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Posts Tagged ‘travelin’ light’

My friend — who, for the purposes of this post and the poem that follows, I will call “Saadiqhah” because it means, “true, sincere, faithful, veracious, a woman of her word” — is about to leave town. She is moving clear across the country. I am going to miss her for so many reasons. She is one of the friends that VONA has brought into my life to make my world bigger, richer, better. She is smart and funny and strong and clear-eyed and honest and thoughtful and caring. The Bay Area is about to be super lucky to have her.

But back on this coast, we had a party last night to celebrate our friendships with her. The party included an open mic, since many of her friends are writers or performers. I wanted to read something of mine, but I also wanted to read something from VONA and something that was created just for her. In the end, I read two super-short poems by Ruth Forman (“Let Down All Your Doors” and “The Sun’s One Good Eye”). I read the poem I wrote on Sunday about people trying to touch my hair. For the final piece, I wanted to copy a thing I participated in many years ago.

I read in a great reading for Valentine’s Day. The reading was called “Love and Chaos,” and was organized by a lovely poet, Patricia Landrum, who has since passed away. For her piece in the reading, Patricia did an audience participation poem. She asked us to shout, “Chaos!” every time she gave us the signal. Her piece was fun and funny and wonderful. I wanted to do something like that for Saadiqhah, and I wanted the poem to be a chōka. And it started to feel silly once I put it together, but I read it anyway. And (of course), because everyone in the room was there because they all love Saadiqhah, it worked exactly as well as I’d hoped it would!

I Love Saadiqhah!

I love Saadiqhah
and I know I’m not alone
I Love Saadiqhah!
so many conversations.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She doesn’t pull her punches.
I Love Saadiqhah!
Saying what I need to hear.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She is always right on time
with friendship, wisdom, and love.

(I could have gone on and on, but decided the occasion — and the patience of the audience — called for a shorter chōka.)

(I’m a day late, but will try to catch up tonight or tomorrow, can’t fall off the challenges this late in the game!)

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A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Still thinking about the Hotel Leyland. That milk truck wasn’t enormous, but it never felt small. Roger and David had outfitted the living space with a kitchen — sink, stove, fridge, and cabinets — and a small dining table with seating for four. The dining area was surrounded with bookshelves (and, as I said in the Leyland post) most of those shelves were full of Dick Francis novels. At the back of the truck there were long, cushioned benches with storage beneath.

A bathroom would have made the Leyland perfect and self-contained. But our camp grounds had bath houses, so we were just fine.

Thinking about the four of us living in that truck for two weeks — and the men living there for a couple of weeks before meeting me — made me think of my fascination/future-fantasy of tiny-house living.

I flat out LOVE the idea of a tiny house.* I admit that, greedy-for-space girl that I am, the idea is a challenge, even knowing that the footprints of the tiny houses I’ve designed for myself are all bigger than the standard. Still, this is a way to approach living in the world that pleases me enormously.

Part of me always backs away from the tiny house idea precisely because I know how greedy for space I am. But remembering how comfortable I was in the Leyland makes me wonder. Yes, of course, that was a couple of weeks while I was on vacation … when I was 22. But I am intensely claustrophobic (surely at least some of why I am obsessed with space), and I never had one twinge of that in the Leyland. I just felt comfortable.

Naturally, when I went online (consulting Dr. Google, as Roxane Gay says), I found plenty of people who have made homes — not just vacation homes, but full-time, this-is-where-we-live homes — in old buses and various kinds of service trucks.

I don’t so much see myself in a converted bus, but I like seeing that other people have made that work. My fantasy is an amalgam of the Cal Earth dome houses and a tiny house. And again, a larger footprint, probably between 750 and 1,000 square feet. (Yes, basically the size of three tiny houses! Look, I told you I was greedy for space.)

