Today marks one year since I moved out of The Rental. That means that I have now spent a year without a permanent residence. (I wrote a similar retrospective after my first 100 days.) My belongings are scattered between my camper, a storage unit, and a growing number of people’s houses. Other than when I use internet hotspots, my phone is my primary source of connectivity to the world. I put Thor down before I left Knoxville for the Big Trip, so it has been just me for most of the past year.
I have lived alone since, well, about this very same date in 2003, when my then-wife went to San Luis Obispo because she did not want to be around me while I was stressed about having ninety days to collect data and write a dissertation. It would have been a really good time to have someone to help walk the dog and take out the trash, but she had other ideas. Though I would have liked to have had support from my spouse during a really difficult part of my life, it turned out that not being with her was much more pleasant than I had anticipated.
Living alone in Knoxville where I have many great friends, colleagues that I saw at work, and tons of acquaintances was not that lonely. If I decided that I would like to share a meal with someone, it took no more than a few phone calls. If that was too much planning, I could down to the brew pub, where there was almost always someone I knew well enough to join them at their table. Living alone in a camper in an unfamiliar place is a different kind of alone. I still had access to people I loved via phone, text, Facebook, or even video chat, but that is not like looking someone in the eye or get a hug.
Traveling alone was different too. I had generally traveled with my wife, a girlfriend, or failing that, family. Traveling alone meant that I did not have to negotiate with anyone about where to go. It also meant that I had to come up with all of the ideas myself. I remember being relieved, though, was that if something went wrong, no one could complain. Like the time I caused myself and my companion to miss the train; there was no way to contact her mother who was to pick us up at the station; trauma ensued. The day that Walden broke down in Colorado I did not have to answer to anyone else about whether it was wise to take a 25 year old camper across the country. On the other hand, if I had been with someone else, I might not have set out on a ten mile bike ride in hundred degree desert heat without any water.
With practice, I did get better at talking to strangers, though the scripts I employed worked mostly in campgrounds and tourist traps. Those friends were some of the real treasures of the trip, like Little Bird and Ox, who lived with me in Walden for ten days. I also had a lovely dinner with a newlywed couple who spent ten days in Yellowstone with her father (“it’s-not-a-honeymoon” she protested); a highlight was going grocery shopping with her. I also met a couple in a Vanagon camper my first day in Yellowstone; it turned out that they later visited Mindo and used Marcelo, whom I met there (I wish I could find their contact info). And then there were strangers who invited me into their homes via my log, like in Seattle, and Pawley’s Island.
My life on the road was really only about five months, from mid-June to mid-November, and it was interjected with a few stays at or in homes of friends and family. On those visits I generally tried to blend in as a family member rather than play tourist. On those visits it was nice to be a part of a family, but it always felt just a little like I was living someone else’s life, not my own. In the back of my mind was a sense that if I am to piddle away the cash that should be used to buy a house and maybe some furniture, it ought to be for something pretty spectacular.
In January I spent two weeks at my aunt’s vacation home on the Florida Panhandle. I had intended to go to Key West, but the idea another two thousand miles of driving was more than I could handle. I had two goals: to talk to someone more than once, and to play guitar publicly. I succeeded in the first–I got invited to a great party at someone’s house where I shucked a bunch of oysters. I also met a cool woman, who remains a friend. I also succeeded in the second goal, both by convincing performers to let me play a song or two during their breaks and by getting my own gig for which I received twenty bucks, some snacks, and half a bottle of wine–not a bad take, in my estimation.
As described in the previous post, I have now taken up the closest thing to a residence as I have had in the past year (except, perhaps, six weeks with my cousin in Ecuador). Sure, I do not have visible means of support, or a place that is truly my own, but I am the only one here. I spend my time playing guitar, thinking about writing, and trying to become a performing musician. Today I will pack up my gear and try some more to get a chance to play any way that I can. To me, asking someone to let me play in his or her place of business is every bit as uncomfortable inviting a new friend to some social event. Eventually I will develop scripts that I am comfortable with as I did in meeting people in campgrounds, but right now, it is still pretty painful.
In my estimation, if I am wildly successful in my new career as a musician, I might make it up to the poverty level, which will be fine if I can, in fact, live within those means. For now, I continue spending my cash, remembering that when I got divorced eight years ago, I had no money, and I came out OK.