I damn sure knew what I didn’t want. How about you?

I was 46.

And one night, I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep.

I was wondering how best to motivate my employees to do their jobs more conscientiously. Through the years it seemed to me that the quality of the work I got from them had declined. They just didn’t care. Truth is, I had known for a few years that this was the case. And I also knew, if I looked deep into myself, that the problem was me. They were only reflecting my leadership, or lack thereof. So the real question was how to make myself care more.

I used to care. I cared a lot for a long time.

Good coffee is such a thing of beauty and I’m such a fan of quality consumables, when I ‘found’ it, I sucked it up. The ambiance of the cafés, the vibrant feel of caffeine fueled camaraderie, the level of sophistication to the art and science of it all. How exquisite!

I spent my 29th birthday writing a business plan. Some of my friends crowed about “Saturn Returns.” Seven months later I opened Klekolo World Coffee. Within a year it was bordering on success. At 5 years it threatened to collapse under it’s own popularity, but we persevered. Always it created community. People who frequented the place called it their own.

I loved the coffeehouse for a very long time. It was special and magical and filled with artists and creative folk. Many of whom I admire to this day.

I couldn’t say anything was missing. Life, work, friends, a nice house, a rocking café, the good life. But nothing was jazzing me up like all this used to. And this was it, right? Here I was, deep in the life I’d built.

I began to let the place run itself. I no longer enjoyed smiling at people every day while I made their lattes. Better to let the perky young folks do it. They were all well trained. I tried to empower them to do what was right. Mostly the product didn’t suffer, just the cleanliness, the atmosphere. The granting of autonomy made employees feel like they could treat people however it suited them and when they learned they couldn’t, that they had to respect every single person who came through the door, they didn’t like their jobs as much. And I tried to care, and I put out fires and I engaged in retraining and I went to coffee conventions. And the lease came up for renewal again – 15 years!

So I signed up for another five. What other options were there?

Wherever my 30s had gone it seemed my 40s were going there too.

On this night I speak of, age 46, lying in bed, I thought of many things.

Nothing in my life was what I really wanted. That was obvious. The coffeehouse was struggling, the employees didn’t care. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, because I didn’t know how to fix me. I tried one thing after another to turn it all back around. It wasn’t quite in danger of sinking but the economy wasn’t helping any. I didn’t know what to do.

I was laying there, not sleeping, wondering what to try next. And a brand new thought occurred to me. It was huge.

“If I find myself still here in CT, still running a coffeehouse I don’t love, when I turn 50, whose fault will that be?”

Me. Mine.

I am the only one responsible for my own life.

I didn’t have any solution but I knew now what was untenable.

I looked at my surroundings with new eyes.

I began to let things go.

It took most of two years to reduce my belongings by 75%. It was a learning process. With every layer I peeled away and freed from my hold, I gained more power and insight into what did and did not matter to me.

Along the way it became clear to me that the coffeehouse had to go. It was not moving me forward, nor was it part of my future.

I’m not the best at making big life plans. I didn’t plan to pass college by, I didn’t plan to run off and join the circus, I didn’t plan to return home and start a community, and I didn’t plan what would happen when I no longer owned a coffeehouse. That didn’t matter so much as freeing up space and energy for something new.

My friends shook their collective heads.

“What are you gonna DO?”

“I dunno.”

“Do you have enough savings till you figure it out?

“No.”

Some people think you need to know what you want before you can go for it. I speak from experience. Sometimes, it is enough to start with knowing what you don’t want.

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Protected: I damn sure knew what I didn’t want.

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I’m no Poet

If I want to write a poem
What do I say?
How do I fit the entirety of all this life stuff
Into words?

I lost a cat last week.
I lost a cat five years ago and 6 years ago and 8 years ago.
I lost a cat 21 years ago.

I saved a cat once.
From a plastic bag on the edge of the lake I grew up on.
From the ravaged and burned hills of a shattered neighborhood.
From a life in a shelter.
From a tree.
From a dog.

