3-Week Itch

Writing music always pulls emotions up closer to the surface. Weather changes make me happy. Or sad. Depends on what changes and how. Listening to my older daughter’s music is always emotional.

But really, I think what I’m feeling today is the 3-week itch.

We’ve noticed as we travel that when we land somewhere for a while, at about the 3-week mark, we start to get itchy feet. Fiona starts asking “When are we going to drive again? I’m tired of being in houses.” Sue starts looking for places to go; organising events and coming up with reasons to be on the go, on the road.

stones glow, shadows grow, I have to goMe? I just get fidgety, cranky, and distracted.

We love being here in Arizona. Terry and Virgie are even more dear than they were before we came. Nothing is wrong.

I just wanna leave.

Songwriters have used the wind as a metaphor (or maybe it’s a simile) for ages. Some of us live our lives knowing we have to see what’s around that bend, over the hill, across that river or in the next little town.

I can’t see that from inside a house. Adventure isn’t parading past our door looking for me.

Nomads don’t settle. Nomads move; we’re made from the wind and the sea and the sky, and precious little earth.

I’m a whirling flowing wind that needs to blow.

San Diego’s Perfect Weather

When people across the US and Canada discover that Sue and I used to live in San Diego, they inevitably ask “Why would you leave the world’s finest city where the weather is always perfect?” or something much like it. Well, we’ve lived there most of our lives, and we’ve decided that it’s a nice place to visit, but it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Warning: Sarcasm Ahead

Adaptability Means Planning Ahead

I considered writing this with my eyes closed but the pain has eased off enough that I can keep them open most of the time. The harsh firecracker of my fingertips on the soft keys of my Mac is unpleasant.

It is, once again, Headache Day.

Headache Day arrives whenever it pleases. It is a celebration, I believe, of having some large patches of skin cancer removed from my face and the subsequent reconstructive surgery. It is celebrated by laying in bed, struggling to find a position which doesn’t break my head; hot showers to temporarily ease the pain; and eventually, the doltish numb brain which results from having all synapses firing simultaneously for hours and hours.

Since HD arrives unscheduled, then steals an entire day, planning for travel and work has to accept this unwanted guest. While we could adapt on the fly, canceling client calls, pushing back deadlines, arriving late at our next destination.

Instead, we’ve planned in advance to allow room in all those things for the unexpected. Our work deadlines are loose, and we always try to finish early, meaning no last minute rush. Sue is perfectly capable of handling nearly all our client calls, and of doing the driving were I to be unconscious (though I’m truly hoping we never have a long day of travel when I feel like this, which is why we try to leave space for pushing back travel days without impacting unmovable plans.

We cannot plan for every contingency; it’s not possible. But we can certainly get over the misconception that we can plan everything and have it all work out.

Nomads are adaptable. Adaptability means planning ahead to be adaptable.

Nomads Adapt

I seriously underestimated the disorienting effect of being surrounded by a language I don’t speak, don’t understand.

Because the friends we’re staying with speak perfect English (despite conducting much of their life in French) I assumed this part of Quebec would by like my experience in Ireland: everyone could speak Irish, but everyone also spoke English, often as their first language.


Brush up on your French before you visit Quebec. You can find English; there are, I’m told, towns nearby where everything is in English. Just not here. Road signs, labels in the grocery store, even the ‘Open’ sign on the door (if Ouvert means ‘Open’, as I assumed) is in French, with English added almost as an afterthought.

From the age of 8 I lived in California, nearly always in San Diego. Everything was bilingual there, too. English first, then Spanish, often spelled wrong or using bad grammar. (For years, decades, perhaps, the signs in the bathrooms said Lave Sus Manos which would be like seeing a sign tell an English speaker to Wash You Hands; it should, as an Spanish-speaker knows, read Lavese Las Manos; there was a parody adventure show on one of the radio stations where the bad guy was the notorious Lave Sus Manos, so dangerous his name was posted in every bathroom in the state.)

