Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best Idea We Ever Had

Capitol Reef National Park? Seriously, who knew such a place existed? Okay, maybe you did, but I was oblivious until now.

Capitol Reef Natural Bridge hike.

Capitol Reef is the third Utah National Park we've explored in the last couple of weeks--and I'm now convinced that Utah is a national treasure.

Fremont Indian petroglyphs, about 1,000 years old (in Capitol Reef).

I'm no longer under the spell of only Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Yes, those three are fantastic. But there is so much more to see--and fewer summer crowds in other places.

Zion National Park is incredible. My favorite aspect is all the water. Get really hot on a hike or bike ride? Jump in the river! There are a zillion swimming spots. Or you can hike The Narrows, walking through water for miles--and stopping for a plunge in one of the many swimming holes.

The Narrows

Before leaving Zion, we drove around the back side into Kolob Canyon and took a hike with awe-inspiring views.

Kolob beauty.

Then we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park, first spending a night in Cedar City, Utah.

When we were checking in to the adorable Big Yellow Inn B&B, the owner told us a Shakespeare Festival was taking place a block away. And that night, tickets were two-for-one.

I'd had no idea that this festival has been taking place at Southern Utah University since my birth year, 1962. We had two choices that night and picked Sondheim's "Into the Woods" over Shakespeare (sorry Willie). Dave and I were amazed how the actors flawlessly sang so many complicated lyrics. Even though the play ran three hours, we enjoyed it. (Serendipitously, we discovered that the film version is being released this Christmas starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp.)

Bryce was visually incredible. I was Verklempt by its grandeur.

In Bryce, it's hard to believe nature creates such things.

This time of year, the weather in Southwest Utah is dramatic. Bright blue mornings often precede dramatic thunderstorms in the afternoons or early evenings.

Sunset, with moonrise, out the window of our room near Capitol Reef.

Wallace Stegner called the National Parks "the best idea we ever had." Indeed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Home is Here

Mark and Dave biking in Zion.

Last night as we sat under the stars in Zion, a friend asked:

"What's it like to live without a house? When I'm on a trip, I love traveling, but I always reach a point where I look forward to going home. Then I enjoy being back in my familiar surroundings, involved in my rituals."

I turned to Dave, curious how he'd answer. He talked about the mindset of living on the road. We didn't leave with the expectation that we'd return. So it's about being at home wherever we are.

In our year on the road, whenever I feel that yearning for "home," I get curious about it. What, exactly, am I wanting? A sense of peace, perhaps. So I can provide that to myself wherever we are--by getting still, by breathing, by feeling my body from the inside out. That might involve sprawling on the couch, listening to music, taking a mindful walk, meditating--or eating popcorn! It's up to me to soothe myself. It's up to me to, as Dave said, be at home wherever I am.

Hanging out with friends old and new in the Virgin River.

It also means embracing life as a journey. We aren't on vacation. We aren't driven to see and experience all the highlights of wherever we are. We enjoy our surroundings best by exploring new places without worrying about "missing something"--and we balance activity with downtime. The journey is the point.

Right now we are in Zion, Utah in a house with almost twenty people spread over three generations. Mark, a longtime friend of Dave's, leased a place for a week and invited us. He said there might be some others--but we hadn't realized we were walking into the open arms of a family reunion! I feel like we are at camp. In just three days, we've bonded with this awesome group by exploring the amazing national park, cooking, and talking and laughing for hours. Last night was a big dance party late into the night. We cleared the living room of furniture, and Mark--who's a DJ--played the music, complete with laser lights!

Once again, connections with people and nature have become central to our lives.

Before coming to Zion, we spent some time in the L.A. area with friends.

Huck Finn Bluegrass Jubilee
With Jude, Melissa and Reggie

With Ricardo, Dave's friend since the 1980s--and Cecelia and Charlie

Paul and the boys

All this socializing was punctuated by some time with just the two of us in Big Bear. We rented a great cabin on Airbnb.

I'd never before been on a ski lift in the summer, but we took it up, with our bikes dangling on the chair in front of us.