Of course, it’s a long way from thinking about small-house living and actually living in a small house. Never mind just how much I don’t know about building a house, about plumbing, about wiring, about anything that has to do with construction. There’s the equally large question of where would this house be built? I don’t happen to have a random piece of vacant land in my back pocket. So, clearly this idea is going to stay a fantasy for some time. But writing out the story of the Leyland makes it seem much less an impossible dream, and that makes me happy.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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* If you haven’t heard about this itty-bitty-abode movement, you can find excellent examples of tiny houses all over the internet.

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This picture is being shared all over the place:

refurb bus 1

First, I love that some people respond to this as if this is the most radical, crazy, hip thing they’ve ever heard … as if this is the first time they’ve heard of such a thing, as if only a young person in 2015 could think of such badassery. Yeah, not so much.

Second, I love that this bus seems only made for sleeping. There’s no kitchen, no cabinets, no bookshelves, no … anything but beds. This is an odd way to try to travel even a super tiny country!

Third, I love that this reminded me of my long-ago experience of traveling in a converted milk truck with two wonderful, usually-drunk, Englishmen and a very sweet young Dutch guy.

— Oh yes, it’s another travel story! —
(And it’s a long one!)

Back in my many-years-past youth, when I spent some time hitchhiking in Europe, I wound up in Sagres, on the Algarve in Portugal. I arrived there by bus, having temporarily thrown over my hitch after some unacceptable scariness in Spain. I had put the town on my itinerary because it has Henry the Navigator history, and was close to Cabo de Roca, a lighthouse that marks continental Europe’s furthest western edge. I liked filling my planned/unplanned trip with weightless items that left me as free as I wanted or needed to be. On paper, Sagres was an overnight stop before heading to  Spain. But Sagres turned out to be a stop-rushing-and-enjoy-the-sardinhas-asadas kind of place. That “overnight” lasted five days. Nothing to do, nowhere to be, no reason to leave. There was thick, rich cafe leche to drink, vinho verde to wash down the sardines, beautiful beaches to stretch myself out on and cultivate my first deep-in-the-skin-so-black-my-mom-didn’t-know-me-at-the-airport tan.

I did drive out to see the lighthouse on my last day. I love lighthouses, and that one didn’t disappoint. And the view, the wind, the edge-of-the-worldness of the place was fabulous. Definitely worth the spot on my trip plan.

I don’t remember when in those five days I met David and Roger. (Their real names. Because they were lovely, kind people, and maybe there’s a chance that one of them will stumble upon this all these years later and we’ll reconnect.) They arrived with cute, bespectacled, Marcel, a Dutch hitchhiker they’d picked up a while before reaching Sagres. They arrived in the Hotel Leyland, a milk truck they’d converted into a mobile home.

They were my companions for the lighthouse trip, and when they announced they were leaving Sagres the next day and heading for Spain, I happily accepted a ride. Seville is maybe a two-hour drive from Sagres, maybe a bit more. We made the trip in ten days.

We left Sagres late morning and headed into Lagos … where we found an English pub and ate English food and didn’t leave and didn’t leave and didn’t leave. At first, I was anxious — when were we going to get to Seville? Then I let that go and relaxed. What did it matter? We could stay anywhere. It wasn’t as though I had some kind of schedule to keep. (Okay, I did have plans to meet a friend in Siena for the Palio, but that was weeks away.)

Eventually we started looking for a place to stay the night. After the windswept wildness of Sagres, Lagos was too citified for us, so we drove east. On my map, we found Olhão. It was little. It was on the ocean. It would surely be fine. But when we got there, it wasn’t as fine as we’d hoped, so we drove on. A short while later as night fell, we were in an even tinier town, one we couldn’t be sure was on the map. There was no hotel, but there was a campground, so we moved in.

Sleeping arrangements, you ask? Easy. Marcel slept on the bed that folded out of the dining room. David had a one-man tent that he set up beside the Leyland. That left Roger and me … and the bigger-than-queen-sized bed that could be created at the back of the truck.

