The Trip pt. 1
The trip, where to start. You’ve probably noticed — I didn’t blog about it every day. Once we were on the road, days worked differently. The mornings always passed so quickly, waking up slow in our tent and then scrambling to escape it when the sun got too high. Every day we’d chart out a drive of only five or six hours, and end up arriving eight, ten hours later.
But we weren’t in a rush, at least not at first. In Idaho we camped near the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene, where, when we arrived at twilight, mist was clinging to her surface and skating across. We got a tip to drive over a higher, less trafficked pass, and ended up stopping in a little mining town that reminded me of Alaska, where we drank coffee at a bar that had an old gold mine under the floor. You could stare down the old shaft, covered with a piece of plexi.
We spent a little longer in Bozeman, Montana, which was both fitting and surreal. When I first moved out west, Steve and I flew to Bozeman together. His childhood friend Brooks lives there, and my friend Marcelle went to college there. She asked me to pick up her car and drive it up to her in Alaska. Steve and Brooks planned to buy motorcycles and follow me west to Portland and Seattle before they would turn back east and I would cross the border and continue north.
I wrote a blog post after that trip about the nature of plans, comparing blueprints to maps and musing on the degree to which it is possible — or even desirable — to set an intention and then carry it out as planned. Blueprints, I wrote, are a plan that must be followed exactly or the resulting structure just won’t work. Maps acknowledge their own inability to represent the whole territory, to account for the unexpected that can always be encountered on the trail. At the time I was thinking of my impending trip up to Alaska. I’d written a grant and promised various people I would carry out such and such project. And in the end, I stayed fairly rigid. I told myself I had to build the structure I’d laid out in my blueprint, and was sometimes blind to the other realities I was mapping on the way.
This time, moving east, felt different. I feel different. I’m not as afraid as I was. Like I wrote in my last post, I’m ready to take it slow here, to let my relationship to the city start from our house and our block and radiate out from there. Beyond Bozeman, past Wyoming, past South Dakota, once we passed into the cornfields and post-industrial cities of the Rust Belt, I could feel we were getting close, closer to something I’d missed in Seattle. In Minneapolis we walked across a bridge over the raging, brown Mississippi, churning into energy. In Milwaukee we watched a 24-hour bike race from beneath a bridge where the city had strung up tire swings. In Chicago, we visited Michael Collins! And he regaled us with stories of community organizing and some far out theories about a world in which no one has to work because machines labor for us. We visited Detroit for the first time, marveled at the Diego Rivera labor murals at the Detroit Institute of Art. The blocks were really as bombed out as I’d imagined, sometimes with just a house or two standing where there used to be two dozen.
Then we arrived in Philadelphia and I was positively giddy. Giddy with the feeling that for the first time, these separate parts of my life were stitched together, the life I’d lived in Alaska, and then in Seattle. For three years I’ve been boarding sterile airplanes every time I want to fly home or back. This time, I watched Wyoming’s mountains melt into South Dakota’s hills lush into Minnesota’s fields. I stayed centered in myself — albeit a little more feverish than usual, and restless, from being on the road — instead of popping suddenly back into an old place, trying to fit myself into suddenly uncomfortable mold.
What an interesting observation you make about your own fitting back into Cambridge: it’s not the difficulty of the new routines so much as the boredom. I hear you. Even the most mundane task takes on glittering significance when you’re away. At home, it feels negotiable. I’m trying to set a new morning routine too. I wake up, meditate, stretch, and then write. It’s just a newborn routine and already this morning I considered ditching the stretch, too dull. But I did it and I’m glad, if only for the consistency. I said I want it, now I need to live it.
Interesting too your toppling bookshelf. Do you really think owning more deprives you of your time to read and think? Moving into an entirely new house, my life is so focused on the material right now. Like Christine, I just bought my first couch! And we’re trolling Craigslist every day for chairs, for shelving, for a kitchen table. I’m on the hunt for a writing desk. I keep telling myself the perfect configuration of desk and bookshelf and maybe some kind of magnetic board where I can pin up projects will allow me to think better. At the very least, a place to sit that isn’t a pillow on a mattress on the floor. What’s the threshold? What’s the minimum comfort you need to fulfill your goals, and what’s the boundary across which you’ve got too much to remember what they were?
But I don’t want to land here in the present in Philadelphia too quickly. I’ve got more thoughts on the drive, to upload soon.
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