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July 29, 2002 -
Well, it isn’t “next week” as I’ve been promising everyone for three weeks now. But I’m hoping I’ll be able to finish this up today and send it off to Don Wesley, my webmaster.
So why so long? It’s never easy for me to sit down and write. I recently ran across a great definition of writer. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for most people.”
It’s true. I can’t just type in a list of where I’ve been. Nor can I spew words; writers have to be more careful. I know that everyone who is reading this has high expectations and that makes me nervous. So, like my fitness and diet plans, my journaling keeps getting put off. Excuses are easy to come by.
At first, my excuse was that I was on the road (in New Zealand until the 18th of June), and it’s hard when you’re moving to get a few quiet hours together to get it all down entertainingly.
When I got to the US, I delivered my final talk in Columbus, Ohio on the 23rd of June and set out to see Mitch and Melissa in Atlanta, my friend, Susan in Arlington, and finally Jan in Seattle. I never seemed to have the kind of uninterrupted time that I need in order to write.
And of course, my e-mails continue to arrive. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting them, but they require a couple of hours a day. If I miss a few days, I’m in big trouble.
So those are my excuses. But yesterday I got all caught up on my e-mails, I settled into an apartment of my own in Seattle for two months, and I’ve been making all these promises to people. “Check my site next week,” I’ve been saying for almost a month. So it’s time to add another entry in my journal….or maybe I should call it my musings, since I don’t intend to give a day by day account. I’m going to begin with now; later I’ll go back to where I left off.
I’m actually having a lot of trouble with now. I’m in a kind of funk. Maybe this is the come-uppance some have predicted. You know, those people who say that you can’t break all the rules and not pay for it down the line. After fifteen glorious nomadic years, I hunkered down to write the book for two years (in New Zealand and New York City). Then I made plans and worked with PR people for a couple of months, and finally bought a car and took off across the country, talking in bookstores, libraries, community centers, etc. And finally, I did the same thing in New Zealand. I liked the talking, the meeting people, the attention, the spreading of the word….that life can be glorious if you are willing to take the risk and go after it. But it wasn’t the life I had written about, the one I love so much, informed by serendipity and guided by instinct and trust. On June 23rd I gave my last talk and went cold turkey on talking and promoting. I had definitely od’d……I want no more talking, no more driving, no more schedules.
During the couple of years when I was doing all this book-business stuff, I totally ignored the other things that piled up. I haven’t had a mammogram in more than a year and a half; my dental tartar has been building uninterrupted for at least that long; and I have a pile of bills, related to the book and the tour that are unpaid. I have a couple of medical bills from two years ago that my HMO should have paid….but instead, I’m getting letters from collection agencies. My money belt was stolen in New Zealand and my driver’s license was in it…..I had to take care of that too. I also never did my taxes for 2001. So, as the “to do” list got bigger, I decided to rent a place in Seattle for a couple of months. That’s where I am now.
Jan still lives here. While she was vacationing in Belize, I stayed in her apartment. When she got back a week ago, I moved into my own apartment down the street. The story of how I found the apartment is worth repeating, and if you’ve read the book, you know the players.
On June 17th, after three months in New Zealand, I was saying goodbye my friends, Ray and Barbara Richards in Auckland. Ray and Barbara are the literary-agent parents of Bron, my landlady/friend in Seattle. I wrote about the whole family in the chapters on US and New Zealand. As I was standing in Ray’s office, the phone rang.
It was Bron calling from Seattle to talk to her folks in NZ. I had just decided that I needed to sit still for a couple of months so I could take care of all the practical things I had been avoiding. I was dreading the “apartment search” ….and I knew it would be even more difficult because I only wanted it for two months, beginning in mid-July.
“Hey, Bron,” I said. “Let’s have dinner in a few weeks. I’m going to be renting an apartment in Seattle for a while.” “Oh,” said Bron. “The apartment where John and Jip lived is going vacant in July.” (That’s the apartment upstairs from where I lived the last time in the house on the water. John and Jip were the neighbors who brought tea and cookies to my door. It was Jip’s village where I learned to cook in Thailand. John and Jip bought a house and moved out a couple of years ago.) “I’ll take it,” I say.
So there I was in Auckland and I already had an apartment in Seattle. Great! That was when I was still high on my life and every thing was going my way.
A couple of weeks later I was back in the US and suddenly feeling anxious, out of control and totally disoriented. I think what turned me around was my birthday on July 2nd. Sixty five. Medicare. Senior citizen. I’m officially in the group called “the elderly” and I don’t think I like it. Even though I am exactly the same person I was in June, even though I have created this great life that I love, my mind is sending me funny signals. Who is that person staring back at me in the mirror?