Then we rode down the mountain!

(and sometimes walked )
We also visited the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, which rescues and rehabilitates wild animals. It was incredible to be so close to a grizzly...

and a mountain lion.

We also stopped in Sedona for a few days, where we stayed at another Airbnb place and hiked to the four reputed vortexes.

They are beautiful spots. But I didn't feel more "vortexy" there. Just another reminder that spiritual energy--like home--is there for you whenever you want it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mahalo, Maui

 This is the path we walked up and down every day on Maui...

... while we lived here...

 ...the house of our friend Christine. She built it thirty years ago. Solar powered, the house has a compost toilet, an outdoor shower, and an open air kitchen.

The only noise you hear are birds and the rushing creek with waterfall, seen from the living room window:

Pineapple, avocado, banana and payapa grow abundantly.

There was a house cat named Dora...

a house gecko...

and a house spider ...

...who fortunately lived outside. A crafty arachnid, she spun her web in a spot where bugs flocked to our lit-up window at night.

Here's our generous host, Christine, with her boyfriend Kenny. We hadn't known each other well before coming to Maui. But now after spending two magical weeks together, they feel like our soul siblings. We also fell in love with Kenny's dogs, Lucy and Roxie.

Christine and Kenny are kick-ass strong. At age 68, they swim miles every week. Being a merman and a mermaid ourselves, Dave and I swam almost every day. At Twin Falls, we experienced this:


Other days, we swam and snorkeled in the ocean, floating around with fish and huge sea turtles. One day we drove the road to Hana and hiked out to this mind-blowing spot, Red Sand Beach...

...where Dave captured my synchronized swimming maneuver, a ballet leg:

We hiked through bamboo forests...

 ...and around the other-worldly Haleakala Crater...

where we were so high....

...we were above the clouds.

 It just so happened that Dave's college buddy, Craig, and his three kids were on Maui too.


We spent a couple of fun days with them that included swimming, snorkeling...

and the best fish tacos ever:

One day, Christine and Kenny took us on the ferry to Lanai, where we swam for more than two hours way way way off shore.

The water looks placid in this picture, but it was wild and wavy and infinitely deep--punctuated by serene, surreal ultra blue landscapes. Confetti of fish, sculptural coral.

At moments I thought, "What the hell am I, a land mammal, doing all the way out here? Will my feet ever touch Mother Earth again?" Salt water seeped into my snorkel. I wished for gills.

The fish swayed with the surges, reminding me to release to the ocean's power. I thought about the woman in Swimming to Antarctica who swims for days in the worlds's coldest waters without a wetsuit. I thought of Diana Nyad's amazing achievements. I watched Dave and our friends plowing through the surf, no land in sight.

I thought about how land and sea are yin and yang, overlapping like life and death, one not possible without the other. For hours afterward the motion of the sea stayed with us, a kind of dizziness not unlike my post-brain surgery vertigo. I thought of it like Mother Earth gently rocking us in a cradle. 

We are, after all, her children.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Goodbye, Hello

What's left.

For people who supposedly "got rid of everything" last year to live a life on the road, we still had lots of stuff. Our stalwart and kind friend, Mark, let us keep it in his garage. Who knew what our nomadic ways would lead to? Maybe we'd return to Northern California to nest again. Maybe our traveling ways would turn out to be merely a migration.

And now we are owners of almost nothing.

We have Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our blue Subaru. Two suitcases of clothes. A mermaid costume. Shampoo. Skis. A partially-built casita in Mexico. And a few boxes of kitchen stuff for when we head down there.

It's the first time in my life that I haven't owned mountains of books--or boxes of old letters, journals and photos.

I have one task: To finish sifting through the last box of journals.

I started keeping a diary in third grade. So many words on thousands of pages! I'm taking pictures of some of the pages I want to "keep"--and tearing out one here and there, stashing them in a file. Then I thank that journal and release it into the recycle bin.

