In 2009, on a plane to Santiago, Chile, I realized I didn’t speak Spanish. I did what any industrious traveler would do, and switched my in-flight movie to Español to accelerate my immersion experience. Obviously that didn’t work, but I did get to watch a wonderful movie starring Jim Carrey, called Si Señor. Carrey’s character Carl has been hypnotized (basically) by a self help guru to say “yes” to every option that comes his way, or else face dire consequences. This movie hit me at a vulnerable time: I’d just been bullied by a woman (actually, three separate women) on the plane who were trying to finagle my seat for some reason. I had also just completed my grad school thesis; my partner (now husband) and I had decided to buy a house which would be the first time I’d ever really committed to a location, a person, to anything, really, besides poetry and bicycles. I had been with Evan for two and a half years at that point, and had traveled to Mexico with him, and up and down the eastern half of the United States. I’d also been to Trinidad and Tobago with a small group of writers through Chatham’s writing program. But since moving to Pittsburgh and meeting my partner, I hadn’t been seriously traveling alone, using my own skills, and I was feeling vulnerable both in that comfort and in the newfound vulnerability that most take for granted as “normal.” Heading to Chile, I had a female friend named Kyle who was teaching English through a cultural exchange program, but she wasn’t able to socialize much and lived far out of the city with her host family. I needed to start making decisions right away, and the most important decision I made was to start saying “yes” again.
Roadside Fires Burning
The ongoing narrative of life on the road, examining wanderlust and the metaphysical home, with a lot of kicking up dust in between.
Right now, I’m bad at just about everything I do in life. A true amateur. I’ll concede and say I’m a medium poet, but every time I look at a poem or meet with a mentor, I gain a new epiphany on how I should have done something, how I’m approaching things all wrong, and am almost overcome with grief seeing the long road ahead of me in the one thing I feel adequate doing. My prose is still very much struggling, but the birds perched by my office window know I’m trying.
When Evan and I first met, I was sleeping on a set of pillows covered with a blanket that had been spray painted “Food Not Bombs” with the iconic carrot logo, from back when I hosted Food Not Bombs in New Mexico, five years prior. This was all covered by a yoga mat, for stability, and I slept in a sleeping bag, which invariably slid off the pile before the dreams took hold. I owned this stack of comfort, a patched up cargo skirt I’d owned since high school, a sweatshirt I stole from an old roommate, a couple t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and a computer that barely worked, that I purchased from another roommate for $50 and a promise to water the plants. I also had a few records, but no record player, and couple books (namely Best American Travel Writing of 2005 and the Portable Beat Reader), and a couple of bicycles (the most important things). I bought some Christmas lights for ambiance, and had a few photos and maps pinned to the walls. It was stark, but it was all I needed.
It doesn’t matter how ready I am—emotionally, psychologically, spiritually—there are some things that I need to wait to be ready for me. Time, for one thing, ticks at the same pace, no matter how much I pick up my own. I may be ready to leave in May, but there are obligations that are set up along the timeline that need to be honored and cannot be rushed. That said, time and I have reached somewhat of an understanding, like two friends who have fallen out of favor but run in the same circle, or a couple who’s broken up but lives in the same small town. We both do our thing, and whenever time and I run into each other, we’re cordial.
My father was, among other things, a forensics photographer. In our first house, the mud room was transformed into a black and white darkroom. When we moved, when I was in the second grade, the darkroom was transitioned to a spacious room in the basement, off the laundry room. The wonderful thing about childhood is that our experiences are so insular that they never seem odd until shown in contrast to others. That we had photos of dead bodies (some fresh, some… not so fresh), cadavers with funny word bubbles, and old school crime scene shots in frames in our basement seemed quirky to me, but in the way that any “dad joke” is quirky. “‘I didn’t put lasagna on this plate,’ the autopsy surgeon said.” Daaaad! I thank him for my fearlessness of both life and death, which I consider to be perhaps my rarest and most useful skill. I also thank him for my love of photography and the way I look at the world. He was a detective and worked undercover also, and taught me from an early age to watch my surroundings and keep my eye out for treasures. When I walk in the woods, I do so as a child might—eyes bouncing between trail and sky, scanning the path for curios, and ultimately covered in mud. Thanks, Dad.