Monthly Archives: January 2022

Night Shift: the Anxiety of Staying Put

Last night, the world was silent, still, and dark in the state park I camped in with Sammy, Blanche, and Betty.* So dark I couldn’t see the RV parked next to me just fifty feet away.

If I walked to the edge of the lake, lights from small-town enclaves pierced the darkness at the lake’s perimeter and stars punched holes in the sky, but to see the ground in front of me required a bright flashlight beam. Thus far, parks and roadside campgrounds have been blessedly light-free.

Trees in Lake Whitney

Tonight, I am “camped” outside a business in a suburb of Dallas. (Permission of the proprietors) Brilliant security lights make reading possible through Blanche’s largest window and freeway traffic noise is as constant and thunderous as a storm day on the Surfside revetment. But I have power, a full water tank, and safety, and I am only a thirty-minute drive from my grandchildren.

I appreciate this brief way station and the reduction in costs it allows. Dallas isn’t exactly a haven for campers. Campgrounds I might have chosen were either priced higher than I prefer to pay currently or had, shall we say, issues. Add to that the significant distance from my family and the idea of setting up in those places was unappealing at best. Nor would Blanche fit comfortably, even for a short time, in East Dallas neighborhood streets.

So here we are, listening to the traffic storm and looking at the patterns in the ceiling carpet.

Ok, so there’s no pattern. It’s just beige carpet. There’s not much to look at, it turns out. Sleep would probably come if I were actually sleepy.

Sleep might come if I could shut my mind off and stop worrying:

  • About all the things I cannot do and have not done. 
  • About all the people I have disappointed or have disappointed me.
  • About time and the cruel forward motion of it. 
  • About his moss agate eyes.
  • About how none of this really matters. Not him. Not time. Not my failures or that of others. Not traffic noises in a lot behind a business. Not stars nor darkness nor silence. 

None of it matters. When I am dust, I will simply be dust. 

Cheerful meandering, eh?

I awaken to brilliant North Texas sunlight and blue skies, a brisk breeze, and the kind of space within which I can take care of life’s tasks that get set aside on the road: my old phone needs attention, Blanche had an injured turn indicator, I need items from shops not available in tiny rural towns that have only convenience stores and local diners.

My mood shifts slightly if only because to survive, to keep going yet another day, I have these things to do: little errands that hopefully won’t smack my bank account too hard.

It isn’t being alone that strains me or even lost relationships or love. Those are the rocks and potholes on the road. It is the inevitability of failure drummed into me since I was a child: “Come on, baby. You’re smarter than that.” “You’re intelligent. You just have no common sense.” “Darling, you forgot x again.” “You’re so intelligent. Why aren’t you more motivated?” That last while putting constraints on how I could use my education.

It isn’t the road I’m on that beats me down. It’s the road that came before.

I’m exhausted from the voices of my past. The voices of my future don’t stand a chance.

Unlike all the people around me lecturing me on how to move forward and how to find strength, I can’t quiet those voices. I try every day with new efforts and goals, but every night the darkness (no matter how well lit by security lights or stars) reminds me I am still me and I have only come so far and have so far to go with yet so little time left ahead.

I want to end this entry on some pithy, upbeat note. Some motivational preciousness that will redeem my mood for those of you who will tell me to put on a smile or “let go and let God.” Compartments, again.

I am, perhaps, a writer for the very reason that I can’t do those things. I can’t pretend I have no discernible income. I can’t pretend my heart isn’t scarred. I can’t pretend I believe I will survive despite staring down the barrel of 60 and having nothing to show for it save a higher education and a dog companion.

So I wrote this and y’all just have to take the agonizing posts with the pithy and hopeful.

*I’ve finally named my bicycle: JT (based on the brand and model). Now all pets and vehicles are officially named and as such are dependents that require I keep going.

Wandering: Into the Earth and Out Again.

I am wandering with slight aim. I have a goal of Dallas but beyond that, I am uncertain. To that end, after Fort Davis, I simply headed east on I-10 and waited for the mood to strike.

