Tuesday, June 30, 2009

on the open road part III (or on sleeping on the couches of strangers)

I just walked back inside through the screen door of this brilliantly-Californian evening. I took a stroll down a lane lined with palm trees, took off my sunglasses and let the sun hit my face. I stepped foward. I gave myself a moment to inhale slowly, to look around, and fully realize how beautiful I have allowed my life become.

It is beautiful, isn't it?

The last few weeks have been a montage of amazing memories that all seem to flow into one lovely chapter of my life... a chapter I have no desire to put a conclusion to. So I won't. It can only continue. People dream of travel and far-off places, of Italy, Brasil, Morocco... and being one of those dreamers myself, I can understand. But I'm starting to realize the depth and beauty of what is not so far-off in the first place. Who knew so many amazing people were within this half of the U.S.? And ones that wanted to meet me? And that I want to meet too? Who knew I would feel like such a dramatically different and free woman after only three or four weeks on the road? Who knew that I would find friends and relationships that would change me, would challenge me, would move me and that would provide for me when life on the road got rough?

The deeper I delve into CouchSurfing, the more I find how much of a family we are, how connected we all are. The reason? Most people aren't okay with that type of openness, that type of trust and adventure. Most people get uncomfortable with newness or with accepting how safe something like this could be if you use it with caution and correctly. As a result? Most people on CouchSurfing are some of the most amazing and experienced that you will ever meet. All the ones that wouldn't fit are weeded out by default. Which is not to say there isn't diversity within the community. I have met mothers, fathers, elderly, the newly-graduated, the homeless, the rich, the well-travelled, the well-read, the uneducated, the wise... the list goes on. I have met atheists,Protestants, liberals, conservatives, introverts and extroverts. I have partied hearty with hosts and I have just as happily rested in silence.

The point is that I am learning to be me, to be Dayna. To embracing this adventure without plans, without much money, without an agenda of where to go or see things... and it is completely changing me. To being okay with things and knowing it will work out when your ride takes off, or you're stuck in San Francisco, or you run out of money in Santa Cruz. To shedding things that I don't need and that don't define me. Who needs materialism and cute clothes that were made in Indonesia by sweatshop kids anyway? Who needs to spend an hour getting ready to know they are beautiful? (Not to say that I don't love cute clothes or going out and looking nice, but I am just realizing I can survive without it WAY more easily than I thought possible.) I am finding freedom in letting go, in realizing how little I need to get by, how easy it is to give away or recycle clothes that just make your backpack heavier along the way anyway, and might make somebody's day. You never know til you try.

What I'm learning most, even if you can't tell from this post, is that I know nothing. I know nothing! I thought I knew a lot. But I know what I know, which is so little. I thought I needed to travel the world to feel this content (not that I still don't want to, I'm stoked to be abroad again). I thought I needed to go to far-off lands to satisfy my thirst for travel and new faces. But let's hop back to one thing I said earlier: "fully realize how beautiful I have ALLOWED my life to become."

Allowed. It is up to me, and has always been up to me. It's always been up to me to wake up in the morning and say "this may just be the best day of my life, so I'm going to make sure I do my best to let that happen." Doesn't always work. But it almost always makes me grin in knowing it's quite possible, and if I try to MAKE it possible, it's way more likely to happen. If there is rain, dance in it. If there is a headache, curse at it but know it will go away soon. If there is sunshine, take a walk in it. If there is lightning, check out how crazy beautiful it is (then run away). Take Today and breathe in it, spit on it, swim in it, fall in love with it... just be there.

Be present in your own life. Be THE factor that decides if your day is going to be wonderful and good. That's not to say hard days won't come, or times won't get rough. But if there is one thing I was meant to learn - and have learned - on this trip, it is that.

Feeling very accomplished with this novel, I am signing out. Presently. Ha.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

on kurt and saying goodbye

You are deeper than the sea.

More complex, more God damn difficult,
more full of mystery and more profound
than words could ever know.
I like it that way. I do.

You drive with your eyes unfocused
until I steal a smile
when you catch me staring.
Your tattoo peeks at me from under your sleeve,
your arm tanned from our day on the beach
and the drive from Reno.

I like to look at you when you are serious
when I know you are thinking
-and likely worrying-
about money or your next pack of cigarettes
or where we will sleep tonight.

You are one of the few, you know.