It's been a time-traveling experience for Dave and me as we've revisited all these things that have been with us for so many years. It's been profound, bittersweet and freeing as we've let go of everything: each letter, picture, object.

So many people's lives have touched mine in 51 years. As I read, I accept it all, bless it all: Words written to me (and by me) that are funny, kind, compassionate, perturbed, unsettled, angry, joyous, reconciling, affectionate, informative. All of it meant to connect. All of it is part of who I am today.

It somehow feels like the natural order to release these things on the heels of having finished my memoir. 

The memoir.

Every goodbye is a hello. At the yard sale, friends and former students dropped by. Since we've been mostly away from the Bay Area for a year, it was lovely to see everyone. We also met a bunch of Mark's neighbors.

Most everyone left with an object, a piece of us. I love how people are weaving into their lives bits of ours.

By the end of the day, when almost everything was gone, people stood around chatting and drinking cold beer, while little kids--wrapped our feather boas and Mardi Gras beads--raced around the lawn.

We stuffed the remaining odds and ends into boxes on the curb. I posted them for free on Craiglist, and within an hour a woman hauled them away in her truck.

In the release of the old, space is created for the new. What's up next, world?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Opening to my memoir proposal: Thoughts, comments welcome!

“You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.”   - Walt Whitman

Two months after my husband and I left home to live on the road, I awoke in the grips of a seizure. Terrified, I thought I was dying. The diagnosis of a brain tumor seemingly came at a horrible time: It was our first year wedding anniversary, and we had no home. 

But soon this “medical adventure” became another part of our incredible journey. I was learning how to accept and learn from what life doled out. This story frames my memoir, illuminating other life experiences: the deaths of my parents and mentor, my search for sexual freedom, my struggles with finding the right paths as a writer and teacher, my developing sense of spirituality, the power of the mind, my life as a lesbian activist, the traumatic ending of my fifteen-year relationship to a woman, and my transition to loving men. 

The Footholds Will Appear: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit and Travel is a 160,000 word memoir about one woman’s search for an empowered, authentic life. Reflecting the nonlinear nature of time, the story is told non-chronologically, woven together by the thematic threads of love (spouses, family and friends), sex (erotic explorations and body consciousness), spirit (mortality and metaphysical encounters), and travel (various international locales). The book is peppered with photographs and evocative quotes from Walt Whitman to Ray Charles, from Dr. Wayne Dyer to Dr. Seuss.

The Footholds Will Appear will appeal to people who’ve dreamed about chucking it all and living a traveling life. Recently an explosion of books and blogs has chronicled those who live nomadically. Of course there is a long tradition of celebrating the open road, from Whitman to Keroauc to Bill Bryson. Books by traveling women have been big hits of late, all of which resonate with my memoir—books such as Eat Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Wild.

Each of these books emphasizes the physical voyage as a transformational journey. That is another audience for Footholds: those interested in personal transformation, happiness, spirituality and consciousness. In that way, Footholds resonates with books like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, Wayne Dyer’s I Can See Clearly Now, and Anita Moorjani’s Dying to Be Me

Dyer’s and Moorjani’s books speak to another sub-category of interest: Those who have survived life-threatening illnesses, emerging with a greater sense of spirituality and life purpose. While neo-spirituality books are hot, most are self-help. Footholds reveals life lessons through stories, illustrating how one woman put theories about deliberate living into practice.

Another subcategory of interest is sexuality. Memoirs by Jeanette Winterson and Alison Bechdel may be the closest to Footholds in terms of mining lesbian content. With same-sex marriage so much in the news, my book will draw attention because it depicts both a lesbian marriage and divorce. However, Footholds is different (and likely to be more controversial) because it portrays sexuality as fluid—and lesbian culture and relationships as rife with conflict as any other. Discussions of bisexuality and sexual changeability are getting more attention these days, as in Lisa M. Diamond’s Sexual Fluidity and via the Bisexual Book Awards (for which I served as a judge). 

Many readers are writers themselves, or aspire to be so. And many are teachers. The portrayal of literary and academic life in Footholds will draw these readers as well.