Departures

We fumbled the hitch into place and clamped it down. We plugged in the electric brakes and tested the connection. We took one last long look at the farmhouse and the view down to the river and we listened to the geese who have been congregating down at the bend where the tidal ice pops and cracks in the unseasonably warm January weather. 

I put my phone between me and the moment, used the screen and the desire to capture just a slice of the early afternoon sun and this moment of departure to create a tiny shield so that I wouldn’t have to look it all straight in the eye, something entirely out of character for me. I hit record as Justin put the truck in gear and began to roll forward, pulling our camper from its resting place and into the long driveway. As I hit stop and ran for the passenger side of the truck, I snuck one last look back before resolutely turning my gaze to the road before us and willfully ignoring the lump in my throat and the rock in my stomach.

Change is hard. Even when we know it’s exactly what we want to do and exactly where we should be in this moment, it’s difficult to let go, to release. Or perhaps that’s just me? I do have a tendency to hang on too tight. Even while I’m so very thrilled to be underway, so very eager to begin, I’m confronted by my own resistance to this choice we’ve made, this pain of departure.

I’ve been thinking so much lately about what I want to get out of this whole mess we’ve made for ourselves. And also what I want to give, how I can contribute something meaningful through this slightly odd life choice of ours. I don’t know the answers yet, and I suspect they will be ever evolving anyway, but I know that tucked in between the tremors of fear and the wild exhilaration and the creeping exhaustion of being an introverted homebody without a “home” per se, truth is at the heart of it all. I want to see myself and what I have to offer this world more honestly than I’ve ever seen them before. I want to question everything I think I know for sure and see if old truths stand up when examined carefully under the microscope of time and experience. I want to see clearly and notice when I’m allowing old baggage and old stories to shape my views. I want to find exactly the right words and craft them into sentences that create connection and understanding, that open me to honesty through and through. And I’m looking for more. More moments, more breakthroughs, more growth, more awareness, more truth. More everything

Large departures and small, external departures and internal...each carries with it a lesson and an opportunity to embrace the pain and ecstasy of growth.

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A little snapshot of our travels since leaving Maine two weeks ago today! I hope to be back to my regular Wednesday posts next week, but no guarantees- things on the road are a bit unpredictable and wifi simply isn't generally my top priority! 

 

Go Time

D-day is upon us, you guys. It's time to do this thing.

At times, this has felt like the world's longest transition, from selling our home, to renovating our camper, to adjusting to temporary camper life, to moving into this sweet little rental for the last few months as we wrapped up what we could of the life we've built here in Maine. At other moments, it's felt like the minutes were slipping past like sand and I've been struggling to find a way to hang on to them even for an extra breath or two. 

It turns out that time neither speeds up nor slows down, however, and we must simply bring our best awareness to the moments before us. Shocking, I know. So here we go. Unsure and a little shaky on our feet. It's sinking in that this is no two-week road trip vacation, but a decision for the long haul, a choice to change the years ahead of us. It lacks the glamour of the vacation road trip...it won't be all shiny vistas and unplugged adventure- we'll need to plug in, get wifi, have access to showers so we can go to work. We have bills to pay and responsibilities that we won't step away from. This isn't Travels With Charley or even Blue Highways, but rather some other story of long-term change that we haven't quite wrapped our heads around yet. 

Our journey will happen in three-month intervals, as Justin will be travel nursing and the average travel nurse contract is for approximately 12-ish weeks. While we'll drive away from Maine tomorrow without a specific nursing job in hand yet, we've decided to try to make our first official stop in the Austin/San Antonio area of Texas! We'll take 2-3 weeks to get there with a few stops along the way to see the sights and visit with friends and family. This is our very rough itinerary...let us know if you'd like to meet up for coffee along the way!

