Welcome back to NOT-Road Trip I, a wistful review of the past 10 years of criss-crossing this great continent in Feb-March. Looking back at photos from 2012 is like seeing broad stripes of color on a blanket.
BLUE and WHITE. We started in Yellowstone as a special Valentine’s Day gift to ourselves. Thanks to a kind of bus on skis, and our own snowshoes, we penetrated deep into a park otherwise closed to traffic…the human kind.
You can bet this has become one of our favorite photos of ourselves.
BROWN and OLIVE. Needing some warmth, we headed straight down through Utah to Arizona.
One of the most accessible national parks is Petrified Forest–right off I-40. Since winter storms were threatening, we opted for the ease of a ride-through, and kept on our way.
RED. After holing up in Albuquerque for a bit, we headed sadly for Texas, knowing that the Panhandle is one of the dullest parts of a state which guards its scenery pretty closely. But following our noses to a small green blob on our map, we discovered Palo Duro State Park–amazingly, the second-largest canyon in the US, and one that we nor anyone we knew had heard of.
WHITE and BLUE again (warm shades). Another brand-new discovery for us (though much better-known): Florida’s National Seashore, where we camped and rode our bikes, in awe of the ivory sand.
Having crossed the country at top speed, outrunning storms, we found ourselves with a full extra week in Florida, which we spent bopping from one gorgeous state park to another.
We did also ride our bikes through the Everglades and visited friends in the Keys, but frankly, I found the environmental degradation there more depressing than inspiring, so I won’t revisit those places here.
BROWN & GREEN (wet version). Okeefenokee! Need I say more?
Since Georgia’s wild places have such great names, we also joined some friends in paddling the Ogeechee River.
Back at my parents’ farm once more–don’t forget, dear readers, that NC in March is always the apex of our Road Trips–Son Two joined us again from college, for Tarheel basketball, great BBQ, and cuddles with Stevie, World’s Cutest Ass.
SILVER. Unlike the previous year, winter weather precluded heading very far north, so we made the Big Left Turn and headed west through the middle of the country, taking one touristy, cultural stop–unusual for us.
BROWN & BLACK. Astonishingly, while Flagstaff got a foot of snow, just north of there, we found Estes Park, Colorado, on the edge of Rocky Mountain N.P., nearly snow-free.
The “Black” comes from another new find (to us): Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was too snowy to hike down, so we snowshoed along the rim.
RED again. First, we camped in the lovely & accessible Colorado National Monument outside Grand Junction.
To this day, this remains our only sighting of desert bighorns–right across the road!
Of course the ultimate RED is found in Moab, UT, jumping-off spot for three major national parks.
There, we began what has remained a tradition of joining our Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate for, well…
COLOR US HAPPY. Back home in Washington, we managed to meet both our sons on break from college, and celebrated with sushi at Fujiya, our favorite restaurant in the world.
So that’s Road Trip II–colorful, warm, and now folded in the closet of memory. Catch you next time for RT III–thanks for traveling with me!
When I Zoomed in at 1:30, House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman was announcing the lineup for the 2-hour session. It sounded ambitious. First up: amendments on two different bills: one restricting police car chases, one banning no-knock warrants. Then came public comment on two other bills: one refining the definition of hate crime, the other allowing survivors of sexual assault improved access to the progress of their cases and better overall care. Finally, at the end: “my” bill, 1090.
Oooookay, I thought. Maybe I’ll go make a cup of tea and check back in an hour.
But before I wandered away, something caught my attention. The same something that has probably caught all of America’s attention beginning this past Wednesday, Inauguration Day. That something was…civility.
A minority Republican on the committee–a beefy White guy in a Statue of Liberty necktie–was making an argument about an amendment on the car-chase bill. Talking about the Democratic sponsor of the bill, I heard him say, “…though I love and respect him as a person…” Then the Democratic Chair was allaying the Republican’s fears. And then they thanked each other.
Wait. Wait. No snark, no snarling? I barely recognize this tone…like a Golden Oldie playing softly in the background. Mesmerizing.
So I stayed right where I was. I watched that same burly Republican Representative have another of his amendments voted down–he wanted to allow the police broader scope to continue with no-knock warrants (like the one that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020). Still: no rancor, no posturing. Just–“just!”–courtesy.