At least here, the English is correct. It’s just smaller. Underneath the French. Not where I expect it.

And that’s what’s wrong. Clearly it’s not wrong for folks in what is legally a bilingual country to speak two languages. (Yet another aside: what do you call someone who speaks many languages? A polyglot. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks only one language? An American.)

What’s wrong is, as is often the case, my expectations. Had I kept my eyes and ears open; had I allowed for the possibility that reality might not perfectly mirror the image in my head, I might have spent a little time learning a few phrases of conversational French; I might have planned for an experience I’ve already had before when we moved to San Diego and thereafter spent lots of time in Mexico where my father worked, surrounded by a language I knew even less than I know French today.

My Spanish is okay; as a kid, we spoke Spanish at home quite a bit ’cause Dad was too tired to switch over after a long day of conducting business in Spanish. I’ve lost and remembered it twice over the decades. It helps with reading French. It also helps that I used to read the etymologies in my Dad’s giant Webster’s as a kid so I’m familiar with the Latin origins of much of the English and Spanish and French languages.

But I still feel like a fish out of water; un poisson sortie de l’eau. Which is literal; even Cristina doesn’t know French colloquialisms. I’ll have to ask Fred what the locals say.

About a hundred times a day, I’ll have to ask what the locals say.

Montreal 1st Leg: Roseville to Phoenix

Official time out: 7:30am PST, only 30 minutes later than planned. Good thing we woke up two hours early. About a 13-hour drive.

It almost fit. We’re leaving (besides what’s already in storage) four small boxes and two folding tables. If we weren’t taking an extra bass guitar and a microwave for friends we’re staying with in Phoenix, it would have fit. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it over again. Friends mean more than stuff.

The two bits that hurt are leaving my early 70s Ludwig snare drum, and all the DVDs. I’ll survive until December, when they’ll fit.

Amazing thing is, we called it, spot on. If we hadn’t chosen to deliver some stuff for beloved friends, we would have exactly perfectly fit everything we wanted to bring along into the van.

For totally winging it, not even having a dry run to pack, stuffing it all in for the first time on the morning we leave our old life for the new, well, it’s simply amazing.

Nomads wing it. That’s us; winged nomads.

Not the Parking Brake

We leave one week from tomorrow. And this morning the parking brake broke. Joel went to release the parking brake and it just broke. We use the parking brake as a matter of routine and don’t want to travel without it. Imagine parking on a hill with all our possessions in the van without a parking brake!

Joel pulled it apart and decided he’d be able to replace it if he could get the part. So he called the local auto parts store and was told it would have to be ordered from the dealer. He called the Kia dealership and they said it was a special order part. Fortunately it could be here in two days and only costs $20. It’s ordered, should be here by Friday morning and barring anything else going wrong, we’ll drive away next week with a parking brake.

Of course we’re in such a routine of using it that I immediately drove to the gas station to put gas in the van and put on the brake. Then I had to fish down under there to find a way to manually release it. And I did it again when I came home. Worse things could have happened.

It must be the week for cars to break down though. My son James had to take his car in for clutch repairs and another friend took their truck in for over $1100 work.

The good news is – Fiona makes me laugh out loud every single day! As usual. Thank you Fiona!

It’s Not Just Physical

In the space of two weeks we have reduced the contents of our 4,000 square foot rental to what will fit in our van for traveling, and 20 boxes and a filing cabinet to go to storage. That square footage includes a full attic and basement; unusual for California, but we used them. I had a server room in the basement for my three servers and other network equipment. A full weight set, bicycles, and other exercise equipment; we used the basement. The attic wasn’t completely full. Not completely. But it wasn’t completely empty until yesterday.

There have been solid days of work; sorting, moving, selling, cleaning.

That first one, the sorting—that’s the tricky part; the hard part.