Years before, my then-husband had mollified me with an overnight stay in Sonora, TX where we ventured up a small hiking trail — supposedly the hideout of the Sam & Tom Ketchum gang at some point. While I had little interest in revisiting the hike or the memory it stirred, I thought the town a fair enough place to pull up for the night and contacted the Caverns of Sonora. “First come, first serve,” said the chipper young man on the phone (who would later be our competent and pleasant tour guide).

The Caverns sit atop the fringe of the rolling, rocky Hill Country terrain about eight miles out from Sonora and are well-maintained with friendly atmosphere and personnel. This “attraction” is both a lovely peek into the underground world of the Texas Hill Country and a beautiful camping spot.

The Caverns of Sonora has facilities for campers of all sorts: from tent campers to small travel trailers like mine to fifth wheels and Class A buses. If you can drive it or haul it in, it seems you can set it up at the Caverns and the price is reasonable for water, electricity, showers, and restrooms if you need them. A well-stocked gift shop is on the premises with clothing, jewelry, and geological trinkets of all sorts. I felt utterly at home.

The view from Blanche at The Caverns at Sonora

What I found there on the hilltop was a beautiful, wide expanse at the mercy of winter winds. The blanket of night was almost as dark as the mountains but with a near-180° view of the stars. The Milky Way shimmered and a new friend reminded me of constellations I thought I had long since forgotten. I had the company of small oaks and juniper and we walked on soft grasses that kept Sammy free of foxtails and goat’s head burrs. And of course, I enjoyed the warm, humid depths of the caverns that surprised and impressed with their beauty and variety.

What I also found there, beyond the beauty of the caverns and the surrounding countryside, was a friend, several days of peace, “down time” to drink beer and chatter incessantly, and solid sleep after the dark restless night in the mountains.

It was difficult to leave, especially with only a vague idea of where I was going next and for how long. I could imagine myself there for days, but I could feel myself sliding back into too much comfort again. Back into too much reliance on the kindness of others to make me feel safe emotionally such that I would not move forward. How easy it is for me to make that mistake!

On day three, the wind let up and in 19°F weather, I packed up Blanche, Betty, and Sam, bundled myself in my coat, and said one last, difficult goodbye.

It was both a relief and sadness to pull away from the Caverns. Like most places I visit, I plan to wander back if my time on earth allows. For now, the niggling discomfort of the road is also odd reassurance I am on the right path.

Heading Northeast

Love & the Road: the Stuff of Nightmares?

I don’t dream with the frequency that I did before the divorce. Now and then I still have deeply symbolic nightmares.

A bit of set up: I met a nice gentleman on my journey who was kind, attractive, and intelligent. We had several fun conversations and enjoyed the same music from the same era though he was several years younger than I. We both love poetry and reading and shared our histories readily. He treated me to the tour of the Caverns of Sonora, dinner, and several starlit strolls with Sammy in the frigid winter air. All in all, despite age and origin differences, we had many things in common.

Obviously, I couldn’t let THAT go on.

Then, the second night I had one of those “this symbolism is so obvious it’s stupid” nightmares.

I dreamed I was a very attractive, youngish, homeless woman who had been killed in a rage by her childhood sweetheart. I haunted the place of my death but people who saw me only saw a lonely, waifish young woman. I would talk to them, entertain their advances only so far, then abruptly disappear.

On one such occasion a man took too much liking to me and got too amorous. While he meant no harm, he was playing at being aggressive because he thought it was sexy. My “character” began to panic and started warning him, “Stop! I will hurt you!” repeating this over and over, louder and louder. I began punching, biting, scratching, screaming until he let go with a hurt and shocked expression. My now non-corporeal self was flung backwards as it had been in my death and, as in my death, began bleeding profusely from a huge gash in my torso. Invisible hands dragged me away slowly as had my former love when he tried to conceal his crime. The poor man who simply wanted to fool around with a pretty girl, stared on in terror as an unseen force dragged me away leaving a thick trail of bright red blood on the concrete.

