For the past year and a half, one of the odd things about my life has been that when people ask the normally innocuous questions, “Where do you live?” and “What do you do?” my answer has been, well, complicated. For the six months that I really did live in Walden, especially when I was in places like National Parks, the “I live in my van” answer was credible both to me and people I met. Since Thanksgiving of 2011, though, I have not lived in my van. I have lived out of my van. That is, for the most part, I have slept in houses, but I have not had with me more stuff than I could carefully load back into Walden in an hour or two. Even when I stayed at the same house in Florida for three consecutive months, I did not live there, at least in my head.
Similarly, though I have no visible means of support, I still have a tidy little nest egg of insurance money. Though I have done some research on a couple ways to make some money, I have not really tried that hard. While technically, I am unemployed, except a couple of potential jobs that someone recommended me for, I have not been looking for a job.
So when I am asked where I live and what I do, I do not have a quick answer. Sometimes I answer that I live wherever I am and do whatever I want. That is pretty much the truth, though people seem to have a hard time taking that answer seriously, at least not without further explanation.
This past September I went to visit my best friend from graduate school. She had just taken a job at Utah State University and had grants that she could use my help with. In grad school I had begun to pioneer some ideas and techniques about collecting data from kids as they were learning and creating visualizations of what a classroom of students know. These things seemed really cool, but I could not envision how to pursue them as they did not seem to fit in any research paradigm that I was aware of. A decade later, what I was doing then has grown into what is called educational data mining.
I spent about week at my friend’s house with her and her husband before the place got too small, so I went to stay with another new faculty member whose husband lives out of town. I put a few clothes in a dresser, but kept them in the small little pouches that I use to organize them in Walden’s storage compartment. I had been careful to keep my belongings relegated to the little guest room with its single bed and flowered comforter. The room is lots bigger than Walden, and it still feels good to know that all of my stuff is in one place.
After several weeks, she, apparently feeling had been remiss not to mention it sooner, offered that there was plenty of room in the coat closet should I wish to store a coat or to there. I thanked her for her offer, but assured her that the closet in the guest room was quite big enough.
Thanksgiving came around, and I had planned to go to Birmingham from Thanksgiving until just after Christmas. I had first planned to make the trip in Walden, as I have everywhere I have been since May of 2011. Actually, I took two plane trips to Ecuador, and one to Spain. Wait. You know what else? I left Walden in San Francisco for a weekend when I went to a wedding and in Birmingham for a two week trip to San Francisco. What made those trips different? They were shorter, for one–just a weekend for Philly, and two weeks for San Francisco, and who needs a car in San Francisco? In Birmingham, one needs a car, especially for five weeks and a trip to Knoxville.
It was a hard decision to leave Walden in Utah, but using an envelope I figured that gas alone would be $800. Then I would have two one-week road trips. Though I did enjoy my trip to Utah from Knoxville, unless I were to add another 500 miles or so and another week, there is a whole lot of nothing between Utah and Alabama. A month-long car rental would be prohibitively expensive. My father has two cars, albeit one is older than Walden (and my sister, for that matter). He figured that he could drive the old car and leave me with his Toyota. This seemed unlikely, but I knew that part of the time he would be unable to drive anyway, so I decided to risk it, figuring I could rent a car for part of the time if necessary.
November 19 I boarded the plane for Birmingham with two carry-on bags.