A: Leaving our sweet little rental cottage in Alna, Maine
B: Hugging Justin's folks long and hard in Hollis, NH
C: Visiting with our dear friends in Lewisburg, PA
D: Catching up with some family in Sharpsburg, MD
E: Doing some hiking in Shenandoah National Park, VA
F: Taking in some history and visiting a good friend in Williamsburg, VA
G: Hitting up our old stomping grounds and lots of wonderful friends and family in Durham, NC
H: Doing a little fly-fishing and remembering our relationship roots down in the Nantahala Gorge in NC
I: Taking some distillery tours and tasting some good bourbon on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky as well as hitting up Mammoth Caves N.P.
J: Soaking in the smallest National Park in Hot Springs, AR
K: Popping in to see family in Dallas, TX
L: Hoping by the time we make it to central TX, we have some sense of where to land (cross your fingers for us!)

If you know of somewhere along the way here we need to see/eat/drink/make merry, please let us know! We are planning on mosy-ing along and making the most of the journey!

So here we go, y'all. Hands clasped and breathing in long, deep breaths. While everyone we know seems to be building lives with deep roots, we are upending ours and hoping it turns out for the best. Send us your camping recommendations. Send us info on farms and organic markets where we can support local communities along the way. Send us the contact info for friends and family who can show us the ropes as we land in new places. But mostly, just send us your love and well-wishes...we'll take all we can get with gratitude.

 

Courage & Integrity

A few weeks before I graduated from law school, I made an appointment with a local tattoo artist. After months of denial and bargaining and flip-flopping, I had made the decision not to sit for the bar exam and to walk away from a career practicing law. I was terrified. I was overwhelmed. I had this roiling monster living in the pit of my stomach telling me that my decision-making was no longer to be trusted (wasn’t that what got me to law school in the first place…alongside the hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt that would now accompany me for much of the rest of my life?). Despite my success in school, I felt, unequivocally, like an enormous failure. I was 31 years old and beginning from scratch. Again. It seemed like everyone else I knew was settling into their callings, into careers and families and building big lives. And here I was, with years of toil behind me and a feeling of having nothing to show for it.

There are two very opposite and opposing sides to my personality. On the one side, I have my “oldest child” self. She’s a bit of people pleaser who thrives on discipline and organization and checking things off an immaculately organized to-do list. She’s the part of me who very sincerely adores making a beautiful home, cooking elaborate meals for family and friends, excelling in the rigors of a competitive learning environment. She loved law school, the way her understanding was stretched every day, the simple work of it, the challenge to wrap her head around complex ideas and nuance. She also loved law school because it satisfied her need for approval by others, the way people seemed to automatically assign her intelligence and capability upon learning that she was studying the law. Despite what the other parts of me knew, law school seemed to tell the world that I was a person in the midst of living up to her potential, and that “oldest child” part of me can be entirely too dependent on that sort of external validation.

And then there is my other side. I think of her as my “wild woman” (if you haven’t read Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s seminal Women Who Run With The Wolves, stop reading this right now, immediately go buy it, and prepare to savor her words and ideas over and over for the rest of your life). My “wild woman” is the part of me that has needed a little bit of risk all my life, who got grounded in third grade for riding her bike off of her friend's roof into the pool below, who savored (without even the tiniest hint of guilt) skipping high school to joyride around the Texas Hill Country, who felt like the whole of the universe must have irrevocably shifted when she was introduced to the outdoors and the big places away from other people. She’s the part of me who quit school in her final semester as an undergrad because she was too broken to continue and began her healing by walking alone with her backpack into Glacier National Park, knowing that the only path to wholeness was to battle her demons in the support of uninhabited and unparalleled beauty. She’s the part of me who came fully alive in my first season as a river guide, who felt a contentment and a rightness so bone-deep that I ached with the sheer beauty of my days. She’s the part of me who, when she allows herself to be pushed into a corner, will bite and claw her way out, setting every single bridge in her life on fire to escape if necessary. She can make a real mess of things when she wants to.