I awoke.

Such dreams take me several minutes from which to recover and gather my thoughts.

When, after about fifteen minutes, I was awake, clear, and had processed the dream, the symbolism slapped me hard.

I am in no way like that girl on the surface: I am “a woman of a certain age”, a little “fluffy”, and only passably attractive. Yet, I do somehow get attention from men. I am alone in this world now which is in itself something that attracts people.

The more important aspects of the dream are these:

I have referred to, in writing, my love relationships as “bleeding out” in a gradual process for thirty nine years. From first love to first marriage to second marriage to first-love-after-divorce I have experienced my vision of love and the men who present it to me as a “death by a thousand cuts.”

While I am not at all bitter at this point (I do not hate men!), I am entirely untrusting. I may feel completely comfortable with the person, but never comfortable with their hearts or my ability to navigate them.

A boy told me he loved me and slept with my best friend.

A man told me he couldn’t live without me while sleeping with exotic dancers and fretting he might get HIV (it was the 80s).

A man told me I was the love of his life and he was still in love with me yet held the divorce door open for me because exploring/fixing why we were constantly arguing was just too scary for him.

Lastly, a man told me I was his ideal woman but the timing was wrong.

So when a man tells me, “I think you’re amazing and would love to get to know you,” all my alarms go off.

Naturally, I screamed, “I will hurt you!” in some quiet, metaphorical way, and let the loves of my past drag my bloody corpse away from my new friend.

I have said many times recently and in many ways that I foresee a life alone from this point on. There are numerous reasons, not least of which are the houseless life I have chosen, my age, a heart still tied up in the last man, and a strong desire to be utterly independent. Ultimately however, being alone looks to come from my experiences and the doubt they have foisted on me.

To my new friend I met
on the RV-life trail
I’m sorry for the bloody corpse.

Someday these cuts may heal.

And yes, J, you were right. I miss your easy laugh and conversation. I miss our common ground, of all sorts. Wish I’d gotten that playlist, too.

Leaving Davis Mountains: Arriving at a New Piece of Self.

I chose to drive south from my sad little boondocking grounds and make the U to Fort Davis. South of I-10 and the McDonald observatory. The pretty little Texas town has a sweet historical Main Street with easy parking for my truck and trailer — at least in winter. Spring or summer tourism may be another matter as visitors seek the spring bird migration or the observatory.

The drive from my hideaway in the mountains to Fort Davis was pleasant: a quick dip downhill to run the foothills of the old volcanic formations and look out over the high desert that stretches toward the US-Mexico border followed by a deep U-turn northward back into the mountains and a steady 15-mile climb to Fort Davis.

Leaving the little burg was something else. I was not prepared for the emotions I experienced. Surely there are more stunning sights in this country and in the world, but for the little girl in me that had been cooped up in some version of suburbia for at least the last 20 years, rounding each bend was joyous. I called my daughter to check in at one point and as I came around a turn to be met with great, dark pillars of volcanic rock marching toward the road like an army crammed together at the fortress gates, I lost my words and began to cry.

Davis Mountains columns. A less spectacular view where I wouldn’t get run over.

My daughter said I sounded like her grandmother. That added to my joy. I will never be my mom but if I can regain some part of myself that is in any way reflective of her grace, I have made progress in my life.

I will never grasp how someone can spend their life hardly leaving their own town or county. I will never understand the reluctance to stop and see roadside beauty and instead simply race by it at 80 mph. One doesn’t have to take the extreme journey of buying a camper or van, driving across the country, and boondocking. But given an opportunity to witness beauty and variety first hand, why not take it? More so, why be afraid of what you may glean from it?

There is so much to be seen in this world that lies beyond our driver’s side window. So much that lies beyond our easy chair. If our only way to get there is television, that’s something. I would never judge a hardworking life that makes one feel they must stay in place because of economics. But, if one is driving from point A to point B, consider not worrying so much about the destination and focus more on the country rolling under your tires and the people that populate it.