I saved a dog once.
Literally.
It was old and it was winter and my uncle was driving his boat to show me the cold Virginia lake.
We saw commotion and steered near. As we got close the old boy gave up and went down.
Deep.
Down.
I had to stretch and reach to my greatest extent.
Shoulder and face in the water
And I grabbed him just before he sunk out of reach
By the scruff of the neck
And pulled him onto the boat.
I would have dove in for him.

I lost my Mom eleven years ago.
Oscar Wilde would call me careless.
Those kinds of losses never really end, but they do fade a little in the dailiness of it all.

I lost my step dad before he saw me make good.
I lost my dad when I was a ratty teen and didn’t notice till I was nearly 50.

I lost a dream.
Twice.
The first was devastating, the second, liberating.

Losses are love.

Loner in Tennessee

Eleanor Rigby2

Everyone wants love. Right?
Okay well, maybe not everyone. For I have certainly known at least one guy who said he didn’t much care if anyone loved him or not and his actions, and ways of being with any number of women I knew him with, sure made that obvious. I don’t think he believed in love. Or felt it. Or something. But most everyone wants love.

Some people get love. Some people have high school sweethearts and they never let go. Some people have a great love and when that great love leaves the earth too soon, find that the universe sends another great love along in short order. As if these are people whose journeys through life require great love for the lessons they are working Eleanor Rigby on. Some people find love again and again. So often I’ve been given cause to wonder if it could always be real. And some people – it must be said – don’t find love. (Think of any of those fuktards that kill women because they’ve had a lifetime of rejection, or, more benignly, of Eleanor Rigby and a gazillion other human souls.) (I had a teacher in High School who guided a class through Eleanor Rigby. To see the imagery of the ordinary things and the larger picture it presented. I learned a lot that day Mr. S.)

I thought I was one of those who wasn’t gonna find love.
I’ve had some pretty great experiences with some of the men who have moved through my life, but none of them were real love. A decades long affair that I thought was love. But see… I was wrong… Obviously.
How the hell does anyone know what love actually is?
I’ve had mind blowing dalliances with a guy or two, here and there.
But love.
Not so much

After spending my 20s traveling as a Deadhead in a loving and fun filled crowd of thousands, and my 30s and much of my 40s running the hippest café around. Knowing hundreds of inspiring and worthwhile people, watching them fall in and out of love. After decades of wishing someone could, or would, reach for my heart I finally figured out that wasn’t gonna happen for me. That wasn’t my life story. That wasn’t needed for the lessons my soul had come to learn.
Besides I’d been given some pretty awesome love gifts. Adopted by a mother that trusted me, believed in me and worked with my particular, sometimes trying, personality traits without ever faltering in her love. And in High School the universe delivered up a friend that I could never have predicted would be my best friend and my rock to this day. (But both of those are stories for another time, yes?)

So I gradually came to accept this about myself. I was a loner. That’s just how it was. There would be no one to share my journey. Which in the long run is okay. Because I’m strong enough to be my own person and make my own way.

This is not to say that I ever gave up. Merely that I was prepared to be alone. I like myself and my own company. I rarely get bored. And I can find good sex if that’s what I need.

So going on this road trip alone, seemed my destiny. I didn’t know what I’d find. Maybe I’d find love. I have always promised myself to remain open to it and not let past experiences shut me down. But I sure as hell didn’t expect it or go looking for it. (Spoiler; Nor did I find it on my road trip.)
I won’t say – I went looking for me – because that’s too cliché and because I don’t think I was lost. I have a pretty strong sense of self. I know who I am. But I sure as hell was looking for something.
I mean really. Forty-nine year olds do not jump in the car alone with only a general sense of where they’re going for a few months, calling it a Walkabout, without having to admit to themselves that they’re looking for something.