“Don’t worry about Roger,” David told me that first day. “He’s gay.”

I don’t actually know if that was true. It hardly mattered. Roger was usually so full of alcohol at the end of the night, sleep was all that could happen on his side of the bed.

We woke up that first morning to discover ourselves in a tiny paradise of a place. You could buy a big jug of vinho verde for about $5 … and get your $3 deposit back when you returned the jug … and yes, for $2 you could leave your deposit and just get a new jug of wine. There was a great farmer’s market where we bought delicious produce (Portugal is still one of the greenest, most growing-est places I’ve ever been) and where, to my horror, the guys all bought tubes of sardine paste. Yes, really. Tubes like toothpaste full of something red and fishy and “fishy” that they squeezed out onto slices of bread and called a meal.  A half-step from our campsite was a wide inlet. When the tide was out, it was full of people digging for clams. When the tide was in, you could stand on the pier opposite the campsite entrance, and someone would come by with a boat and take you across to the beach island — a miles-long stretch of empty, pristine sand.

After breakfast that first morning, Marcel, David, and I were standing on the pier just looking around and a pretty young man motored up in a skiff and asked if we wanted a ride. When he told us about the beach island, we climbed aboard. His name was João, and he ferried us across for something like a dollar and the promise to meet him in town for a drink that night.

That beach! Sagres was where I discovered that I am a beach person (shocking that it took me 22 years to make that discovery), and our little unnamed paradise was where I was glad to have made that discovery. It was a skinny strip of sand that went on and on. The three of us wandered together and separately for some indeterminate, sunny time then made our way to the pier and found a ride back across the inlet.

It was on that glorious beach where I read my first Dick Francis mysteries. The bookshelf in the camper was full of them — I forget if he was David or Roger’s favorite — and they were quick, fun reads. I went through at least five of them before leaving the Leyland.

We kept saying we’d go to Spain the next day, and then something would come up — the chance to drive into the hills and visit an lemon farm (random and excellent), a celebration one night that meant everyone dragged their dining tables into the street and cooked and fed everyone else (including us) — or just the pleasure of staying a little longer.

After seeing the men’s fascination with sardine paste, I decided to use some of the hotel cash I was saving to cook breakfasts for us. I am more surprised by this turn than you may be. As much as I love cooking, and as much as I love taking care of people, these are loves I’ve grown into, cultivated over time. Back then, I was definitely not a happy homemaker type, eager to please my man men.

But, clearly, I was. Manic Hostess Girl was lurking under my surface even then. I agonized over what I’d make and the fact that I didn’t have my favorite recipes handy. What (of course) turned out to be true was it didn’t matter what I cooked or how well I cooked it. When you’re cooking for men who’ve been eating sardine paste on stale bread, anything you cook is going to taste like heaven.

After our long, delicious sojourn, we were ready to head for Spain. We made the drive in no time, seeing as we were practically at the border already. We stayed together a couple of days in Seville, but by then I needed to be getting my meandering self to Siena. I forget where Marcel was headed, but he left first. Roger and David drove me to the train station (no more hitching in Spain, thank you), and then drove to Morocco. I’ve always regretted not going with them, but my friend was waiting in Italy (and I could feel that, without Marcel, the dynamic in the truck would have gotten weird fast).

We said our goodbyes, and I watched my Englishmen and their milk truck drive away. And thus ended my stay in the Leyland.

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Roadtripping with your friends in a converted bus is a fabulous idea, but even 30 years ago, I knew it wasn’t an idea we’d made up. And, when you decide to let that photo inspire you, remember to build more creature comforts into your bus. You’ll want more than beds!