So I’ve been in a kind of funk now for nearly a month. Oh, I’ve been functioning.
I furnished the apartment with no problem at all. One of the first calls I made when I got to Seattle was to John and Jip. “Is it true that you’re only going to be here for two months?” asks John. “Yes, why?” “Because Jip and I are doing a renovation and we’ve moved out of the house. All our furniture is piled up in the living room. You’re welcome to take whatever you want.” And it was done. With their stuff, Jan’s things, and some stuff from one of Jan’s friends, I didn’t need Goodwill at all. Well, maybe for a few cups and platters and pots.
And two days ago I bought a car, which may have been one of the worst experiences ever. Twice in the last week I had spent hours on buses to look at cars individual owners were selling. And when they didn’t work out, I got back on the buses and went home. Finally I decided that doing it that way could take me the rest of my life; I decided that I had to go to a dealer. I couldn’t spend weeks on buses. So I ended up buying a car I didn’t really want, from a dealer I didn’t really trust, and I paid about $600 more than I should have. I felt a lot like a stereotype old woman that the used car salesmen can’t wait to get their hands on. I guess I still do, but Jan has convinced me that it was a learning experience and, after all, it’s only money. So, buying a car didn’t help my funk much.
The good news is that I joined a gym yesterday. I felt a lot better after my first workout, and I have now been on a diet for 24 hours without cheating.
OK. Enough complaining. Back to where I left off in New Zealand. I wrote my last journal entry while Jean and I were in Nelson on the South Island. We were driving Jean’s car (actually Jean did the driving) and we stopped in Nelson to visit her daughter who was a few weeks away from baby number two. Our plan was to tour the South Island…..Random House New Zealand had booked me into several bookstores along the way……promoting the book and seeing the country. On the way back to Coromandel, Jean was going to stay at her daughter’s, help with the baby, and I was going to drive the car back to Jean’s house, slowly, taking 9 days instead of 10 hours for the drive.
Most of the time Jean and I shared a room in backpacker places (usually around US $12 pp), holiday parks (around US $8), Servas families, and with people who had read my book and invited us to stay with them. We did a lot of cooking, even in homes. I carried the ingredients for Thai food in the car (rice noodles, fish sauce, green curry paste, coconut milk, lemon grass, etc.) and often cooked the second night. We pulled into a picnic place and had tea and a snack every morning around eleven and again in the afternoon around two. The backpacker places all have kitchens where you cook with other travelers. The most fun, though, was staying in homes. We stayed with sheep and deer farmers, healers, dairy farmers, retired teachers, bookstore owners, and more. And we stayed with friends of Jean’s as well. And after most of the talks, we went out to dinner with people who had attended. The New Zealand trip was very successful and great fun. It’s a spectacular country. So spectacular that after a while you just ditto your gorgeous, beautiful, fantastic remarks. After a while you begin to sound redundant. Mountains, fiords, tourquoise bays, lakes, desert, ocean, etc. New Zealand is a fabulous place to visit.
After I dropped Jean off at her daughter’s, I continued on in Jean’s car with Nan Rick, an American who has moved to NZ. Nan e-mailed me after reading the book and invited us to stay with her. We had a wonderful time and Nan agreed to drive with me after I dropped Jean off at her daughter’s.
Nan and I had some wonderful, challenging discussions as we drove (it was ten days) and we enjoyed each other’s company, but it was an adjustment for me. Nan was fussy about where we stayed, not keen on sharing a room, and she didn’t want to cook (every motel in NZ has a kitchen). Lucky for me, she did most of the driving.
I didn’t have a license (it had been stolen).. After filing a police report, I went into AA. I asked if they could give me an international license, call CT Motor Vehicles and issue me a temporary license, or let me take the NZ driving test. I was informed that international licenses have to be issued out of the country, that they couldn’t call CT, and that there wasn’t time to be tested for a NZ license. I explained that I had to get the car back to Coromandel and asked them what they thought I should do. “Drive carefully,” was the answer. I did….but mostly Nan drove.
Enough. I am now in Seattle for two months and I do not know where I will be going after that. I will definitely go somewhere; I have no intention of becoming sedentary. I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open……….something or someone will come along with an interesting destination.
I know the funk will pass. As I take care of all the “stuff,” I can feel myself lightening up. Now that I have a car and I am not stuck in one place, I feel looser. Soon I will be fitter….I plan to get to the gym three times a week. And once I send this to Don, I won’t have to worry about the journal entry I’m not writing. Ciao.