I watched prosecutors and brave victims of hate crimes testify in favor of HB 1071, which refines the definition of a hate crime to reflect the reality of what people are facing. I watched legislators from both parties thank the participants with zero grandstanding or finger-pointing.
They’re all so respectful! So pleasant! I wanted to run into that Zoom room and hug the entire committee.
By the time they got to the private prisons bill, of course, they were out of time. Only a couple of the dozens of folks signed up to speak got to do so.
Did I mind? Not one bit. That two hours of civil civic discourse was as encouraging as a COVID shot. I felt unexpectedly innoculated against political cynicism.
“Well, sure,” my Mate said when I told him about it, “that’s Washington State for you.” I think he meant, y’know, we’re practically Canadians. But no: our governor’s mansion was also attacked on January 6. We’re every bit as vulnerable to the political virus as any other state.
So…feeling pessimistic about political polarization? Depressed at the divide? Take two of these and call me in the morning–“these” being a couple of the most rivetingly boring hours ever, listening to politicians act like grownups together.
This Friday, Jan. 22 @ 5:30 PCT (that’s 8:30 Eastern), please join me via Zoom for a reading from my YA novel Altitude. Authors Kip Greenthal and Laurie Parker will follow. Thanks to Nikyta Palmisani for organizing this event, “Hygge in the Heart”! See you there in your little Zoom square!
If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that I created it with little enthusiasm back, oh, nine years ago, when the People Who Know Such Things convinced me that I, as an Author, needed a Platform.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy blogging. Especially since “Wing’s World” has remained fairly untethered to theme. What’s not to love when you can blog one week about kale salad, and the next about how many times you’ve run around Planet Earth? As a writer, I did try to steer clear of two topics: writing about writing—boooooring—and politics: divisive.
Then an unfunny thing happened: the last four years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward topics of justice that need addressing, and increasingly uncomfortable blogging with my usual whimsy. While I appreciate lightheartedness in the writing of others, for myself it feels too much like fiddling while Rome burns.
But who needs more blog posts about everything that’s dire? And so I respond with…silence. My posting has gone from a robust twice-weekly clip to weekly…to biweekly…to whenever the hell I feel like it. And I haven’t felt like it.
Can I get an “Amen”?
Then on a walk the other day, doing my Mary-Oliver-best to let the wild wind and whitecaps and dripping mosses capture all of me, I thought back to a podcast I’d just heard, which reminded me of a hackneyed but super useful concept I learned back in the 90’s. That concept: the Circle of Control from good ol’ Stephen Covey—remember the 7 Habits guy?
EVERYONE should be able to relate to this. Life feeling out of control? Too much, too fast, too hard? Well…what are you in charge of? Eating a healthy breakfast? Reading a book to a child? Do that. Start there.
Now that I think about it, it’s quite similar, in fact, to the Serenity Prayer. Probably smarter people than I have already noted this.
Along her journey of discovery—that is, science discovering this woman and putting her power to use—Joy befriended another woman, suffering from Parkinson’s, whose mantra for living with her disease seems to be actually defeating it. This woman says that, in the face of terminal out-of-controlness, she simply tries to “do the next right thing.”
I like that phrase even better than “Circle of Control.” It’s more humble, more tender, more…real.
Throughout most of 2020 (or COVIDCOVID if you prefer), my “next right things” included working on my book, and working to help save America from Donald Trump. [Pictured: my phonebank tallies. Including the calls for the Georgia runoff (which already feels like a year ago), I made approximately 3,000 calls.]
Since that time, conditions in our country and our world feel more out of control than ever–all the more so from having spun away just in the budding of hope. My back pain is not improving. And my writing project is stalled (yes, I WILL write about that when I am able).
In short, I need some new, modest enterprises to function as Serenity Prayer. So here are three:
–a local online tutoring project for kids in our community
Are these projects blogworthy? We’ll see. Of course they’re wildly divergent in scope and tenor. But they do have one thing in common: for me, in 2021’s crazy start, they all feel like the next right thing.
I know, I know. This isn’t my blog. It belongs to my hooman–y’know, Whatsername. The one with the treats.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ol’ Whatsername’s been pretty much missing in action lately, blogwise. Something about “I’m not really feeling the blogging right now,” or “It’s complicated.” Whatever that means.