 So that was shamefully long-winded! If you’ve made it this far, you’re a kind and special person. You deserve a treat, and here it is:

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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Oh yes. There’s more. (And will be more still. ) Shortly after I stopped carrying my cane, I had a moment of clarity on the bus one night. I was feeling annoyed, feeling disrespected, and there didn’t seem to be a reason for it. Then I realized I was angry with my fellow passengers. Because no one had offered me a seat.  I don’t just expect to always get a seat.  In fact, in the many years that I’ve walked with or just carried a cane, I’ve stood far more often than sat. But once I started venturing out of the house after my knee replacement, I was much more obviously unsteady and in pain — to say nothing of the fact that I had a shiny, new, industrial-strength cane that made my disability that much more clear (my poor little wooden cane was dismissed without a second glance when I presented it before surgery). Post surgery, I was much more comfortable asking for a seat, and one look at that cane made people much more willing to make sure I got one.

And then I got better and stopped carrying my cane.  And I stopped getting offers of seats.  And I had some misplaced anger about it. And when I realized that was happening, I kind of laughed at myself.  Who was I, feeling so entitled that I thought everyone should offer me a seat?  But that was just the surface-skimming realization. As I thought about my anger, the real point clicked: these people who have the audacity to stay seated while I stand don’t see me as the lady with the cane … and I have to stop seeing myself as the lady with the cane, too.

It’s so obvious, it shouldn’t need saying, but I need to say it.  Again and again.  I’m not the lady with the cane these days, and I have to stop acting like her.

I can’t magically become 30-year-old Stacie again — go back to the understanding I had of my physical self before that accident threw everything out of order — but I can work on building new knowledge, on learning how to live in this new body.  During the holidays, I went to a work party and realized that I don’t know how to dance now.  I’ve stayed off dance floors as much as possible, or gotten on the floor and moved as little (and as lamely) as possible. So dancing could be a place to start.  I was never a great dancer, but I let myself dance anyway.  This feels almost as if my body hasn’t belonged to me for the last two decades. It’s a weird feeling.  Dancing seems like a good way to get past that, to reopen that door.  Time to head back to break out the Prince!

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The Slice of Life Story Challenge is in full swing over at Two Writing Teachers!
Check out what everyone else is writing today!

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* So we had a little technical difficulty yesterday, and the first lines of this post were magically published instead of being saved as a draft.  Sorry for the confusion for those of you who saw the post go up and clicked over to see … not so much of anything.

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We’re coming up on the first anniversary of my new knee.  (TKR stands for Total Knee Replacement.¹)  I had a lot of apprehension about having surgery.  I knew all the reasons I didn’t need to be worried, all the reasons I both needed and wanted to have the surgery, but surgery is nervous-making.  Always. No matter how routine a procedure it might be for the folks performing it.

Post-surgery, I checked in about 10 days out and about 3 months out, and the difference between those two intervals was major.  The early part of recovery was HARD.  No question, no sugar coating.  There was a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt as to whether I’d ever feel good again.  And then my sister had to go back home.  Our mom was having some surgery of her own, and Fox and I both knew it made sense for me to give up the comfort and ease of having her with me so that she could go take care of our mom.  That was hard.  It was hard because Fox had been a wonderful caretaker, but also hard because it had just been so nice to have her here, to have my sister just in the next room or hanging out in my room.  The moment I closed the door behind her, I missed her horribly.  And I was nervous about being ready to start taking care of myself.  I was almost a month out from surgery, and definitely mobile, but I was still very shaky and unsure …  But by July I was feeling good.  There was still pain, still uncertainty when I walked.  I was happy and frustrated at the same time: I knew I was healing, but July felt so far from April that I wanted to be more healed, more quickly.  Of course, I had many months of healing to do, but I was impatient.

