about the buzz of activity and being able to just step out and be in it all. I love it.
Inexpensive Local Wine – Why is it that wine California wine isn’t really any cheaper in California? French wine in France, Italian Wine in Italy, they are super affordable and this seems to connect the people, even more so, to their own place.
The slowing down of time – Seeing, thinking about and experiencing things for the first time really made each day feel like it was about 72 hours long. So my average of 5 hours of sleep a night, was more like 15.
What I’ll miss least:
The Language Barrier – It was uncomfortable when I wanted to say something friendly or polite and didn’t know how to communicate it. I’m really lucky to be from an English speaking country, as it’s a commonly known language. 70% of the times I asked someone if they spoke English, they’d say “a little” and I was surprised to learn how much.
Poo Poo Platter Potties – The toilets in Germany and Amsterdam have this high and dry spot that your shit lands on, so it’s exposed before you flush. It sure puts one in touch with their dietary health (aside from the “how much fat is in my diet?” float test). It also stinks up the bathroom a lot more.
Hmmm… That’s all I can think of right now….
Cynthia and I.
It was hard when on the move
best when we were high.
I did a little logo job for Cynthia before we left, which she milked for every last revision, so it seemed a fair trade that she would plan our journey. She interviewed me over dinners at my place and lent me travel books from the Boulder library and together we decided where we would go and how long we would stay in each location. She found our apartments, arranged the train tickets, and did the Couch Surfing requests. Whenever we arrived in a new city, she held the map and let me follow along with my head on a swivel, just taking it all in. She went above and beyond. What she gave me was a gift that I will treasure forever!
You knew when to stop for waffles and fries.
You never kept me from stopping to take it in, write it down, or sketch it out.
You could always find us on the map and didn’t argue when it was time to hand it to me.
You were the Rollmeister.
You always encouraged and inspired me to make my art.
You shared your photos, your gift of language and your perspective.
You stopped to talk it out.
You cooked for me and saved me from eating nothing but bread and cheese.
You made sure that missing the train was NOT AN OPTION.
You taught me the words “capacious” and “licentious”.
You gifted me with the red one and made my color set complete.
You shared your computer so generously.
You made my first European Adventure!!!!
Travel Changes One
Of course I’ll go back to a lot of my old habits and ways, but I know that this trip has made a real mark on me. Since I’ve been home, I bought an Italian espresso pot, I biked instead of drove for the first 5 days, I’m making art a little, and I’m not saying “like” and “do you know?” nearly as much. I hope that a little bit of European style, visual and culinary art, culture, and romance have rubbed off on me.
Thanks for reading!