So I’m stepping in. Y’know, just to keep this spot warm till Whatsername comes back to curl up in it. I can make myself comfy anywhere.
So. That’s it, really. I’m just here to say–stick around, ok? My hooman’s probably just out back sniffing something reeeeeeeally interesting. She’ll be back when she’s good & ready.
My readers probably know that I’m not much of a podcast listener, but that if I AM listening to a podcast, it’s probably On Being with Krista Tippett. I started this habit after the 2016 election and, three and a half years later, I need her show more than ever.
Today I want to provide a peek into an especially uplifting interview about…ready? The evolutionary aspects of human goodness. Evolutionary? Human Goodness? Yes please!
(What follows are shameless excerpts from the transcript of Krista Tippett’s show, which I’m assuming she won’t mind because I’m encouraging everyone to listen to her.)
Human goodness? Does that mean sunflower seeds?
Nicholas Christakis is Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale. More specifically, he works at something called the Human Nature Lab—which sounds spooky until you hear what they’re studying. They’re studying goodness. (Oh my goodness. Literally.)
Kendi’s blurb tops all the praise on the back of Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us. And if Kendi–Professor Antiracism himself–has been waiting for this book, this research, this analysis, how much more do the rest of us stand to gain from paying attention?
At the high school where I taught, one of my favorite principals used to say, “Tell the truth and point towards hope.” McGhee’s title does just that, and so does her book’s contents.
McGhee’s chief metaphor for the costs of racism, whose image graces her cover, is the destruction of public swimming pools all across America, following orders to desegregate them in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. Cities and towns of all sizes literally poured concrete into their pools or bulldozed them rather than let Black people swim there. As a result, everyone lost:
“Over the next decade [1960s], millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people…The classless utopia faded, replaced by clubs with two-hundred-dollar membership fees and annual dues. A once-public resource became a luxury amenity, and entire communities lost out on the benefits of public life and civic engagement once understood to be the key to making American democracy real.” (p. 28)
McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy, goes on to demonstrate this “close the pools” reaction–and its evenhandedly negative effects on communities–in more current policies such as the expansion of Medicaid (nearly all Republican-led states refuse it, even though the people who most stand to benefit are the poor whites calling it communism); the fight against raising the minimum wage; and the choice of southern white automobile workers to vote down a union.
From the beginning–Bacon’s Rebellion in 1675, when poor whites and Blacks joined forces and scared the pie out of the ruling class–McGhee shows how the ruling class has used race to keep poor whites attached to “zero-sum” thinking: Any gain of a racial minority means a loss for me. Through her narrative, it’s not hard to understand why generations have chosen racial identity over any other potential benefit, be it wages or cool water on a hot summer day.
But here’s something neither I, nor my Constitutional Law-professor Mate, knew. Take it away, Ms. McGhee:
But there was another path from Brown, one not taken, with profound consequences of our understanding of segregation’s harms. The nine white male justices ignored a part of the social scientists” appendix that also described in prescient detail the harm segregation inflicts on “majority” children. White children “who learn the prejudices of our society,” wrote the social scientists, were “being taught to gain personal status in an unrealistic and non-adaptive way.” They were “not required to evaluated themselves in terms of the more basic standards of actual personal ability and achievement.” What’s more, they “often develop patterns of guilt feelings, rationalizations and other mechanisms which they must use in an attempt to protect themselves from recognizing the essential injustice of their unrealistic fears and hatreds of minority groups.” The best research of the day concluded that “confusion, conflict, moral cynicism, and disrespect for authority may arise in [white] children as a consequence of being taught the moral, religious and democratic principals of justice and fair play by the same persons and institutions who seem to be acting in a prejudiced and discriminatory manner.” (p. 182-3)
When I read this, it knocked me breathless. Those quotes from the early 50’s sound like they’re describing white folks of 2021. And I’m not just talking about the “confused” folks who carried the Confederate flag into the capitol building. I’m talking about people like me, “nice white people,” who, in middle age, are just starting to acknowledge what we’ve lost by living whole lives without close friends of other races.