Over time, there was still pain and difficulty, but it was so very much less, and I could see that I was getting better.  I used my cane longer than I needed to, and carried it for longer still, even when I wasn’t using it.  On my birthday (September) I decided to start leaving the cane at home.   And then …

beach-dancing-freedom-girl-Favim.com-674569freedom1

Okay, not really.² But kind of really, too. At the end of October, I took the train down to DC for a conference. As we pulled out of the station in Wilmington, Delaware, I had a flash of distress so strong, it made me sit up like a shot.  I realized I’d left home without my cane.  I haven’t taken a trip without a cane in 20 years.  Even if I haven’t been using the cane, there’s always the chance that I’ll fall or that my knee will just decide to go out, and I wouldn’t want to be far from home without the cane.

Except.

Not now.  Not now!  I settled back down because I realized that, of course I didn’t have my cane with me.  Because I didn’t need my cane with me.  For the first time in all these years, I didn’t need my cane with me.  And I had another realization: “Oh,” I thought. ” This is what it feels like to not be disabled.”  That was heavy.  Crazy heavy.

And that was when I really turned a corner, when I realized that my recovery from surgery was going to have to do with more than healing from incisions and swelling and tingly nerves.  My recovery is also about the changes in the way I see myself, in what I see as my possibilities and capabilities.

I’ve just had my first winter in 20 years during which I didn’t carry my cane as a just-in-case precaution (and we’ve been having a real winter this year, with plenty of snow and ice).  I leave for a conference tomorrow, have another in early April, am hoping to head out to face the hills of Berkeley and San Francisco this summer. Yes, I still need to have my right knee swapped out, but I’m already feeling new, feeling able in ways I had forgotten how to feel. And we’re just getting started.

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Over at Two Writing Teachers, you’ll find the rest of today’s slices.

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¹   It’s called “Total,” because there’s also a Partial Knee Replacement surgery, but every time I say TKR , I think what a good thing it’s “Total,” and not “Half-Assed,” which would be undesirable and would surely make walking fairly difficult.
²  Can I just say how interesting it is that searching for images of “freedom” pulls up lots of pics of people leaping and dancing on the beach.  I’m not saying the image doesn’t work for me.  I’m a Yemaya girl, so I’m there.  I totally go for it.  But I’d still like a little more choice.  I’ve got fey young women leaping through the air, I’ve got the beach, I’ve got birds — flying birds are as popular as the leaping women.  Surely there are other ways to show freedom?

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Um, yeah.  A story a day?  Right.  Maybe I’ll catch up tomorrow …  No matter.  As I said to a friend the other day: if I write 20 stories this month or 5, it’s still more than I’d have written if I hadn’t challenged myself. I was kind of wonderfully productive last week: in addition to what I posted here, I submitted two writing residency applications! It feels good to have done that for myself.  I always want to apply for things and then don’t follow through.  Not this time.  I have three more deadlines coming up over the next five weeks.  And wouldn’t it be beyond fabulous if I got one of these?

For tonight, let’s just keep our feet on the ground, shall me?  At the end of the month, I’ll be reading at Big Words, Etc. again.  The theme for this month is “bon voyage.”  Seriously, how could I resist, me with my trove of travel stories and such like? Of course, the moment I started thinking about writing, I had nothing to say.  Of course.

Happily, today started my month of writing prompts from the lovely and talented Lisa. That gives me a gentle push to get something going.  And so … tonight.

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I wake up in a new body and, as usual, with a blinding headache.  Never mind the stress of figuring out where and who I am.  Never mind not knowing what language will come out of my mouth when I speak.  Never mind the discomfort of already feeling that this time I am a man.  The real concern: what if I’m white?  It’s always the biggest struggle.  I’ve woken up in so many bodies, but none are as difficult as the bodies of white people.  In all these years, you’d think I’d have figured it out, but no.  It’s a skill I don’t seem able to build.

I lie several moments longer, staring up at the ceiling, certain now that I am male, feeling the awkward weight in my groin, the emptiness in my chest.  But I am reluctant to raise my hands, see my skin.