Over the course of my life, I’ve tended to swing between these two sides of myself, toward the extremes. So when cancer (and a body that couldn’t easily walk to the mailbox, much less paddle a river or carry a backpack), the subtle pressure to “get a real job,” a certain craving for intellectual rigor, all combined in a bizarre stew seasoned with the gravy of some complicated relationships, I decided to go to law school. It was the biggest swing I ever took toward my “oldest child” self, the most extreme end of that spectrum. I packed away my outdoor gear. I traded Carharts for navy suits and Chacos for matching pumps. In some ways, I thrived- I was good at law school and I truly loved the learning. But I never quite fit, I never quite managed to fully lose the uneasy feeling that this wasn’t my place, wasn’t where I should be. Sometimes I would pass an outdoor store or see a kayak on a car roof on the highway or go for a run and the “wild woman” part of me would start to writhe in the center of my chest a little, and I would feel suddenly like it was hard to breathe somehow.

So here I was, on the precipice of graduation, surrounded by classmates talking about job offers and preparing to put all that we’d worked so hard for over the past years to good use. And I was making a tattoo appointment instead (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course). It wasn’t my first tattoo. I had a few small ones from my late teens and early twenties- nothing particularly horrid, but nothing particularly good, either. But even those silly tattoos felt like a reminder of my wild woman self, the part of me who wasn’t cowed by the idea that I might someday wish I hadn’t placed ink on my body in a certain place or in a certain way. They were a comfort in that way, a tangible reminder that there was more to my story than navy suits and matching pumps. I wanted- I needed- another such reminder as I began to step off the path I’d been on for so many years.

I needed that reminder to be visible to me every single day, something not easily covered or hidden away. I wanted to keep all of the parts of myself out where I could see them, where I could keep an eye on them and pay attention when they began to show signs of neglect. I needed that reminder to be a mantra, a truth that could be a grounding force for my life, no matter my outfit, no matter my occupation. 

I was scared. I was scared that I was making a gigantic mistake, scared that I had all of this debt and no idea how I would pay it, scared that I would be a burden to my brand-new husband, scared that I would wither to nothing if I kept putting on those suits, scared that I would be one of the people I met in a chemo room who kept talking about all of the things they wished they’d done differently if only they’d known how little time they might have. I felt lost and directionless, not sure who I was or where to begin. I felt too far away from the world of guiding rivers and the me I’d been there and I wasn’t sure how to make my way back towards it from our little urban townhouse with two bathrooms. I'd recently had my eyes opened to the world of photography, but was struggling to see myself as creative…I had never taken a single art class in my entire life and it seemed self-indulgent to embark on an artist’s unpredictable life when I had more than $150,000 in student loans to pay off. But I also knew that once I’d seen that I couldn’t put on a suit every day, it was bell I couldn’t unring- there was simply no going back to pretending I could. 

So where do I start? Where do I stand when there’s nothing but shifting sand beneath me? What are the non-negotiables for whatever life I would lead next?

Courage and integrity. 

I kept coming back to these two words over and over. I needed to find the courage to seek the life I am called to lead, the courage to begin again as many times as I must to figure that out, the courage to call myself out on my bullshit excuses. And I needed that courage to come from a place of integrity. To be honest with myself and others, to fulfill my commitments and obligations, to take responsibility for myself and my life and my choices, to operate from my value system and to do the work to identify and evaluate that value system over and over and over again throughout my life.

So I tattooed those words on either wrist. You can make fun of me if you’d like, I don’t mind- I know it’s a bit cliche. I tattooed them in Chinese because I didn’t want others to be able to read them, I wanted them to be just for me, to serve as my own daily reminder each time I looked at my outstretched hands. And because I think the characters are beautiful and simple. And because the way they slash across my wrists reminds me of my choice to end the life I was leading, my choice to let the fear bleed out of my decision-making.  

I have been looking at them a lot lately. I’ve been leaning on them, needing that reminder once more. 

Because the fact of the matter is that I’m scared again. Excited, of course, but scared. Terrified, actually. In 8 days we drive away from this place, this community we’ve so loved. Today is Justin’s last day of work and we don’t have his first travel nurse job lined up. I don’t have any weddings booked because I don’t know where we will be. As of tomorrow, we are two nearly-forty-year-olds who are unemployed, soon to be homeless, and our savings isn’t sufficient to make it for long without work. I still have all of this student debt and I am once again not sure how I will pay it. Once again, it seems that everyone we know is building something in their lives- careers, families, homelives- and here we are, utterly dismantling ours. We have no idea what this will look like, where we will be in a year or two or five. We have no idea what we are doing. We have no idea if this will work. 