[photo “Hermandad” by Rufino, Wikimedia Commons]
But. I told you this book’s title promises hope, and the book delivers. McGhee constantly pivots to examples of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: white and Black workers in Kansas City joining together to win a $15 minimum wage; conservative Connecticut passing “a raft of popular public-interest bills” like paid sick days and public financing of elections; the 95% white town of Lewiston, Maine, at death’s door economically, embracing African immigrants to bring itself back to life. McGhee ends with a clarion call:
Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. (p. 289)
God knows it’s hard to feel optimistic at this moment in our history. But these concrete examples show what is possible because they already exist. If we all keep pointing to them, divisive fear will stand less of a chance.
Question for y’all: have you seen this Solidarity Dividend in action? Please share.
This basic question comes weighted with all kinds of new meanings now. Unspoken components may include:
“Did you feel safe?”
“Should you really have been traveling?”
“Can I think about traveling?”
“Nice to be you.”
Acknowledging that weight, here’s all I want to say about my recent flight across the country to see my octo- and nonagenarian parents, whom I hadn’t seen in 14 months: I kept that trip as SIMPLE as I could.
S is for Spring–meaning fully-leafed, eye-poppingly green spring, a season I’ve not been able to enjoy in my home state for decades, due to work. (The Mate’s and my annual Road Trip pilgrimages bring us to NC in March, when leaves are still in their cute baby phases.) I soaked up May like a thirsty sponge.
I is for In-depth. As in, this trip was for FAMILY ONLY, but really in-depth. Days were for walking in Duke Forest, playing with doggies, feeding the various critters (horses, goat, donkey, chickens, guinea hens, barn cat…), cooking, eating, and sharing family stories.
M is for Martha, or Mom. She’s about to turn 86, and is very excited to try and set a new age-group record for the 1,500m at this summer’s Masters Nationals.
P is for Peter, or Pa–nah, let’s just say Peter. (He might accept “Pater”–the guy does like his Latin.) In his 91st year, he’s facing the first seriously debilitating physical challenges of his life, forcing him to give up running. But he still gets out every day to run his beloved dogs.
L is for ___ and ___, my sister and brother-in-law (whom I won’t name here), who made the drive down from Michigan to coincide with my visit. I hadn’t seen them for 2 years (sister) and 4 years (bro-in-law).
E is for…let’s just say EVERYTHING. Every aspect of travel that I no longer take for granted. Like: thoughtful flight attendants. Empty middle seats. Regional food you can only get by being there. Hugging on arrival and departure and any other time we felt like it. And E is also for EVERYTHING I love about where I live now, and the fact that–despite Delta’s excellent performance on this trip–I still have no desire to fly anywhere else now for a long, long time.
Home with The Mate and The Beast is where I am happiest now.
That said–would love to hear of others’ experiences as they venture “back out there.” Trip story, anyone?
What’s this? Two book reviews in a row? What’s Wing’s World morphing into now?
Don’t worry. This post is entirely situational. As in, given the SITUATION I was in, last post, of having read a book as godawfully depressing as it was brilliant, the moroseness of which is now a distant memory due to the book that fell into my hands just after I wrote that post.
A HEARTWARMING book. A laugh-and-cry, go-ahead-and-recommend-this-book-to-everyone book (but especially to sisters, Minnesotans, and lovers of pie and beer–that is to say, Minnesotans).
And more importantly (to me): a book which is all those things AND excellently written.
I was mentally bookmarking all kinds of passages even before I knew I wanted to blog about this book. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the intuitiveness of Stradal’s similes:
She looked at money like how a motorcycle driver looks at asphalt. The more of it you see, the farther you can go, but a single mistake with it can finish you. (p. 17)
…he didn’t crumple in the grass like someone wrestling with death, he lay still like someone waiting to be kissed. (p. 82)
Together they could pass the time like a couple of empty boats tied to a fenced-off pier, and it was beautiful. (p. 91)
The LOL parts were really too frequent to capture, but here’s one of my faves:
He glanced at her and pursed his lips. “On second thought, I don’t know. You white Minnesotans sure like things bland. I like the ramen there the way it is now. You start eating there, it’s gonna mess things up.”
“That’s probably true,” Diana said. “But I like spicy things.“
He seemed mildly impressed. “Oh yeah? What’s your favorite spice?