One of the few that is real and true,
one who doesn’t waste words like so many people do.
You pick and choose, you don’t fill empty space with empty ideas,
and you aren’t afraid or intimidated by Silence.

Your New York accent draws a smile in the morning,
and I twirl your hair in my fingers and repeat after you.
It’s not coffee. It’s caw-fee.

You wince.

I’ll be missing you, but I think you know that.
I will miss your eyes, and the way they shine green
like emeralds.
Or something green like that.

I will miss looking left from the passenger side
and tracing your profile with mountains as backdrops
and open roads ahead.
But this is life, and life is an open road in itself.

Open roads are what connected us to begin with,
winding their way through our claustrophobic souls
until we screamed out loud to be nomads,
to live nowhere and everywhere;
to dumpster diving in Santa Cruz
and dreaming of painting curbsides in black numbers.

You will always have the road, and the road
could always lead you back to me.
Regardless, it led you TO me.
It is what it is.
For that, and for you, I am thankful.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

on the open road part II

June 21, 2009

It’s been eleven days since I wrote. Several times I have sat down with the intention of writing, but it’s so hard to spell out your heart in black and white when all you have seen is color and mountains and bodies of water passing you by out the passenger window. It’s hard to explain love in a language that is not embraces, smiles, or warm faces and hearts. But I will try.

Camping in Fairplay was life-changing. I knew this trip in itself would be, but I wasn’t sure in what way, or how it would come about, or who I would meet on the way and why. But as the days have passed me by the last two weeks, I have known nothing but laughter and fresh faces, new stories and mental snapshots to take with me.

I felt a sense of Utopia, an overshadowing feeling that in the midst of three hundred other people in the wilderness, I was special. I was important. And it wasn’t in a pompous way, or a conceited way, but you knew you were loved and wanted by everyone around you, and everyone wanted to know your name. There were no handshakes, there were embraces. There were no barriers or roadblocks to getting to know one another. It was like we had been on the road together the whole time to begin with.

I would wake up every morning to a community breakfast of thirty to forty people, offering blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit, eggs, bagels… it was as if nothing and everything belonged to me at the same time. People would wander into the camp, give us a hug in the morning, offer us whatever they had. It was a sense of community, togetherness and love, more so than any gathering or church service or group of friends I have ever experienced in this lifetime. There was love instead of hate. There was an overwhelming peace regardless of the storm in the world around us.

For me there were difficult moments as well as the sweet, which is to be expected with the way I bounce my heart around like a beach ball sometimes. But even in the brokenness there was something beautiful. If tears were shed, there were people that would find you, somehow, and just sit with you. No words to fill empty spaces, no false promises or superficial comfort. They would hold you, they would smile, and they would be there.

There was much that happened, so much beauty with a drop or two of pain, that I fear words won’t be enough this time. But I don’t want to forget the way that we loved for those five days. We were strangers but the closest of friends at the same time.

What I walked away with is, I’m sure, the reason I came on this trip. I walked away with a sense and a completely real awareness of myself. It was like I had been blind for so long, and the curtains opened and I realized how loved I am. How fun it is to be around me sometimes. How beautiful I am, regardless of popularity or repute. How talented I am as a musician, and how I have been wasting that gift for far too long. How I have the ability – if I use it – to draw people together and help facilitate new friendships and relationships.

I walked away being Dayna, without apologies, without doubts, without self-consciousness or fear. For the first time in a long time, I was so proud to be Dayna that I wanted to scream out loud from the rooftops, and declare that I was free. I wanted to open my arms up to this great big world and thank it for reintroducing me to my soul.

So I did.

Monday, June 15, 2009

on the open road thusfar part I

June 6th, 2009
I packed up. I finished work. And then I set out.

It was raining, and as Josh and I pulled the Rodeo out of Moscow I was beginning to wonder if this journey would be as beautiful as I had been hoping and expecting. I began to doubt the purpose, began to wonder why it is that I feel a road trip at this point in my life would set me free, would make me more alive and awake. The clouds felt dark, and I still harbored a bit of excitement in between my nerves and my exhaustion, but it was overcast slightly in my soul as I thought of all that could go wrong.