I’m thankful I opted for the mild anxiety of driving out of my way and into unknown territory when I pulled away from that little splotch of gravel on the side of the mountain road. I will never forget the elation and tears from seeing those stunning columns.

I hope to see them again in spring and perhaps the other people drawn to them. Winter travel is solitary and starkly beautiful and I am gaining much emotional and spiritual ground with each mile. Still, I look forward to more social milieus.

Boondocking in Texas: The Davis Mountains & Accepting Fate

Most trees in the Davis Mountains are stunted —low to the ground as if cowering from the sunlight. Mesquite, evergreen sumac, cholla, and pinyon juniper — all scattered yet multitudinous. I can imagine their careful root systems through the hard sandy soil, inching through time until they run into their neighbors’ roots, whereupon these thirsty tentacles shrink back in deference but—only so far.

There are exceptions, oak, madrone, ponderosa pine have all found footholds in this ancient, weather beaten, volcanic landscape.

Most of these plants keep some kind of winter foliage as if survival here means never giving the parched land (approx. 16.5” precipitation annually) a chance to get the upper hand.

It’s here I have found myself in utter darkness on a January night, curled up inside Blanche, truly “boondocking” for the first time. I have heard one vehicle pass us since we parked six hours prior. It’s 11 pm and in the dark with my propane heater cycling, Sammy snoring, no Internet, not even a signal to inform loved ones that I am safe and comfortable, I have finally reached emotional equilibrium.

My phone informs me it is “wind down” time and for a split second, I think that means the wind is down so I can relax. Of course, that’s a long “i” and it is telling me I need to prepare to sleep if I want to awaken at 6:00 bright and alert.

The wind is blessedly calm here in this canyon. Because it is winter, there’s simply no sound at all. No crickets or katydids. No amorous coyotes. We passed javelina and deer on the way into the canyon but they have surely bedded down against the cold night as well. I have no idea how cold this night will be. I don’t retain information like that anymore. I looked at numerous forecasts for several towns. It’s either in the 30s or freezing. Boondocking below freezing isn’t ideal. I need to run the heater even if I don’t want to use too much propane. I know my other tank is full but I also know if I have to get to it, I will be fighting with it in the cold in complete darkness. There are no street lights here and there is no moon. The stars are brilliant but the cold keeps me at bay.

This was my plan: boondocking, that is. The isolation of the spot? Not so much. I couldn’t tell much on the app about the location. I got a late start so going farther to see if a better rest stop lay ahead is unrealistic. We arrived here moments before the southwestern sky turned deep orange and crimson and I settled for Blanche on a nose-down slope and no other humans for miles.

I didn’t cry.

It was a close call though. When I realized the cell signal I had just moments before I rolled around the bend and downhill was now nonexistent, my gut began to lurch. I worried I was going to revisit the unpleasant chicken sandwich I had half consumed back in Van Horn.

We are naturally and necessarily afraid of the dark. It’s not a silly childhood fear although many a modern-day, light-at-your-fingertips parent chastises their child as such. Fear of the dark is hard-wired in us. We have to learn to not be afraid of it through parental reassurance and other social conditioning. A healthy respect for the danger of it remains within as we walk dark streets and dark woods and venture into dark houses and basements. It is utterly rational to be afraid or anxious of these unlit places.

So when I accepted our fate at this “Depression era rest area” in blooming nowhere, it was still light out and I was fine. Not happy. Not comfortable. Not scared.

When night fell early as it does in winter, and I had only my most basic resources (but thank the universe for this new phone with its excellent battery) THAT is when I became unsettled. That is when my reptilian brain reminded me that humans get eaten by bears and gored by angry javelina moms and what if someone said this was a safe overnight parking place on the app just so unsuspecting nitwits like me would park and be vulnerable without her cell reception?