Much of what’s left are things I should probably have sorted out of my life years ago; some of it, decades ago. Instead, I’ve lugged boxes of stuff, some of it for 35 years, from house to house, from old life to new. One particular item, while I’ve only been conscious of carrying it for more than 30 years has been mine for 50: the center panel from the baby blanket my mom made when I was born.

It’s that old life/new life nexxus that’s been the challenge.

Much of what’s happening right now is the culmination of a process which started either 8 years ago, or 15 years ago, depending on which event you count from. The last major pruning of possessions occurred at the end of my first marriage. I ended up with virtually none of the books from my library of about a thousand, and about half my vinyl albums from a collection of about that size as well.

I also kept zero out of four children. Since they are all adults, I’ve accepted that it was their choice.

Boxing up my records for storage in a friend’s closet (they have to be kept in a space suitable for humans; no hot dusty garage or potentially damp basement) I had a stress attack as painful as the two which sent me to the emergency room twice, long ago before I knew what that pain meant.

It wasn’t the records; not entirely. I still have a collection even I find impressive; stuff you can’t find on CD or MP3; stuff I still put on the turntable I bought after my divorce just so I could continue listening to them. But mostly it was the aggregation of stress over the decisions, and over the realisation that no one values the things I love the way I do.

We had a very productive yard sale; over a period of a week, between Craig’s List ads and the yard we made enough to buy Sue an excellent laptop for our new life—and as much again beyond that.

But, my books? Sold 6, gave away a dozen more, and the other hundreds will go to the library’s bin for their used sale.

Computers? The one I recorded over 100 songs on, recorded my podcasts and online radio shows, a little workhorse that saw use by someone in the family every single day—I can’t give it away. Nor can I get rid of five or six more computers, including an IBM server which originally cost the company I worked for at the time something like $4,000. Nobody buys used computers. Nobody even takes them for free.

I have a thing about cups and glasses. When I find one that feels right in my hand and against my lips it’s like making a new friend. Over the decades, I’ve gathered a lotta friends.

How many cups, pub glasses, and favorite bowls can one put in storage? Not many, not if one intends to be a nomad, and not a financial supporter of the National Association of Storage Units.

Palm trees. Not real ones, but embroidered or painted on everything. Our home’s theme was always going to be Scheherezade’s Oasis. Palm trees and oriental patterns on lamps. Palm trees on the quilt on the only bed we’ve ever shared. Palm trees on clocks (plural) and paintings and who knows what all.

Gone. All but a single framed print.

Cassette tapes I’ve lugged around for far too long. Since the only cassette player we own is, hopefully, still going to be sold (another difficult sell: small stereo systems with multi-CD player, dual cassette deck, decent speakers . . . ah, well.) Where was I? Cassettes. Large box will most likely end up in the trash; small small handful, I just don’t know. I don’t even know what’s on them. I have 10 days to find out because we’re not storing them. I’m scared rigid one of them will be the only remaining recordings of my father singing, or have some record of my 4 older children.

Down at the far end of the library/music room, I found a handful of books by Booth Tarkington. They’re not mine; they belong to my second son, my third child. When his mother and I divorced, he boxed them up and mailed them to me. I’d bought them for him when he took an interest in the adventures of Penrod.

I’ve decided the only thing I can do is mail them back. I can’t store them forever. I cannot possibly sell them, or give them away, or throw them away. So, he’ll have to decide.

Golf clubs. Clubs I haven’t pulled out of the bag in over a decade. SImple decision, right? Hah! I might just be able to give them away, despite the fact that the woods, at least, are a matched set of Bobby Jones Jr. persimmons which crack like a whip and have a sweet spot the size of Milwaukee. Nice leather bag, and some easy-to-hit irons and a wooden shafted putter which is a nightmare to hit but pure joy to look at and hold.

When my older brother moved to Texas where I lived, he spent some of the very little money he had on those clubs to bring to me as a gift, so he could teach me the game and have someone to share it with. He did, and we did, and I’ll probably part with my beloved vinyl albums before I let the clubs go. Besides, if we end up in Ireland, there’s a glorious world-class course not far from where we’ll be living.