“Butter,” she said. (p. 205)
Hahahahaha. Here’s another gem, featuring one of the protagonists, pregnant:
“I’ll like it when it’s over,” ___ said, watching their pizza arrive, suddenly wanting it all for herself.
Their waitress, who was younger than them, and had the careless vibe of someone merely working for extra spending money, somehow couldn’t help herself. “You’re not supposed to say that,” she said. “Pregnancy is a miracle.”
“This pizza’s a miracle,” ___ said. “Pregnancy can suck it.” (p. 242)
Stradal’s ease with implicit metaphors is even more impressive in its lack of impressiveness. I mean, he throws stuff out there which simply sounds NATURAL:
She dog-paddled through the rest of the day. (p. 185)
Before she could pour a glass of her own beer, or even order a bag of malt, there was a long, shallow puddle of bureaucracy she had to wade through. (p. 240)
But what gets me the most about this author is the fact that he’s a man writing in the perspective of women–three different main characters, all female–and he doesn’t eff it up. Scenes having to do with sex or childbirth he doesn’t dwell on, as if paying tribute to his own lack of understanding, but in other scenes, having to do with the psyche of women in a man’s trade? He NAILS it. Here, he describes the effect on the least sympathetic of the main characters, rendering her…sympathetic.
The men at or near her level across the industry were often exhausting. Very early she’d been spiritually and emotionally corroded by the roomfuls of them at various industry gatherings, men who talked over her, explained to her, asked her to fetch them lunch or coffee, planted and reaped her self-doubt. In the underpopulated women’s restrooms at brewers’ conventions, she’d sometimes hear of industry women experiencing far worse, but ___ quit attending these caustic functions before she personally experienced anything horrifying. (p. 335)
Even closer to the emotional bones:
The car accident that killed ___’s parents last June revealed a lot to her, especially the fact that every adult and almost every other person her age didn’t understand her, no matter what they’d been through. As a new kid in a new town, living with her kind but exhausted grandma ___, she had to set herself to a frequency that no one could tune in, just to make every day tolerable. (p. 90)
He laughed again… “Need anything from the kitchen?” “No,” she said. “I have everything I need.”
As her husband vanished upstairs, she lay on the couch, took a deep breath, and almost believed it. (p. 155)
Without giving anything away, I can divulge that the book’s main plot derives from a lifelong rift between two sisters. I’m not saying anything about the ending. But these two characterizations, one for each sister, epitomize the author’s deftness with character. When you read the book for yourself, they will speak even louder:
She halted in the doorway between those rooms, her blood full of sparks. (p. 347)
She was as calm as a small town on Christmas morning. (p. 348)
Is it true that I’ve just written a book review consisting almost entirely of quotes? And with one single lousy picture? Yes. Yes, it is. Because sometimes the words are enough.
So thank you, Mr. J. Ryan Stradal, for renewing my faith in good, positive-energy lit. And for the rest of y’all: What other novels would you put in this category? Got any more hidden gems for me?
You: “Omigod this BOOK. It’s so INTENSE. The plot is masterful, and the details are so IMMERSIVE. It has a total hold on me.”
Friend: “Wow, sounds like I should read that next. What’s it called? Can I borrow it when you’re done?”
You: “Ummm…sure. But it’s also really super sad. It’s kind of bumming me out, to tell the truth.”
Friend: “Oh. No thanks. I don’t need more of that in my life.”
You: “But it’s so GOOD!”
My latest engagement with an entry in the Bummer-of-the-Month-Book-Club is the Pulitzer winner The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. It’s been around a few years, and only fell into my hands by accident–somehow finding its way onto my bedside pile without any known recommender. I picked it up and, as perfect illustration of the cliche, found myself hooked by the first page.
Damn it. Had I read the blurbs, I probably would have passed. But I’m not a blurb-reader.
This book is PAINFUL to read. For starters, it’s set in North Korea. Additionally, it’s set in North Korea. And, as if that weren’t enough–North Freakin’ KOREA.
But those Pulitzer-givers know a thing or two about literature. Not only does the book twine different genres–identity odyssey, thriller, love story–it also switches point of view here and there, from close-third person narrative of the main character, to state-run propaganda blasts repurposing the very story you are reading, to a first-person accounting, up close–way too close–to North Korea’s vicious prison “life,” by an unnamed but increasingly conflicted interrogator.