So there I was in Atlanta. Vette (that’s my best friend) had lived in Little Five Points Atlanta for a while in the 80s going to recording school, between Dead Tours she and I went on, so I was somewhat familiar with the place. I remember the funky little neighborhood that was just a short walk from her house. So I got myself an Airbnb place near Little 5. I didn’t know anyone here anymore and I was pretty focused on that fact that I was alone so my Atlanta itinerary was a full one. So much I wanted to do and see. I didn’t have to look to anyone else to see if they wanted to go to the Museum, or to Clinton’s Presidential Library or to pay homage to Scarlett O’Hara and her creator. These were the things I would enrich myself with – Ha!
So take that world! I’m good! I’m doing what I want!

I stayed with a sweet older man and his dog Otto. The man’s wife had recently moved to a nursing home and he was adjusting to bachelor life. He made me dinner the first night I arrived and we talked. He was a retired government worker, well-read, interesting, methodical. He was winding down and enjoying his life. Walking Otto and running errands for his wife. He lived walking distance to Little 5, so most days I started with a walk to get coffee – ah so many good coffeehouses – Atlanta be proud of that.
One day I went for a walk down Josephine St to look for Vette’s old house. I couldn’t tell which one it was. Too many had a tree in the front yard like I remembered dripping with mardi gras beads the day I first saw it. Too many had the same sort of front door approach. Too many were the same color, and probably different colors after all these years. And Vette couldn’t remember the number. So after a couple passes up and down the street I gave up.

I expected to feel more of a connection to the place. I’d spent so much quality time here. But it all felt a little empty I must admit. I chatted with the store clerks in the decorated retail world of Decembers in America, with waiters and waitresses, security guards, receptionists and artists, but it was all so very surface.

Maybe I was looking for my life.
I’d sold the coffeehouse I’d created so I could free up myself to find the next thing. Owning a coffeehouse had been enjoyable for many many years but I’d come to feel like my world was shrinking. Honestly. It was like life had been reduced to ordering large cups. I wanted more than that.
And here I was.
And Atlanta was not the place where my life was. All good. I hadn’t expected or wanted it to be. I just wanted to stop by and say “Hi Atlanta. Hi Little 5. Good to see you again.”

My next planned stop was to go see Vette’s parents in Alabama and hit up Birmingham. There I had been able to find some of the folks we’d been friends with back in the day. None of the closest friends but I figured I had people there nonetheless. Reaching out to them on facebook I had finagled an invitation to crash and attend a Christmas play. It would be good to reconnect.

One of my rules for myself on this journey was this – I can stay anywhere I want to stay as long as I want to stay. I can leave anywhere sooner than planned if that’s what I wish to do. And I can change plans and change direction any time that looks like a decent idea.

That was why I blew off Alabama and headed to Tennessee instead.

I saw something on facebook that changed my direction.
I wish I’d seen that there was a big Xmas Jam concert in Asheville because I’d have gone there and I would have gotten to see a bunch of friends. One especially that I was excited to visit. He wasn’t on my original idea of what my direction would be but now that I was going to Tennessee… Except he had gone to the Xmas Jam that I didn’t know about and I missed him too. I didn’t worry much about such things as missing people. I knew I wouldn’t see everyone I would love to see. A lot more of that happens later in this trip. And my fall-back thought is always – I’ll catch ya next time I come by. For I always always always imagine there will be a “next time I’m in the area.”

What I did see, and what I decided to do, was go to McMinnville Tennessee to a bluegrass Pirate Christmas concert at an underground venue. Underground! Bluegrass! Pirate! Sign me up!
It was held in a cave! Cumberland Caverns to be exact.

But here. Here is where I came face to face with really being alone.