My father’s tool box; the one he carried in the trunk of our car from my earliest memory. The hasp has been broken since somewhere around 1985, I think. It contains some greasy rust and a torque wrench. The likelihood that I will ever again use a torque wrench is right up there with my chances of winning American Idol. It sits on a shelf, with a few other oddments from the basement, hah; basement oddments; mocking me, daring me to email my sister and older brother Yet Once More asking, since you’re taking Dad’s 1951 Webster’s Dictionary, and the cuckoo clock he found somewhere and fixed, would you like his broken toolbox, too? And then I have to store it until our travels take us to San Diego in a few months.

We haven’t lived in our old home for almost a week. We own exactly one piece of furniture, a glorious mahogany table with a carved top and sensuously curved legs which I’m not ready to part with just yet. Oh yes; we own a table and four chairs, being used by Sue’s two adult children in their new apartment until we need them, or abandon the belief that we ever will.

On the 29th, our hosts return from Italy. We’re invited to stay over that night, then we’re leaving at the crack of dawn to make the 13-hour drive to Phoenix. If we don’t, our options are pretty severely limited. We don’t have a home, we don’t have furniture.

And yet, the naysayers continue to wriggle out from behind the paneling, suggesting that I’ve taken leave of my senses, that I need guidance and direction to set me back on the right path, that my family, my business, my spirituality, my life are all at stake if I don’t wake up and smell the good advice.

What, at this point, would a naysayer like me to do? Just because you’ve only thought about this for a week doesn’t mean I’ve only thought about it for a week. I’ve thought about it off and on for years. Sue and I have actively thought about it for months. We even included a 5-week experimental international trip.

After much thought and consultation with many trusted advisors, we made the best decision we can with the information currently on hand. Your opinion does not constitute ‘more information’ and isn’t going to cause us to reverse course, find a tiny apartment where we can sleep on the floor under the single blanket we own, eating off paper plates on the storage boxes we’d have to use as table and chairs.

I think that, just maybe, now that I’ve reached the age of 50 (that’s, y’know, half a century) I’m capable of making a decision without your second-guessing it. In fact, I have, and it’s done.

Thursday morning, September 30th, my life turns an abrupt corner which has been a long time coming.

Fasten your seatbelts and hang on. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

The Real Challenge

I wrote a few days ago that the real challenges are inside us; the journey simply exposes them.

Here’s my challenge: guilt.

And I don’t even know, for certain, why.

I feel like I’m cheating the system. Living without the cost of a house and its utilities is less expensive. I know a lot of people who’d travel if only their significant other wanted to, or the kids were older or not born yet or whatever; if only they had a job that blah blah blah.

Everyone I talk to says, how nice for you. Some of them seem to mean, that’s great; how can I make it better? But I feel, sometimes, like there’s a subtext of, sure, you get to go driving all over creation, dragging your wife and little girl along, while the rest of us have to have a real job and be mature and keep civilisation from collapsing.

Yeah, maybe that’s it; that’s where the guilt comes from, in part. What nonsense.

It is not wrong to live an unconventional lifestyle. I’ve lived conventional. For years, I had work (which I loved) which was in an office. I had other responsibilities in life which made a location-specific life make the most sense.

Now, that’s changed. We’ve built businesses which are location independent. Certain spiritual responsibilities are no longer mine, at least for the time being. Fiona’s school allows her to go where and when we go. My friendships are worldwide, many of them virtual (which I’d like to change, which is another reason to travel.)

The only value in guilt is when we’ve done something wrong and need to correct our path.

Nothing doing. There’s no reason for guilt here. I am making good choices with my family’s best interests at heart.

Still, it lingers, that angry voice in the back of my head, whining about responsibility, what I owe.

Ah well. I’ll keep listening to the voices that make sense.