And the writing? I’ll let it speak for itself.
“Jun Do’s reward for these achievements was a listening post in the East Sea, aboard the fishing vessel Junma. His quarters were down in the Junma’s aft hold, a steel room big enough for a table, a chair, a typewriter, and a stack of receivers that had been pilfered from downed American planes in the war. The hold was lit only by the green glow of the listening equipment, which was reflected in the sheen of fish water that seeped under the bulkheads and constantly slicked the floor. Even after three months, Jun Do couldn’t stop visualizing what was on the other side of those metal walls: chambers of tightly packed fish sucking their last breath in the refrigerated dark.” (p. 40)
I would love to be able to talk with someone about this book, to discuss questions and groove over passages. But I don’t want to give it to anyone without warning, and most people, once warned, sensibly pass. That got me thinking about other books in this category. Here are a few that come to mind:
The Spectator Birdby Wallace Stegner. He’s one of my, let’s say top three, favorite 20th century authors. Angle of Repose, his Pulitzer winner, is incredibly sad, but I can still recommend it to anyone, especially over the age of 30. But this book kind of destroyed me for a while.
You’ve heard of a square peg in a round hole? That’s not me. I’m more like the most boring bit of a Tinker Toy set, the little stick that connects to ANYTHING. Or–going literary–I’m Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, trying to play all the roles: “Let me be the lion too!”
Or Raven & Chickadee, a dedicated travel blog by two folks on a years-long, slo-mo road trip, which regularly gathers dozens of comments.
Etc. I’m sure y’all know many more blogs on many of my favorite topic where the comment section is hopping.
But you know what? I am OK with my own lack of internet sizzle. Two of my favorite blogs, written by fellow Lopez Islanders, fill me up with ideas and inspiration every time I read them, and sometimes their comment section is as modest as my own. (But just in case you want to be filled with ideas & inspiration yourself and you don’t already follow these, check out:
The other day I heard someone howling, and…hey. Wait. It wasn’t me!
I hurried over to check and found my hooman giggling at ANOTHER DOG on her little tappity-tappity thing. “Hahaha,” she was saying, “can you believe this?”
Well, that dog just crunches my kibble. When I make that noise, my hoomans yell “HUSH!” at me. They certainly don’t turn me into a picture on the tappity-tappity thing for thousands of other hoomans to laugh at. That Zeus dog is FAMOUS. And me? I’m just in the dog house.
I mean seriously. My hoomans make me “heel” and “come” and “sit” everywhere I go. We practice in the house…
…out on walks…
…even on the one “Staycation” they’ve taken me on! (This is a thing where hoomans leave their house and go stay in a different house. Lots of cool new stuff to sniff. But I still had to heel and come and sit.)
No way would I EVER get away with the stuff that Zeus dog pulls. Every now and then my main-walky hooman lets the leash loose to take my picture, ’cause I’m so pretty…
…or because the trail is too rocky for us to go side-by-side…
…but once we’re past that part, it’s back to heel and come and…
I don’t even get to chase whatever little yummy crawly diggy thing made that hole! Bet Zeus would get to eat it for breakfast.
So I’d just like to say to Zeus’s hoomans–Can I come live with you? I wanna howl and dig and be a doggy diva too, and my hoomans just don’t UNDERSTAND.
My one consolation? That thing they call “college basketball season” is finally over, so I don’t have to wear this stoopid scarf every time their “Tarheels”–whatever they are, probably NOT edible–throw that round orange thing at each other.
As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.
It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)
So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.
Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:
Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.
Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…
…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:
Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…
…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.
In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…
…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:
Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.
Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!
The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.
Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!
Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.
With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…
…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?
At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:
…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:
Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.
Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?
Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.
Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.
A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…
Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.
One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.
Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…
…every tiny bit of it.
Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.
Anyone else getting tired of hearing about the end of the tunnel? Tunnels are concrete structures, figuratively and literally. They have beginnings, middles, and very distinct ends. Are we seriously trying to compare COVID times with a tunnel?
Right now, just as the graphs seem to be trending in the right direction, there suddenly seem to be even more unknowns. Can I get on an airplane now? Am I part of the problem for even wanting to? If everything’s getting better, why do I still feel dread? Why does optimism still get stuck somewhere between my throat and my stomach?