And so I look at my wrists and remember the last time I felt this unsure, this overwhelmed, this giddy with freedom and open-ended possibility, this petrified. 

Courage. 

Integrity.

These are where I start. And how I proceed. And how I will continue on. Over and over. Courage. Integrity. Courage. Integrity. 

Courage. 

Integrity.

And maybe a healthy dose of my ceaseless, occasionally damnable, curiosity tossed in to keep things interesting. 

 

 

 

   

Dreaming...

...of pink skies and flowing water and all that the coming year might hold.

Farewell, 2016.

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Yuletide Wishes

It’s snowing outside as I write this morning and I keep finding myself distracted by the falling whiteness, mesmerized by the veil of whirling flakes between me and the forest that lays beyond my window. There are few things I love more than a cozy, snowy morning…steaming coffee in hand, bright flickering candles to warm the dim grey light offered by overcast skies. I feel my heartbeat slow as I look out the window, as I watch the layer of frosty snow build up on each tiny bare branch, each quivering pine needle, a calmness comes over me.

Three weeks from today we will have packed our meager belongings back into our truck and camper, filled our beast truck with gas, and embarked on the first miles of our journey out of Maine and onto…well, I’m not precisely sure where yet. Likely central Texas to begin with, but the Lone Star state is nothing if not widely spread and it will be weeks yet before we know with any certainty which of the many hospitals will have an available travel assignment. 

Yesterday was the winter solstice and the traditional day to celebrate Yule. It’s a time of lightness and dreaming, of listening and allowing the whispers of our wishes for the year to come to be heard without attaching a to-do list to them yet. It’s a time of infinite possibility. I usually adore this time of year and look with eagerness on the tying up of the past year, the finishing of projects, the planning for the year to come.

But this year, I admit that I’m overwhelmed. Not horribly so- don’t be worried, friends. But overwhelmed nonetheless. 

There are the many projects and loose ends from another lovely wedding season over at Cuppa. There are a seemingly endless number of “oh! I forgot about…” moments, mostly of the phenomenally unglamorous sort that relate to leaving…notifying the state revenue service that I won’t be paying sales tax here after January, moving my business’s insurance, realizing that I need to change my driver’s license…see? Phenomenally unglamorous. 

There are the many items that are still very important to me that must be organized before being stored at Justin’s parents’ home while we are on the move…I am the keeper of my family’s history, the detritus of past and current generations, from my grandparents’ photographs to the old VHS tapes of my childhood home movies. Hardcore minimalists would say that these relics of past lives should be digitized, put online, and discarded, but I am not even remotely close to being okay with discarding the originals. Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I have a deep and unmovable love of original documents and I would discard the photograph of my grandmother at 20 years old onto which she penned the words “Hey there Sweetheart” before mailing it off to my grandfather at his outpost in the WWII Pacific just as soon as I’d chop off and discard my own thumbs. You know, like never. And so I’m faced with a pile of bins of photos and letters to be scanned and uploaded for safekeeping before entrusting them to the spare storage space of Justin’s childhood home. We aren’t storing much, but some things simply can’t be let go. Not by me.

And then, of course, there are goodbyes. To friends. To places. To this era of our lives. I know it’s sentimental, but I believe in turning points, in defining moments in life. And this drive away from Maine is one of them. When we sold our home this summer, I wrote about feeling that a home is a sort of parenthesis around an era in our lives, and I amend that now to include a place in general. I anticipate that one day we will return to New England and make our home once again in its snowy climes. But this time in this place is quickly drawing to a close and we will return as different people, marked by the experiences that we are so eagerly seeking as we embrace this uncertain future.