The perfectly rational fear of the dark became irrational.

I crawled under the covers with dog, got the urge to snack to ease my discomfort, and began to think of other options. I could pack Sammy and me back in the truck, throw the chocks back in Blanche and lift the tongue jack and head back out. Go back toward I-10 and hope I found something before dawn. Or head on to Fort Davis and look for a better spot there or even see if they had available spots at the pricey RV place in town.

Or just stay. My maps didn’t work without a signal so I couldn’t be sure what I was heading into either way nor how long it would take.

I stayed.

I sat in the dark, missing humans, well, a human. I wanted to text anyone really, or call some presence out there in the ether for reassurance that if worst came to worst, they’d come get me and take care of me. But I hadn’t even been specific with my brother about where I was going to stay the night so all he knew was that I was heading for the Fort Davis, TX or Marfa, TX.

Then the oddest thought struck me and it will sound negative or even cruel but isn’t meant to be: My biggest fear in this moment is, have I put myself in danger?

Rather than answer that directly, I answered with a hypothetical. So what if this is my last night on this earth?

So what?

Disregarding for a moment that the loss would hurt others, it ultimately means nothing to me. I will simply be gone. I have done, in the last few months, things I never expected to do when I was still married: Published poetry online & in print, had a lover, fallen in love, lived alone in a house, lived alone in a camper, traveled across Texas alone pulling said camper, made my own repairs to said camper, and finally, boondocked in the middle of an ancient cluster of hills and mountains near the U.S.-Mexico border with just the dog, a propane heater, and some nice memories.

There was a time when I would tell you that though I didn’t fear my death, I did care that I hadn’t done the things I wanted to do in my life and I regretted that. I didn’t care about my life, nonetheless. Recently, that’s been turning around and I care about my life in that I want to make the most of these last years, however many there are of them. I would tell you now that I don’t fear my death AND I don’t feel I must accomplish anything in particular before I die. Would I like to do so? Sure. I simply no longer have that fear of a wasted life. I don’t expect to ever love again. I don’t expect to ever be particularly useful to society or produce anything of value. I am useful to my family and that’s enough.

In the morning I will drive away from this secluded little spot, assuming the chaotic universe allows. I had considered doubling back to I-10; go the safe route and make my journey back to Dallas and my grandbabies less exciting but safer.

I think, if my phone tells me I have the fuel, I will go to Fort Davis instead. Take the long way home as I had intended when I packed my truck last night when I had street lights and electricity that gave me courage. When cottonwood and elm were bright and airy and reaching tall into the winter sky because they had the Rio Grande seep feeding their roots.

Tomorrow I’ll put faith in the crouching trees and dark, narrow rivers of blacktop, set my phone to “shuffle” and sing my way east.

https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdMSAhvn/

“I would come back home but home comes with me.” Houseless in America.

I’ve learned I will probably never want a house and all its things again.

Brick and mortar. Floors on joists and walls on a frame. Things on every shelf and in every room. All the pieces that make a home for others, make me anxious.

I sit in my brother’s house and my mind begins to wander, seeking escape. It’s the stuff. It crowds in and it isn’t even my stuff. I enjoy the time spent talking to him and my niece but grow restless after a while and ready to retreat to my little fiberglass womb (a 2006 Casita named Blanche). Even there, I am anxious to get anything out of Blanche that doesn’t belong there: my sewing machine, gifts for others, provisions I store in Betty White, the Chevy Colorado, and small bags of trash that accumulate with each day’s living. All these must go by the end of the day if possible.

I am reading a book about the uptick in RV/van life in the 20-teens when the recession hit. The author finally reached the point of attempting this nomadic lifestyle herself (rather than just interviewing and chronicling others’ lives) and found after a couple of months of van living, that being back in her Brooklyn apartment was uncomfortable. There was too much space. She mentions missing the “womb” of her van.

I once described a lover’s trailer bedroom that way. I found peace sleeping in that space barely larger than his king-sized bed. I would return home the following morning and feel the space of my house like a looming animal crouching around me.