At the precise moment that we rolled down the hill leaving Pullman, the sun broke through the clouds and the skies began to clear. It may be cliché that we compare our emotions and our moods to the weather, to the sunshine and the rain. But at that moment in time, at 7:23 pm, the sun washed me in light and I bathed in it and took it all in. I cleared my mind and began to realize that I could choose to make this journey wonderful regardless of circumstance.

One thing that my mother is beginning to learn and teach to me is the art of being present in the moment that you are in. To fully realize yourself, right now. To take the moment and talk with it, roll it around in your mind like a flavor on your tongue, and taste the bitter with the sweet. I resolved that this would be the focus of my road trip. I would look forward to camping in Colorado, but it would not be the highlight. Every moment would be the highlight. I wouldn’t waste today being excited about tomorrow or worrying about how to get where I needed to go.

I would embrace childlike wonder, fall in love with the open roads, the mountains, and the dozens of people I would meet on the way. I would meet with this vast and beautiful world, and reintroduce myself.

So I let the sun shine on my face, and watched the clouds come back a moment later, but in that moment I knew. I would learn more in these two weeks, with these friends I didn’t know a month ago, than I have in a very long time.

I smiled and watched the world behind me disappear into the rearview mirror.

June 7th, 2009

I couldn’t sleep last night.

Josh and I pulled into Gerene’s parking lot sometime around nine or ten, the Rodeo packed to the roof in both the trunk and the backseat. We stayed up late, exhaling. This was it. This was really going to happen. I tossed and turned once we finally decided to call it a night, knowing that this was the day that all I had saved up for and planned was really going to pay off.

And today, we drove.

Gerene and I took off in the Subaru, with Josh close behind in the beloved Rodeo. We watched the rolling hills grow into mountains; we saw the beauty and the wonder instead of the destination or the miles. I spent the good half of an hour with my window down, throwing my hand out into the wind like I did when I was younger, letting myself be amazed by the physics and the way all of this works.

Beyond the scenery, there was also depth and conversation. I met Gerene one time before yesterday, and I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that we were meant to be friends. We were meant to take this journey together. The more I continue to learn about my new friends, the more deeply I believe this.

Gerene is beautiful. I don’t think she realizes how beautiful she is, or how heads turn when she walks past, but to be honest, her heart puts her lovely face to shame. She is deep and introspective, while somehow managing to be one of the most hilarious and generous people I’ve ever met. I’ve learned that she lost someone this year to suicide, someone who captivated her and made her whole. Gerene shared much of this story with me, and while some stories get old, I was fascinated by the strength in her heart and her desire to find out who she really is in the midst of this storm. This strength and desire is what drove her to answer my request for a carpool to Colorado in the first place, within just an hour of me posting it on the internet. I am moved by her, as I am moved by her story and her passion for writing and sharing.

Josh and I were instant friends when we met at the CouchSurfing barbecue that I planned, not even a month ago now. He is a self-proclaimed extrovert in the making, and has used our get-togethers as a way for him to be in situations that will stretch him and challenge him. I have completely fallen in love with his personality and who we are as friends, me letting him know that he should be himself more often, because he is a great guy, with a huge heart to offer anyone he calls friend. That’s when he gives me the look and tells me that when he tries not be awkward ‘things just get more awkward.’ It took me most of two weeks to convince him that he should skip a week of summer classes to come on a grand adventure with our new friend Gerene, who eventually made it down from Spokane to a CouchSurfing game night at my place.

During the two weeks planning the road trip, I found out that Josh recently lost a brother in a tragic accident. I drew a blank, speechless, moved beyond words by what he told me next. Josh wants to make the most of his life, wants to meet new people and hear their stories. He wants to learn to love being around people and learn to be himself in the process. He’s doing it for his brother. It’s what he would have wanted. Josh brought some of his brother’s ashes with us, and they sit between us on the consol of the Rodeo, every now and then reminding me how beautiful it is to be here and to be experiencing and breathing in this journey.

I know we have all loved and lost, and that this in itself ties us all together. But I never want to grow numb to stories, to open hearts and the opportunity to be a listening ear. I feel so challenged by these new amazing friends, by their openness and their willingness to transform what is ugly into something beautiful and life-changing. In turn, they are changing me.

Yes, there is music up loud, and sometimes we roll our windows down and let the wind play in our hair and over our faces. But there is a strong current of the Something Deeper that we were meant to find on this trip.