The other day I happened upon an “On Being” podcast about this EXACT frustration with the interminability of this time, and the effects of all that who-knows?ness on our mental state. I immediately thought about a bunch of different friends to send the link to.
But I don’t love it when people tell me I “should” listen to something nearly an hour long, even if I know I’d probably benefit. So instead, I’m excerpting that podcast for you here. I hope you can get something valuable from it, without having to spend a whole hour.
For starters, see if you can recognize something in this intro by host Krista Tippett:
“The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is tenuously appearing, yet we feel as exhausted as at any time in the past year. Memory problems, short fuses, sudden drops into what feels frighteningly to me like depression, and fractured productivity that alternately puzzles and shames us.”
Any of that sound familiar?
Krista then introduces her guest. Christine Runyan is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She also runs a clinical consulting practice, Tend Health, to support the mental well-being of health care providers.
Runyan, Krista says,
“explains how the very first news of the threat of a new virus in the world instantaneously activated our stress responses, sent our nervous systems into an overdrive from which they’ve never retreated. To use other words, the pandemic has disrupted our mind-body connection, which is always as sensitive to what is imagined as to what is real.”
Don’t know about you, but my own mind and body don’t need much reality to go galloping off in different directions. And this is a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
As Runyan dives in, describing the classic fight-or-flight response, I note the metaphor she chooses:
“And that’s a very predictable response. It’s our source code as humans…And when that goes off, it does a number of things. It releases glucose, so we have some energy. It increases our heart rate. It increases our blood pressure. It diverts blood to our major muscle groups. It temporarily gives our immune system a little boost. It stops our digestion. It does all these things specifically…so that we can fight or that we can flight, and that we have all the reserve necessary to be able to do that.”
“Source code”? So it’s built in. So it’s not just me? So it’s not my fault if I can’t shake this gut-level dread?
Describing us in our balanced state, Runyan notes,
“And this window of tolerance, which does get quite disrupted…for people who’ve had prior trauma, that window really shrinks, and so you can activate this nervous system at lower levels. And that’s one of the things that I think has been happening throughout this whole year, for various reasons, both related to the virus and related to our social circumstances in this country.”
Uh-huh. Yeah. Go on.
Then Krista really captures the point:
“…here we are, a year on, and we never got to — the threat never went away. But what I’ve also experienced as I look back on the year and its many chapters, including the death of George Floyd, the racial reckoning and rupture, the drama of the election — it feels to me…like there was a lot of adrenalin that got generated at different points in the last year…and that’s just quite apart, again, from people having incredible losses and stresses in their lives and losing people and illness and jobs and all of that. But just — you kept going. There was this energy source.
And then it has felt like winter set in, the election was over — I feel like all of the energy flowed out of my body. [laughs] …it’s not just that I have felt low in energy, I’ve felt disembodied and like I’ll never be the same again.”
And Runyan is on it, reassuring Krista (and the rest of us!):
“I think that’s also part of the nervous system, both assault and response. We talk about fight or flight, but there’s also a state of freeze, which can look very much like you’re describing — this state of apathy, of detachment, of even disembodied or dissociative, and numbing, a lot of numbing.”
Numbing. Yes. Think back to all those terms we used to describe our days: “Shelter in place.” “Blursday.” “Quarantini.” Day after week after month. Even when we spoke of “silver linings” (telecommuting! wildlife roaming streets!) we still knew they involved a big ol’ cloud.
Krista really speaks my mind when she focuses on the physicality of our restrictions:
“You talk about, also, symptoms of this stress on our nervous system that I think I recognize in myself, and we all recognize, as being more impulsive, moody, rigid in our thinking, irritable, lashing out, our frustration tolerance — and you could almost see that play itself out in our political life. And so, collectively, we were faced with this impossible choice — that the very thing that makes us human, which is our physical connection to other people, was the cost of keeping each other safe.“
Hugs! She’s talking about hugs! And smiles! Hell, even shaking hands has been taboo.
