Dizzy: A Confessional Glimpse into Life on the Road (Forgive Me)

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I would like to take this moment to open a moderately frazzled view into the logistics of life on the road for two years. My readers know that I rarely “blog about blogging” and I rarely “rant about writing.” But occasionally it’s important to pull back the mask and offer a little perspective. Deep breath. Here goes. Are you with me? I won’t blame you if you’re not. But if you’re curious about this journey, you might wish to read on.
I will begin by confessing the following: I am tired. I will also add: I have no regrets. Sometimes, when people stop to ask me about the giant banner on my car and I tell them I’m travelling across the country for 2 years attending writing residencies and fellowships, a quaint smile forms across their faces. “Oh that’s nice,” some say. “How’d you get that gig?”
How I “got the gig”—which is self-designed, incidentally—was by ferociously applying to every residency and fellowship that paid/had scholarships/didn’t cost money that I could find in the United States. Then I waited. And agonized. And scheduled and planned, and acquired additional letters of rec and filled out additional applications and then one day, 13 months ago, I loaded up my car and (thanks Dad!) drove 1200 miles to northern Michigan to begin the tour. I left 17 boxes of books, the contents of my kitchen, musical instruments, and a handful of other things in my parent’s attic. Everything else I own fits into my Volvo station wagon. Since then I’ve travelled 20,000 domestic air miles and 8,000 nomadic non-commuter Volvo miles in 13 months (and counting). During that time I’ve written and had readings in 5 different residency locations, published 11 short stories, and won 4 literary prizes. It’s invigorating and exhausting all at once, but I wouldn’t possibly be where I am today without the deep immersions into my writing that these residencies have afforded.
As spring approaches, I have another series of decisions to make. Welcome to the continuous loop playing in my brain. Another deep breath:
I’m done at Fishtrap by April 23rd. I need to be in Michigan at Interlochen College April 29th-May 1st to teach. For this I will be paid $600 plus $xxx (?) travel. I did not receive the fully funded fellowship to Ragdale Foundation, but I did receive a substantial scholarship and they have invited me to come from May 5-18th for $162 total (includes room, board, studio, & internet access). Ragdale is 5 hours south of Interlochen College, enabling me to leave Oregon, drive to Michigan (breaking even on travel costs), get paid, and use that money for Ragdale and bills.
Next, My famous-poet-friend in Santa Cruz, CA would like a house sitter from May 17th-26th and I could sure use a healthy dose of sunshine right now. I’ve been in snow country since Alaska, which was 7 months ago (with the exception of October, which as readers will remember was spent in dreamy Southern Pines, NC). I could fly from Chicago to Cali for $300 and leave my car at my friend’s house in Evanston, IL. But when May 26th rolls around, I’ll have 3 weeks to kill before I’m needed back in Michigan to teach again—that time for a 10-week stint. What do I do in between? If I backpack anywhere, I want it to be on the west side of the Rockies but I’m not willing to drive all the way back across the continental divide (again) from Chicago. And I’m not going to couch surf for 3 weeks because, as dreamy as that sounds, gas and food are the 2 most expensive commodities in my life right now and those expenses will add up fast.
Meantime, Fishtrap has invited me to STAY ON and pilot the Union County Writer-in-Residence program (while living in free housing in Joseph—still in Wallowa County). It’s a huge compliment! I would travel to the schools just one day per week to Union County and I would be reimbursed for my gas expenses and wear and tear on my car. I would also get a stipend similar to the one I’m getting now. But if I do this, I have to fly to Michigan to teach on April 29th and tickets are about $600 (Conveniently that exact amount of my paycheck for the teaching—so I’d break even once you count the gas costs of driving 300 miles to Portland and back to make the flight? Hmmm. Not enticing.) I also have to say “no” to the prestigious Ragdale Foundation. Also not good. Staying on does, however, solve the problem of the “empty 3 weeks.”
Dizzy yet? Me too. The above mind-mess deals with logistics: income, miles on the road, professional relationships, and career opportunities. It does not address matters of the heart and spirit. I’m weary of public schools right now, because I loathe teaching in any environment where I feel limited in my abilities to do the best job I know how to do. I can teach my heart out in Wallowa County schools, but there will always be some framework, some structure, some punish/reward psychology that the kids are getting ingrained into them that my humble, teensy, 60-minute contribution can simply never undo. When I know I can do a better job than the one I’m allowed to do, I grow slowly and deeply depressed, which is the short version of what my last few weeks here have felt like. It’s beautiful. It’s rich in culture. It’s amazing. And yet, and yet, and yet…
What do I need next on the tour? What will most support my writing life and the generation of new material? I am not motivated solely by income opportunities. I am not motivated solely by career activities. I am motivated, though, by the right environment and the right conditions to feed the writing life. Where will I find those conditions next? I have to choose wisely, because my 10-week stint in Michigan this summer involves part-time teaching. I don’t want to teach too much. I did that for 5 years (about 5 years ago) and nearly destroyed myself while standing. It was the truest experience of boundaries and human limits I’ve experienced in my entire life.
I need to shake the branches. I need to unearth. I need to keep everything alive. Can I do that and “stay on”? Will springtime in these mountains that lured me for so many years be just the anecdote I need?
Showing 3 comments
  • Katherine

    Don't forget about the all important girls camping trip! Camp Boy eagerly awaits your return… But good luck with your decision making!

  • Kyle Lang


    I stuck with you the whole way! I don't envy your decisions. I'm sure it is dizzying. I'll support you all the way, either way, though.

  • Mendy (Hillpoet)

    You are asking all the (w)right questions, Katey. Stay with them. Look around some more. Remember to think outside the box, no matter how big it is. Sounds to me like you need something totally different for a moment. The time in Santa Cruz will help give you some perspective I believe. Love ya, Mendy

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