We arrived in Bozeman in the late afternoon, and our host Rose Marie greeted us with a barbecue and new friends. We met a couple from Switzerland, and a few other locals who made for great conversation over a burgers and pork ribs. We made our way to the local tavern to listen to Open Mic night. I got up onstage alone for the first time in years, and played and sang my heart out at a dive bar in the middle of Montana, with all of my new friends at a table nearby cheering me on.

Everyone went crazy, clapping and wanting more. It wasn’t their attention that made me so filled with joy, but the fact that I was doing something I loved and that complete strangers were loving it with me. I sat around afterwards, conversing with two nomadic musicians who play punk music and live on the road. One of them had several huge dreadlocks, but only in the front. Once you saw past them, there were deep and soulful brown eyes, and I could tell his heart was like mine… open, and ready for that Something Deeper.

I think we all are.

June 8th, 2009

Today’s drive seemed longer and more drawn-out than usual. The Bozeman group kept us up late with good music and conversation, so our sleep was fleeting and we woke up early to get started on today’s leg of our journey to Casper, Wyoming, about six hours away.

We picked up Seth this morning in Bozeman, another CouchSurfer who needed a ride to the campout in Colorado. He is reserved but insightful, and I think he’s a great addition to the group. I rode in the Rodeo with Josh for awhile, and in between singing along with some great music by Sublime and conversation, I had a lot of time to think.

We saw three rainbows today. I actually think it was the same rainbow, just from different angles, as it rose up and disappeared into the clouds that were hovering low to the ground. I chuckled at the clichés I always seem to come up with… we saw both ends of the same rainbow. We saw both ends of one story, both sides of the coin, regardless of what was in between. I hope that after this trip I am more well-rounded and aware, having heard more stories and opinions, more sides of the story than just mine. Maybe someday I’ll see the whole metaphorical rainbow, but I doubt it… I think life is about continuing to learn always.

We made it to Casper to our host Christine’s house tonight. She is a sweet lady with an adorable four year old named Christian. Christine, dubbed ‘Chris,’ is a travelling nurse. She has travelled the world, and has many stories for us. We were Chris’s first guests using CouchSurfing, and I was amazed that for her first time hosting she agreed to take in four of us. I am being constantly amazed by the grace and hospitality of our hosts along the way… I can imagine that this will only continue the farther we get in our journey.

June 9th, 2009

Oh the glory of sleeping in.

Christine let us stay in her home even after she left for work this morning, and showing that kind of trust to the four of us really humbled me. I’m not even sure I would be that trusting, especially as a woman who lives alone as a single mom. She was the perfect host, offering us anything she had to give, even though we really needed very little. She was one of those people you feel you could learn so much from, but just don’t have the time. We have to keep moving on…

I am typing this on the open road, while we cross the border into Colorado, headed for Denver tonight. We woke up to sunshine, and the ability to sleep in, which has proved to be VERY necessary to have a successful and happy day on the road. We took our time, lingering in Chris’s living room and checking our email, reading the books we brought with us, Josh doing homework to make up for the entire week of class he’s missing to come with us. I sat on top of the Subaru and ate half of a grapefruit, watching the clouds roll by and waiting for our caravan to finish preparing for take-off, so to speak.

We piled in, stopping to grab a couple cheap hot dogs at a convenience store to tide us over until we make it to Denver. Gerene and I found a great 80’s and 90’s mix, and danced in the car while the boys followed us in the Rodeo, probably wondering what the hell was going on up there. Gerene and I have decided that after the campout we will likely head to Arizona, then on to visit my sister in Los Angeles, heading up the West Coast for our route home. I’m excited to find a kindred spirit as free and wanderlust-filled as mine. We will drive. We will eventually make it home when we run out of money.

That’s all we know, and we like it that way.

We dressed in summer clothes, as it was hot this morning, but two hours into our journey, along the Wyoming/Colorado border we watched the storm come at us from the horizon, getting some amazing lightning from a distance, then eventually getting pelted by rain so heavy we had to pull off the interstate and wait it out.

We’re an hour outside of Denver now, and I can see the Rockies creeping closer through the clouds, their immensity too large for me to begin to understand. I see the snow on the peaks, the blue sky in the background, and signs letting us know our destination is coming soon… at least the destination for today.

The campout is tomorrow, and I feel far from prepared to sleep at 9,600 feet in the freezing cold in the Rockies. But that's okay. I'm sure it will be great.