And she goes on,
“…naming this feels relieving, even though what we’re naming is a really just impossible and terrible situation we’ve all been placed in. So what do we know about…the effects on us as humans, as creatures, of what we’ve called social distancing…the lack of touch, the lack of seeing and being seen, in a world of masks?“
Ooh, ooh, me! I know that one! We feel CRAPPY.
Runyan responds with pretty much my favorite response to any problem: naming it.
“So this process of naming and “allowing,” I think is the term that I would say — seeing it as a human response to the conditions that are, rather than something wrong with me — so many of us humans are prone to even ask that question, “What’s wrong with me?”
She goes on to remind us that the naming is just the first step in a process of self-gentleness:
“…I think the self-awareness piece, even before the allowing — we have to have someinternal vision…and know that how it shows up for you is gonna be different than how it shows up for me; how it shows up for you, today, is gonna be different than how it may show up for you next week. So that awareness and the allowing…being curious. If we can be curious, just what’s going on inside of our own bodies — the neurotransmitter of curiosity is dopamine, so if we can be curious, we can give ourselves a little hit of dopamine. And then compassion, if I had to say the one thing that probably supersedes all of those, is compassion, including compassion for oneself.“
I LOVE that bit about the dopamine! Did you know that? I didn’t. The compassion part? That I already knew, but sometimes compassion is hard to get to. But…drumroll…curiosity is the gateway to compassion! And you get dopamine as a choice of sides!
In the latter part of the podcast, after naming the stressors, Runyan moves on to dealing with them. She mentions well-known techniques, like listening to music, or surrounding yourself with your favorite calming scent.
She mentions breath–not, to my surprise, deep in-breaths so much as–well, this.
“…There’s various techniques you can do with the breath, but if you’re gonna do one thing, a long exhale, because that’s part of our sympathetic nervous system, that dorsal part of our sympathetic nervous system that activates our calming — so, a long exhale.“
(Which I suppose involves in-breaths by necessity, right?) And then comes one of my favorite parts:
“…And then, one of my common go-to’s is…“tend-and-befriend,” and particularly if I don’t have people around me, is to just make contact with myself. I put my hand on my heart, on my chest —
Tippett: Oh, you mean literally.
Runyan: Literally. [laughs]
Yes! A little self-caress. (I actually don’t even care if others are around. Self-care is self-care.)
My last big takeaway from this fascinating conversation was the reminder of how our pesky imagination, which likes to occupy itself by creating extra worries, can also summon its own comfort. Runyan asks Krista to imagine cutting open a lemon and tasting it. Krista does. So do I. (So, now, perhaps, do you.)
Runyan:We can create a physiological response through our imagination, which is…a double edge. [laughs] It’s a gift and a curse, because that is worry.
Tippett: Right, but you’re saying we can also activate that to comfort ourselves, if we take it seriously enough.
Bingo. Although I’d really prefer imagining these.
Runyan then reminds us that part of healing that mind-body connection in times of stress is simply being kind to one’s body.
“I’ve had a lifelong struggle with my own body, and probably up until maybe about five years ago. And this reverence — now it is just a wonder and a source of curiosity, and I can appreciate it for all the ways it’s working on my behalf, even when I meet it with frustration.“
Have I thanked my knees lately?
“And this is why, when I think about what are the superpowers that we all hold in us that is also part of our source code, it’s that self-awareness — is there a pause point to be able to step out of that automatic pilot and then be able to make an intentional choice?”
I sure would like there to be.
“There’s a quote that’s attributed to Viktor Frankl, and he says, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our power to choose. And in our choice lies our growth and our freedom.” And it’s such a beautiful encapsulation, I think, of that self-awareness and that pause, which is so hard to do at this time, because we’re so activated. And so it’s just recognizing when we can pause and say, oh, that’s what that is.”
I think that’s going to be my new mantra–at least until the world is vaccinated. “Oh, so that’s what that is.”
But lest Dr. Runyan seem too saintly, she ends on a good reminder of why that self-gentleness comes in so handy:
“It’s really that power of the pause. It’s imperfect — there’s plenty of times where I have done that, paused, and then just went right back down the rabbit hole.” [laughs]
Yep. “Oh, so that’s what that is.”
In case you were wondering, the Non-Road Trip series will return next time, at least for one more installment. But I think I heard that end-of-the-tunnel phrase just once too often this week. So that’s what this is.