I got there early. The cave wasn’t open yet. The gift store and surrounding porch were filling with small crowds. Families. Friends. There was some stereotypical mountain folks. Some families that looked like they could have come from Hartford. And a crowd of six friends that caught my eye. Big men with beards and their women. One of the men wore tie dye. I struck up a conversation with one of the women when only four were present. “Been here before? Is it nice?”
She was friendly and then the last two of their group appeared and she turned from me and never looked back. They were my people in this crowd. I could tell. I heard their conversations as we waited in the line now forming outside the cave. I tried again and again to find another way into saying “Hello, I’m alone, you’re my people, can I hang with you for the next couple hours and enjoy some camaraderie and newfound friendship?” But none came. I gave up.

I immersed myself in the cave. The way they turned it into a venue. The placement of the bathrooms, the concession, the backstage. Nature made a perfect little theater here.
The show was mediocre. I expected top tier talent at a celebrated underground bluegrass venue playing me some twanging xmas music. What I got was second or third tier talent, dressed as pirates with a Santa roadie, playing decent, but not memorable, sorta Celtic, sorta contemporary, xmas music. And I guess I should have expected that something so obviously cheesy (What the HELL was I thinking – Xmas – Pirates!?!?) was going to be aimed mostly at the many children in the audience.
“Let’s let them all come up here and sing badly!”
I don’t begrudge the hopefully great memories those kids made that day, but a stage full of pirates talking down to children wasn’t what I wanted from all this. (And I didn’t yet know I was missing Asheville’s Xmas Jam.)
I spent some quality time with my camera. Pirates and kids can be quite photogenic.

Oh and I did get a bit of recognition there when they asked from the stage “Who has traveled the farthest to be here today?” That got me a couple stickers and a poster.
And when it was over and we climbed the winding passage that leads back to the topside of the world, I thought – so much for Tennessee – guess I’ll head back towards the original plan and head back on down towards Alabama. I could hunt up people along the way. There’s a diary enthusiast I know in Signal Mountain or in Chattanooga my mother’s brother’s ex-wife’s sister. (Yeah follow that. Billie and David had been divorced forever but she remained family. Billie had told me before I left to look her sister up.)

Ah but then I got out on the road, those winding hill roads of nowhereville, and I took a bit of a wrong turn that got me headed north.
I looked at the map.
Ah. Fuck it. Guess I’ll go to Nashville. I’ve got an ex employee who plays clubs there – maybe I’d find him playing. And to Nashville I went.

 

[This series of posts is brought about by my attempt to relive what I did on my road trip which lasted from December 8, 2013 to May 3, 2014. I’m attempting to sorta keep pace with myself last year.]

Songlines in Progress

 

I began this journey telling the people around me that I was “going walkabout, ‘cept I’m taking my car.”

At first it just meant, to me, that I was going wandering.

 

Aboriginals in Australia go Walkabout and they follow the songlines. The Songlines have been there ever since the ancestors sang the world into existence during the Dreamtime. I’ve always been one to appreciate a good creation myth thanks to my early fascination with Joseph Campbell. Singing the land into existence? Wow, that’s beautiful. And powerful.

They go Walkabout in order to keep the land alive. (I don’t remember where I copied the following quote from…)

 

            “So important are Songlines to Aborigines that unsung land is dead land, and if a song is forgotten, any land which is no longer sung over, will die. To allow such a thing to occur is the worst possible crime for an Aborigine. To be able to sing a Songline indicates an historically unbroken, intimate knowledge of the land. In short, it marries people to place. This is called ownership.”

 

Traditionally this was done as a sort of coming of age ritual. It is a time of transformation from one stage of life – childhood – to that of adulthood, and responsibility. If they followed the Songlines etched in their entire beings, and etched in the story of the land, they could not get lost in the vast expanse of the Australian Outback. If I pretended to be an expert on the origins of the Walkabout I’d be a liar. (Or I’d be up all night turning myself into one.)

 

Modern day Walkabouts are not rare. Many people do them in an attempt to define the direction of their lives. A Walkabout is a time of solitude and soul searching. Which is exactly what I needed, what I wanted, and what was required for my life this winter. (Who the hell have I become at this age? Am I still who I think I am? And what do I want to do now/next?)