So I find myself overwhelmed. By a to-do list that I can’t fathom how to complete. By emotions that swing wildly from anticipation to grief to anxiety to exhilaration and everything in between. By remembering that the holiday season is tucked right in here with all of its fun and celebration and, admittedly, obligations as well. This overwhelm makes the lighthearted wishing and dreaming of Yule decidedly more difficult for me…what do I wish for when I can’t imagine what my life will look like in a month or three months or six? What do I plan for? What dreams can I have that won’t blind me to the opportunities that are impossible to know will arise?

And so I’m left with this Yuletide dream for myself: that I find within myself the courage and integrity and faith in possibility and hard work to suck the marrow from the experiences of the coming year, whatever form they may take.

And one more, I think, as I look once again at the falling snow outside: that I find the space over and over to pause and truly be here, to be actually and truly present…not to miss THIS, whatever this may be right now.

 

May your holidays be merry and filled with love and kindness and reverberating hope for a future that resounds with possibility and light, my friends.

Thinking Recursively

We hit the road in exactly four weeks and one day. Yikes.

No, we don’t know where we’re going yet.

I recently engaged in a discussion with a good friend of mine on the idea of recursion and recursive thinking. This is a complex idea rooted in a process calling itself. For example, a recursive definition is one which uses the word or concept being defined in the definition itself. Recursion pops up a lot in computer programming discussion where it is often initially described as the process of solving larger problems by breaking them down into smaller, simpler problems. 

I know I’m oversimplifying this concept, but since my discussion with Lisa, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of the recursive mind, of problem solving by first breaking things down into smaller problems. It’s sort of obvious, right? That in order to answer the big questions, we first have to answer all of the smaller building block questions? But it doesn’t stop me from initially feeling overwhelmed by the big questions, like…where do we go first when we drive out of Maine in four weeks?

So using recursive thinking, we begin by identifying the smaller questions:

  • Q: Where do we want to go? 
    • A: West. West. WEST. Anywhere that has mountains or canyons or whitewater or desert. Anywhere that gets us access to outdoor space and wilderness, preferably somewhere where I can begin to dip my toe back into the world of outdoor education and guiding

 

  • Q: What are our limitations? 
    • A: If we want to live in our camper, then we have to choose somewhere that won’t freeze (our tanks and water lines aren’t set up to handle freezing and cracked tanks/lines are just no fun!)
    • A: Justin will be working as a travel nurse, so somewhere that one of the agencies he’ll work through has a job
    • A: That job can’t be night-shift work (we tried the night shift thing…it doesn’t work for us- it’s not good for our health, happiness, or marriage and it’s a job deal-breaker)
    • A: That job can’t stick us in the middle of a city where access to the outdoors means driving 3 hours in traffic…getting outside is the entire purpose of this whole exercise, after all!

 

  • Q: What other considerations factor in?
    • A: Temperature considerations mean that our best bet for camper living means going somewhere also frequented by “snowbirds”…this means heavier competition for jobs, fewer pay incentives, and more expensive campgrounds
    • A: I have family in central Texas and some family matters that would be easiest to resolve in person

 

Sooooo…Austin? 

I think Austin is where we are going to aim for our first three-month assignment. If we can find Justin a travel nurse job. If we can find camping. If we can get the pieces to align. Cross your fingers for us.

In the meantime, we have four weeks and one day to take care of the 6,479 loose ends here. We have a truck bed to build out (we have landed on a very similar design to Becca Skinner’s #HappyTheTruck) and will be hammering away this Sunday in 20-degree weather! I have my last wedding of the season on Saturday (it's gonna be awesome!). We have paperwork that needs to be scanned and organized to accommodate our soon-to-be-fully-paperless life. We have some lingering camper-life questions to research and resolve (any recommendations on wifi extenders? the best methods for solar-ing out a camper? outdoor shower set-ups?).

Oh, and holidays to celebrate. And friends to spend some time with. And...And...And....

And we’re back to recursion…when the overwhelm begins, break it down into smaller problems. Simpler problems. Handle the small stuff and the big stuff begins to resolve itself. Recursion is my new best friend.

So maybe Austin…February-May…that has some serious possibilities...