Let me take a step further back: in 1991, I got married then moved into a 2300 sq. ft. home with an atrium. I loved the place and fought the idea of leaving it. I had thought I’d end my days there. Instead, in 2005, we moved to a 1900 sq. ft. home, and some 13 years later, a 1300 sq. ft. beach house. Lastly, before Blanche, I moved with the dog into a 630 sq. ft. rental house in 2020.

And now? I live in maybe 40 square feet – being generous. I have storage in my vehicle for some essentials that aren’t required daily, but most of my daily life is contained relatively comfortably within Blanche. All my peace and comfort is within her curved and carpeted walls.

Some days I wish I could get by with even less. I imagine, in time, I will whittle my belongings down further. I already regret not selling many things that are back in storage near the coast and that will require a couple of weeks’ clearing-out effort next year.

The feeling of people, space, and things holding me captive is hard to quantify or qualify. I used to hear stories about people who gave everything up to go live off the grid or join a commune and I thought it rather nutty. About three years ago I began joking with my family that I was going to do just that. Maybe I’d even go “live in a van down by the river.”

I knew, deep down, as my daughter waved off my comments or as friends laughed at my Facebook posts about these escape fantasies, that I wasn’t joking.

I just didn’t believe I’d have the guts to do it. Nor could I pinpoint exactly WHY I was so anxious to go. Not just to leave my marriage but to leave a fixed address as well. To stop being surrounded by stuff that meant nothing to me.

No — not nothing. Worse than nothing. Stuff that meant suffocation. Drowning. Spiritual starvation in the face of capitalistic gluttony. It was Hurricane Nicholas that finally brought that fully home to me: living in a house I didn’t own and worrying about stuff being taken away by a miserable storm when none of it mattered.

None of it.

I’m still a glutton. I still have more than I need and better than I need, but I’m making do with less. I’m giving up my favorite beans and switching to whatever half decent coffee I can find while on the road. I’ve pared down my clothing to minimum for most seasons. I have enough paper to write with for a while but left most of it behind. I gave most of my pens and ink away and will sell more. (Now THAT is a sacrifice for a writer. HA!) I forgot to pack all my warm, fuzzy socks, so I’ll be having some Raynaud’s fun.

More important are supplies to keep Betty and Blanche running as well as food for Sammy (I could stand to lose a few pounds since the Christmas splurging) and cleaning supplies for all of us.

From there it’s bigger consumables I need to maintain my home on wheels: propane, gasoline, batteries, spare parts.

Lastly, I have a handful of items that will keep me on the grid because I am not ready for that last hurdle yet. If I ever will be.

Somewhere on the upper Texas coast, a man I clashed with on the beach last spring is parked in his truck with his dog, living as he wants to live without phones and laptops and making do with odd jobs to pay for the odd meal. I didn’t quite understand that a year ago.

Maybe I do now. Maybe I am seeing the simplicity of his life as a value-added life versus a something-missing life. Maybe I’m seeing how easy it would be for me to slip into a little of his unique reality so different from what mine was last summer.

I am starting to understand that while I see the line between being “houseless” and “homeless” clearly, the rest of capitalist America just sees a blurry haze on the pavement. For now, I am houseless because I choose to be so and because it makes sense from a financial, economic, and spiritual/emotional standpoint for me. As yet, it is not my only option but my best option. It may be my only option eventually and that’s okay, too.

Regardless, the tradition of being in the smothering carcass of a house is anathema to me. Fine for others, hellish for me. How odd that space is as disturbing and suffocating to some as the lack of it is to others. Give me the space of a desert canyon or the expansive sea (as long as I can live in my “two sealed bowls on wheels”) over the expanse of vaulted ceilings, landscapes of furniture, and tchotchkes scattered like waiting vultures.

This song was often in my head as I considered the move to an RV or van. The “sea” being all of the open world that lay before me.