 

So off I go on my Walkabout. It’s nearly two months ago now, that I left. Telling myself I’m following the songlines. MY songlines.

 

There’s something tricky about following the songlines. Most especially because I’m not completely sure what I mean by that. Be it etched in the land, or etched in my own psyche, I just know that there is a path out here. Through this country. For me. And maybe (likely) it’d be a different path at a different time, but right now there is a very specific path. There’s a story. Of the now. And I need to find it and follow it.

I’m trying very hard to do just that.


Sometimes it’s about something to experience or a place to be. Sometimes it’s about someone to meet or a friend to see at just the right time. Sometimes it’s about a particular road to travel.

Sometimes I lose the songlines. Or I think I do.
I struggle at times with exactly where to go and what to do.
There are things and places and people I want to see but what if the songlines don’t go that way?
Some mornings I make up my mind on the direction to go, then I get out on the road and go a completely different way.

 

This happened in Atlanta. I thought, from there, that I was headed to visit my best friend’s parents and then I was going to Birmingham. But then the songlines pulled me north, into Tennessee. I went with it.

 

This happened also when I was in Dallas. I had determined all along to visit Austin on my westward journey. But I stayed in Dallas longer than planned and then the songlines dragged me west to Las Cruces for Xmas Eve. Literally, I woke planning to head for Austin, but got on the road and went west instead of south.

 

Okay.

 

It happened again as I was leaving Las Cruces. I wanted to go to Tucson. I’d been feeling the pull of the Sonoran Desert since before the journey began. But then a friend in Albuquerque was going on vacation and offered me his apartment while he was gone. This sounded ideal. So I forced myself north to Albuquerque, but when I got there I felt it in my whole being – no. no. no. This is wrong. wrong. wrong. I knew I’d veered from my songlines so I had dinner with said friend, brought him to the airport at 5am and high-tailed it to Tucson to reunite with my path.

 

I’m not kidding when I say it’s hard to follow the songlines. The wester I get, the feinter they seem. (Is feinter even a word? Well. I guess it is now.)

I wrote the following a few weeks ago –


“Just now, around noon on January 7th I’ve pulled over in order to type this.
I left Scottsdale yesterday sure that I was headed for San Diego directly. I still think I’m headed there. Just not so directly.
I thought I was headed for Yuma when I left. But no. The songlines steered my car to Blythe. I didn’t know why until I woke this morning. I knew I was headed towards the Salton Sea. And this road!
Oh my! THIS road!
It’s wonderful. Two lanes. 65 mph. I am mostly alone rolling through the desert. At first it zoomed through fields that the great majority of America’s veggies come from this time of year. Then came the small mountains – the road winds through and around them in glorious sweeping curves. And the desert here is lovely.
The road swims through dips. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. So much fun to cruise along. 65 mph. The sun. The sand. The scrub. Me. My car. The land. The day. This country. This lifetime.
And where I’ve just stopped, ahead of me are sand dunes. The Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area.
Looks like the Sahara.
And I’m gonna start driving again. And I’m gonna pull over somewhere and take a walk in the sand because that is where I am, and that is why I am here.
Yay for songlines!”

 

So a few weeks ago I was clearly still on my songlines. Or at least I felt like I was.

But today. Not so much. (I think.)

I’ve been pondering this the past few days and have come to some conclusions.

 

Northern California and the Northwest really isn’t (aren’t?) part of my songlines this time around. Well. I suppose that’s not completely true, since, here I am.

It’s more of a nostalgia trip up here.

 

I knew this. Knew it before I left.

But I’d spent so much time out here in my younger days. There are so many people I love out here that I haven’t seen in 20 years and more. San Diego was definitely part of the lines. I’d spent two days there when I was 17 and didn’t feel that counted as really having been to San Diego. And I had to go to Riverside and find Tony’s grave. That was a part of the songlines too. But from there it gets a little cloudy.

 

I was lured ever onward by tricks and trails of the heart.

