I met a fellow nomad and writer in Taos, New Mexico at the Abominable Snow Mansion (a story for a later date). After taking the opportunity to critique each other's writing, she hatched the clever idea of story swapping, just to mix it up. And why not? My perspective on nomading certainly isn't exclusive.
If you've been reading my blog, her story will sound uncannily familiar. Follow Melanie's adventures on her site: Journey to Wildness.
When I made the decision to quit my stable, well-paying job as a middle school principal on the east coast, purge my belongings, and live out of my car for an indefinite amount of time while I traveled around the country, it seemed revolutionary. It was such a huge shift in my life direction that it felt as though I was the first one to ever make this decision. Adventurous Melanie. Badass nomad. Independent wanderer. That’s me.
I suppose I became somewhat narcissistic about it, like when you go through a breakup or someone you love dies, and you walk outside and are surprised that everyone else in the world is still happy and functioning. You think, how can they act like everything is just FINE? Don’t they KNOW?
Logically, of course I am quite aware that everyone else’s life doesn’t change just because mine has, but I’ve never quite been able to shake the strange feeling of being a visitor on a movie set at those times. People are continuing with the routines of their lives and I alone am experiencing something INCREDIBLE and AMAZING that NO ONE HAS EVER FELT BEFORE!
Before you write me off as completely stuck in the self-obssessed phase of a pre-adolescent, let me explain that I adopted much of this mentality as a result of the shocked reactions of others when hearing about my plan. In suburban Maryland, where I had been living and working for the past eight years, this type of decision was rather unheard of. No one just up and left a rapidly growing, well-paying career for a life of financial uncertainty and voluntary homelessness – “in this economy,” no less.
However, since I’ve begun traveling, I have met more and more people who are doing what I’m doing. Other folks on the road (or in vortex-type towns that suck travelers in) don’t bat an eye when I tell them I quit my successful career. They just nod knowingly. If I say I’m living in my car, they may say, “Me too.” If I tell them all I own is in my station wagon, they may point to their only two bags and trump me with an even more austere minimalism.
Almost out of gas money and tired of constantly unpacking and re-packing my car, I decided to spend a few months in a tiny town in New Mexico called Arroyo Seco. Last night, I was dropping off resumes in various restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. At one bar, the obviously disinterested young woman behind the counter asked, “What are your skills? What can you do?”
I launched in to my usual schpeel, “Well I was a school principal back east before I quit my job, got rid of most of my belongings, and moved out here. I’ve been living out of my car for the past six weeks and now I’m –“
“Ooohh,” she interrupted me. I could hear the sarcasm dripping in her voice as she walked away. She called back over her shoulder. “Yeah, like I’ve never heard that story before.”
I walked out of the bar with my head hung low. The woman’s casually-flung words felt more like that speech from Fight Club – “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”
It was quite humbling, to say the least. I guess I hadn’t realized how much I was riding on the feeling of special-ness I had in the eyes of folks back home. Their “wow” comments on my facebook pictures and blog posts continually reinforced the fact that I was doing that AMAZING THING THAT NO ONE HAD EVER DONE BEFORE.
Now I could no longer deny that I was simply one more weary traveler in a sea of I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life nomads. But even more disturbing, why had the uniqueness of my journey become of such central importance to me? Who was I taking this journey for anyway – me, or my “fans?” I tossed and turned with this question all night, and finally fell into a fitful sleep.
This morning, I awoke with the kind of perspective that can only be gained from the old-fashioned medicine of sleeping on it.
My journey is not about winning the “most unique person in the world” award. It is not about doing something dramatic or unprecedented. It is about saying yes to all of life, dancing with whatever each day brings, and staying open as each new possibility unfolds itself like a never-ending lotus flower.
And the fact that there are so many fellow travelers on the same type of journey is a beautiful thing that doesn’t diminish my experience in any way. In fact, it adds to our collective wealth as an exploring species. It means more people are willing to leave their comfort zones and stretch into something new, and that has to bode well for the future of humankind.
Because after all, whether we live in our car or in the biggest house on the block, aren’t we all really on a journey, all the time? And don’t we all appreciate when someone walks next to us for a bit? So however unique or common my path may be, it is wide enough for you, too. Let’s take a walk.