Sunday, October 29, 2006

32 places in 33 years

I made a list today of all of the places I’ve lived in my life so far. The amount of places I have lived equals how many years that I have been alive, and this disturbs me.

If I lived in a time where a tribal way of life was still the norm, where we had to move because of the changing winds or an impending fate, then probably I wouldn’t feel so strange about living in thirty-two places in thirty-three years. But I live in a country and in a time where making a home is the norm. Either it’s acquiring the land, or outbidding the other buyer. It’s about remodeling and low interest rates that will eventually rise. Or mortgages and jobs that pay you enough so that you can pay that mortgage. It’s about two-car garages, building green, views, neighborhoods, three TVs in every house, a dog or a cat and how many children. This is where I live and these are the people who surround me. These are the kinds of things that they worry about day-to-day. They know where they will be next month, they know where they’ll be next year, and they probably know that with the mortgage, they’ll be there for another twenty years if they can swing it.

But not me, because I don’t ever know where I’m going to be six months from writing this, and to be honest, that excites me, but it also scares me. I have the opportunity to see the world and live in as many places as I possibly can. When I think about this, I can actually visualize myself making friends with the village baker in a small town of Spain, or frequenting a bath house in Istanbul. I want to feel the fresh air of the Andes on my lungs and shake my currently perfecting round bubble butt in the streets of Brazil. But I also want a child, a dog to hike in the woods with and to see the smile that could cross my future husband’s lips, if he were ever to hold our first born child.

I’m torn.

“She’s not ready,” the three older people argued across the wooden table at the Alvarez Bravo Museo de Fotografia in Oaxaca.

I had written a piece about this very thing, being torn between travel and settling down. The term “settling down” made me think of being strapped to a recliner with a remote control for the rest of my life, which felt like prison.

I shared my feelings on my matter to the diverse group of fifteen sitting around the table, a retired photographer and his wife from Maryland, a beautiful single Argentine woman, and to a school teacher and her one-time student now in college. I read it to aging traveling hippies with children of their own and to young Mexican men just trying to make ends meet by being creative. And somehow, they all understood.

“She’s not ready,” they repeated in English and then in Spanish, which I understood.

We were learning how to write a self-portrait about ourselves and then we were to go out onto these ancient streets of Mexico and shoot photographs depicting our self portrait. It was a workshop taught by Wendy Ewald on how to teach writing and photography to children. In the workshop, we were her students, learning how to later teach the children. From my written self portrait, I shot a photo of my foot stepping off a curb to depict stepping off the edge. Next, I shot photos of children. Then others shot photos of me shooting photos of others, illustrating how I cherish my free time when traveling through observation.

“But how will I know when I’m ready?” I asked the two women in their fifties and sixties who were contemplating my fate.

“You’ll know when the time is right.” It’s what they all said. I just didn’t know if I believed them.

Later in the week, when we were leaving the art building that Francisco Toledo, the famous Mexican painter was restoring, Wendy Ewald told me a secret. She had grown up in the affluent suburb of Grosse Pointe, where my father had also been as a child. She then told me about her adopted son from Colombia. Another older woman from my workshop that I had bonded with turned around. She had adopted a boy from Colombia as well, and explained how she put all three of her kids in school when they would travel to South America in the summers.

“It can be done. You just take them with you if you want to travel. They adjust. Plus, they learn another language.”

It sounded perfect. I could still do what I wanted to do with my life, and the child or children would be right there with me. They would be happy and adventurous and able to adapt when we moved places along the way.

I just hoped that they would be okay if they turned out like me, living in thirty-two places in thirty-three years. Somewhat boggled, yet thankful, to have had the experience.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Love Van

We crossed the border into Mexico without a hitch. Nothing but smiles came from the locals and only Spanish flowed from our lips, as we bounced to what I decided would be our theme song from an old cassette tape in the tape drive. It must have belonged to the sweet couple who owned the twenty-year old Toyota van that we bought off of Craigslist for $100. Thanks to Bob from Madison, WI who we picked up along the quiet HWY 200 along Mexico's coast, he informed us that the song was called "The Way" by an Austin, Texas band called Fastball. We like to sing the lyrics as they vibrate off the metal doors of our cargo van.

Don't they see the road that they walk on is paved in gold.
It's always summer, they'll never get cold...
...They won't make it home, but they really don't care.
They'll never be lonely, they'll never get old and gray.

These words seem possible when you're driving through Mexico without a home and all of your most needed possessions are sitting just behind you.

We started calling the van "the love van" after the man and I had our biggest blow-up to date, almost ending our three-year stint together. When we finally made up and I rejected the two jobs that I didn't want but was grasping out of fear, we laid in the van, spooning, and cried,
"There is so much love in here," I said feeling the straps that had been cinching my heart finally loosening.
"I know, I put so much love into this."
He told me that his actions were louder than the nasty words we had been trading. And I finally felt his two months of hard work with greasy hands all over a new motor as I welcomed his strong arms back around me. It was if the van was the very thing bringing us back together.

So far, there is nowhere else where we've had such a good night's rest. Not in the $70 a night hotel where Jim Morrison slept off his binges in Santa Monica, nor in my friend's beachfront apartment overlooking the Pacific where waves crashed into the rocks of Laguna Beach. The love van keeps us warm and elevated. It helps that we have our favorite blue thing, a tri-fold blue foam mattress that we bought from Maria, the Mexican-American Jew who was a writer and spacey in her speech. It lived in the Mission apartment we were subletting from her, and so comfortable that many nights we chose the blue thing over our luxurious bed. Maria sold us the blue thing for $20 after she returned from Playa Azul in Michoacan from working on her book. It never occurred to me that a year later I would be finishing my first book, we would be sleeping on the blue thing in a roaving van, and driving to the very town where she had been in Mexico. It was as if she had laid out our next steps for us, but we weren't ready to see.

And I've never felt more love for the man than I do now. And the same goes for the man toward me. We've been talking a lot, even when spending almost every moment side-to-side. In our talks we've remembered what drew us toward eachother in those first nervous weeks. It was our spirit for adventure and our innate desire to go out and see the two. For three years we've been talking about doing that, and now we finally are. And everything is so easy now, it just flows. I've told girlfriends that our relationship has been about getting over a series of humps. Each hump feels a little bit higher and harder to get over, but when we do, it makes for more commitment, more truth, more love.

In Mexico, there are yellow signs for topos along the road showing three black humps. We have to slow the love van down to creep our way over the humps. When we do so we are treating the 20-year old van with respect. The same goes for our relationship. When we meditate twice a day, eat well, do a little yoga and share a Pacifico with a lime now and again. When we slow down, talk, and commit to what we really want out of life, the topos seem smaller. By doing this we're more aware of the topos, and in turn, accept that they are a natural part of life, a natural part of relationship. What makes them different is our reaction to them. In that sense, we are in charge of our own destination, in life, in love and while in the van.