 

I considered not exploring California this time around but there were people I REALLY wanted to see.

So I figured I’d go to Laguna Beach. Either way, I needed a dose of the sunny pacific. There I would stop a few days and think. And consider if I was indeed going north.

 

And since I was this close I simply HAD to go in to LA. Some of my favorite people have four new girls since I saw them last and I want to know who these girls are as people. That’s important to me. Especially since I’m this close. And in LA there are some museums I would love to visit. So I went to LA.

 

One of my best friends in the world recently bought a house in Vallejo. I’d really like to see him and his new house and he really wants me to visit and smile at his choices. So I went to Vallejo. I wanted to.

 

Now. Once I’m in the Bay Area there are so many people to visit. But I’m off the songlines and I know it. I can turn back soon. I’ll just go visit my friends in Novato and have a night at Terrapin Crossroads. I mean. Since I’m this close. I would be silly not to do that much.

 

And there’s a bunch of friends in Santa Rosa. And some of my Oregon people are in Santa Rosa for the weekend too. It would be crazy not to go there for dinner. Especially since I’m this close.

 

Do you see what keeps happening?

 

And those who live in the mountain towns of northern California off 101. It’s only a couple more hours. And how lovely it would be to drive those vistas. I’ll go for dinner and a mini-reunion. It will be fun and I’ll get to see people that I haven’t seen in forever, children that are grown and starting their own families, towns that used to be so familiar to me. I had a wonderful dinner with old friends.

 

As I drove north from Redway, towards the Oregon Coast my mind and heart were stressed – what am I doing? What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?

Why do I just keep moving north? I should get to the border of CA and just turn around and head back south till I can find the songlines again.

Ah!

But that would be crazy – I’m really not so far from Seattle and all the people I love and would love to see in Seattle, Portland, Eugene. Some are very close friends and some are weak connections with a beautiful chance to strengthen relationships. Turn acquaintances into friends. Yes? This kind of thing is what life is all about.

A grade school friend with a creative restaurant. A close high school friend’s ex boyfriend. (Yeah. Follow that thought a minute.)

I want to know these people better. And if I turn around now, I might never get the chance.

And that night, as if he read my mind, I got a text from a friend I met in 1983 and I haven’t seen him in possibly close to 30 years, that said “Come to Portland, Please!”

 

Lured onward still.

 

And I’ve been trying to figure how I can squish everyone in as quickly as possible; see everyone and move on. ASAP.

 

My friend, on the phone the other night, said that I’ve seemed slightly annoyed ever since I left LA. Not that I’ve consciously felt it, but he might be right. There has, perhaps, been some resentment in my soul that I’ve left and/or lost the songlines.

 

And I told one of my favorite people in the world (She’s in Seattle!) that I was feeling squished and rushed and like my dance card was over-full. And she said that if I didn’t have time for her, she understood. But I should tell her where I will be and she’ll drive to see me. “I’ll drive 100 miles for a hug.” She said.

 

Stop.

 

I am on a most fabulous adventure.

And if I’ve veered from the songlines I imagined, so be it.

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Songlines or no songlines.

I chose to travel this road so I could visit with people who make my heart smile.

I will not rush this.

I am in no hurry. So what if I take longer to get home. What’s home?

 

So I’ve had to adjust my perspective. I’ve quieted the voices asking “what the hell am I doing?”

I’m visiting.

I’m may not be on the songlines at the moment.  (Or maybe I am?)

Right now it’s not about that.

Perhaps I’m singing this land to make sure it doesn’t die to me. From the quote near the beginning of this post – “any land which is no longer sung over, will die.”

I do not ever wish to forget this northwestern song.

 

It’s about people and relationships and if I think I’m off my path I’m likely wrong.

The thoughts that I am off my path are about me not living in the moment.

 

And that, right there, is the crazy part.

 

Be. Here. Now.

 

Seattle, Portland, Eugene, here I come.