I focus instead on the throbbing behind my eyes. My changes are always met with pain that borders on migraine-strength. I close my eyes and press hard into the points above my lids, right against the bone. Some woman I was in Turkey learned that. I force myself to breathe slowly, deeply. I picture the pain — a white-hot fireball of glass and razors — shrinking and fading, from biting white to pale blue to quiet indigo, smaller and smoother, smaller still, gone.

At least I am alone.  Many times I come awake to find someone breathing gently beside me in the bed, or sitting watching me sleep.  It’s crazy, coming to consciousness and having to know how to be with another person when I don’t know what person I am. 

I fell asleep in a small town in western Connecticut, next to a man I hadn’t come to love, but who was okay.  I’d been with him for two months — she’d been with him since high school — and in that time I could see that he was kind if not exciting or intelligent.  He’d been genuinely concerned for her when I first showed up, even when I’d frightened him by acting in all kinds of non-standard ways.  Genuinely concerned — not thinking about how a problem of hers would impact him and how he could minimize his own discomfort.  That’s pretty rare.  Most wives and husbands just get angry when they get me.

I can’t put it off any longer.  I need information.  Obviously, I’m used to this.  I know I always manage.  Even as a man.  Even as a white man.  Still.  Knowing I’ll manage never makes this moment easier.  I lift my right hand. The relief at seeing my dark skin warms through my body. The sun on the back of my hand glints off of a wedding ring. So that’s a little more information. And the skin is old, a sketching of fine lines traces down my muscular forearm.  Just as I start to wonder where is the partner who attaches to my ring, I register that it’s on my right hand.  Am I a widower? A priest?

An alarm sounds beside me, and I fumble to shut it off. I knock several small things to the floor, one that keeps skittering away for a long minute.

The clock says 7:30 — it’s a beautiful, old-style clock, not some flashy digital thing. The time means there is something I’m expected to be doing. Why else set an alarm, why else get up early? If I’m a priest, maybe someone is waiting for me to hear their confession.  

I like the strength in this body, its deep blackness.  I refocus on the man I’ve become.  I can feel the lingering idea of him rippling under my skin — because it is mine now, and neither of us can do anything about that.  It’s time, now, for me to find my way out into this old man’s world, decide if I will acquiesce to or avoid whatever havoc I’ll be expected to create.   

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“I’m on the wrong train”

Caitlin looked at the woman beside her. She’d spoken so quietly and calmly, Caitlin almost missed the comment. Now the woman smiled.

“I was supposed to get the train to DC.”

Caitlin turned to face the woman, alarmed. “We’ve just gone through Montpelier, ” she said. “We’re on our way to Montreal.”

“Oh, I know,” the woman said. She looked past Caitlin at the Vermont countryside flashing by. “Sure is green here. “

Caitlin didn’t know how concerned she should be. The conductor had taken the woman’s ticket and said nothing. “So you’re okay with going to Montreal?”

“Oh, of course. I’ve always loved Canada. “

Caitlin nodded slowly. “But you said you were on the wrong train?”

The woman looked down at her hands, as if to keep her small, satisfied smile to herself. “There are quite a few people waiting for me in Washington right now.” She chuckled, shaking her head.

Caitlin stayed quiet. What was there to say, anyway? There were always strange people on the train, and they pretty much always sought her out. What was there to do but listen?

“I only wish I could have been there to see their faces when I didn’t show up.”

At that moment, the woman’s phone rang. She picked it up, glanced at the screen and smiled.

“You’re not going to answer?” Caitlin hated to keep it going, but couldn’t hold back the question.

The woman laughed. “If I could open that window, I’d throw this out,” she said.  “For now, I’ll just turn it off.”

She reached over and touched Caitlin’s arm.  “My name is Joan,” she said. “I’m probably going to change it once I get there. Could you just call me Joan a few times between now and then?  It’ll be nice to hear it a little before I let it go.”

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And in just one day I completely forget the challenge I’ve set for myself.  Working on residency applications while I try to stick with this daily goal is clearly a bit foolish.  Let’s see if I can catch up today …

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