“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Mark
Twain supposedly said, or was misquoted as saying. In any case, the reports of
my family’s imminent exodus to overseas adventures have been a wee bit exaggerated or at
least prematurely announced, aided by my own inability to stay entirely quiet. I’ve been posting occasional cleaning and furniture-moving
photos on Facebook, and I definitely appreciate that my fellow 49ers understand
why I’m not teaching community classes this fall. The good people at Title Wave
must surely know something is up, since over several months, we sold back about
twenty boxes of books (the hardest part of the streamlining process!). But I
also know that people who happen to see me at Title Wave, Bear Tooth, or Carrs
all this autumn may be confused.
You know how hard it is to decide when to tell people you’re
writing a book? Or trying to sell a book?
self-motivation (I’m going to finish this
thing!), community support, sometimes unexpected or serendipitous assistance,
the general joy of sharing the ups and downs of a long and uncertain process.
The cons of sharing: Wait,
you’re still working on that thing you were writing last year/ten years
ago/back in graduate school? Or: No
agent/editor is biting? Oh. (Cue funereal sound effects.) Or any version
of: What are you working on? Still that?
I had finished a first draft of a novel, my own mother misunderstood and wrote
back along the lines of, “Congrats on getting published.” It surprised me that I
needed to explain after all these years that finishing an early draft and
getting a book in the bookstore are not the same thing. At best, there’s a
two-year lag between those events, and at worst, there’s no connection at all.
Alas, traveling can be the same way: unpredictable, complex,
with a long lead time.
several years ago, feeling like we’d started reverting to a risk-averse, less
purposeful life, only exaggerated by the recession. In March 2012, we committed
to a long trip in a family meeting. We started telling people, perhaps a few
months later, saying that we planned to de-enroll our teen daughter from public
high school (she couldn’t wait and is the most eager member of our three-member
team) and travel beginning in mid-2013. We didn’t want to overtalk it, but nor
did we want to keep secrets.
There were a few things to get out of the way first: two
graduate degrees to finish (my husband and I both went back to school in our
40s), a summer residency, several job assignments, working extra hours to pay
for extra expenses to come, making more headway on a novel-in-progress that has
nothing to do with the upcoming trip. All of 2013 was spent doing minor repairs
and purging our belongings—twenty years of family mementos and clutter,
including boxes after boxes of book and article research as well as college and
grad school academic files (pre-Internet!) as well as endless homeschool
projects, thousands of childhood drawings, old baby clothes and toys stored
just in case. I’d always put off cleaning out a closet or desk drawer;
cleaning out much of my adult past was nearly overwhelming. Only in mid-July was
there enough “free” time to do the hardest stuff. Day after day, evening after
evening, weekend after weekend. A different Craigslist furniture ad or garage
sale or trip to the recycling center or trip to the dump—over and over.
doubly spoken for, in many cases) that when Brian was invited to go salmon
dipnetting for a few days, I went into a minor panic, having already spent many
weeks cleaning and repairing mostly solo while he was occupied with job- and
graduate school-related in-state travel.
I’ve spent hours each week for over a year learning the ins
and outs of foreign EFL job-seeking. Our house officially listed today. One
storage shed is almost full. We’re still re-homing a dog, which has taken
longer than expected. We might be in Alaska for many months yet. We might
travel between Alaska and the Lower 48 several times before we head for more
exotic terrain. (Yes, officially, Alaska will remain our home base, and it’s
where we’ll return at the end of our travels, and if we decide to come back
repeatedly over the course of a year, then darn yes, we’ll do that.) One of our
highest priorities, even before crossing the big Pacific, is to catch up with
family in the Lower 48 and Canada. We have two close family members dealing
with long-term illnesses. A nephew we’ve never met. Another nephew we haven’t
seen in five years. One reason we wanted a flexible year, with no mortgage to
pay, is that we wanted the freedom to catch up with people we love in lots of
We want to see Asia. It’s another very expensive hop, but we’d
really like to see Africa. We want to swim with whale sharks and sea turtles,
struggle to communicate in several foreign tongues, try surfing, see places
that inspired George Orwell and Somerset Maugham and Barbara Kingsolver and
Paul Theroux, eat and cook unfamiliar foods, maybe rise above ancient temples
in a hot-air balloon, maybe kayak along the Southeast Asia coast, teach and
volunteer in several educational settings, learn more than we teach, be
endlessly surprised, and remind ourselves that we don’t need so much stuff—practically
close to nothing at all—to be happy.
But most of all, we want to take it just one step at a time.
So when people ask for our itinerary, we toss out a few country names (sure, we’ve
been reading about specific countries, temp-teaching job markets, and visas, ad
nauseum), but an itinerary gives the wrong impression. For at least a year, we
don’t want to live according to a plan. We want to reorient every few months.
We want to break our own rules, most of all.
like writing a book. There can’t be a strict outline, or an itinerary, or a
ask you what your novel or memoir is about, you want to tell them – you want to
share—but in your heart you know that there’d better be surprises ahead, for
the reader and for the writer.
likely, but one never knows!—Toronto in early October.