Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

01 March, 2017

Water Gears

For an artist, a good place to be is you have some kind of influence and power to get things done, but in your essence you remain a nomad or a soldier facing a difficulty to be overcome. - Cai Guo-Qiang

This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.- Jack Kerouac


The night before last, my wife asked me if I missed being out on the road more. It's sort of a complicated question to answer because, well, I do miss being out on the road, but when I am out I miss my life here.

Leave it to a Piscean to muddy up the answer to a seemingly simple question.

But, no. Really. Most of the time, I feel like I'm out of my depth as a reasonably domesticated male. I realize that most take to the sedentary life easily. As a matter of fact, I understand that most people are, by nature sedentary. The whole of modern culture has been the result of people moving to a geographic region and staying there. I get it. I really do. And it is for that reason that, most of the time, I feel completely incompetent in the face of what it is I ought to do when my natural inclinations get in the way.

It's entirely possible that the Puritan drive towards self-immolation somehow just broke down in me. I'm not discounting the possibility that some part or another in my brain wore out sometime between the age of 10 and 18. It's entirely possible that somewhere in the multi-verse ... or hell, in multiple multi-verses... there are other variations of Mick Parsons' who have settled down, gotten that regular job, settled into being a more or less content tax-payer and registered Republican (as many of the kids from my little hometown grew up to be, just like their parents before them.) But I can't seem to get the knack of living and walking through this world without feeling like I'm doing it wrong but that to try and do it the way everyone else does would be an absolute fucking disaster.

That's not to say I'm not happy. I am very happy. And on top of that, I'm very aware that of how lucky I am in that Maslow's Hierarchy sort of way.  Amanda knows this. But when she asked me whether I miss being out more, it did give me a little pause.

I do. In some ways I think I'm better when I follow the current. The universe has a funny way of depositing me somewhere that I will see or experience something worth seeing and experiencing. I felt very much at home in my own skin out on the road. That life isn't without peril, and I don't think it's for everyone. Living out isn't like going on vacation. You may have a general direction or destination in mind, but the routes are often circuitous and longer than intended. There are very few straight lines.

That is, I think, part of the appeal. That absence of straight lines.

The thing that makes it such a complicated question is that while I recognize my natural inclination to wander, the fact is I made a conscious decision to ramble less and stay home more. That's a powerful four letter word, there. Home.

And I don't mean Louisville, though I very much like living here. And I don't mean Kentucky, though I have long thought of it as a sort of sacred geography.

Home is people. Home is a person, as a matter of fact. And when she asks me if I miss being out more, I know she asks, not because she's worried about my happiness but because she knows me well enough to know that some part of me in this and undoubtedly many other multi-verses is meant to wander a pathless land.

When I'm very lucky, I get to take her with me. But even when I she isn't with me in person, she is with me, always.

This reminds me of a little of a story I wrote years ago, called, "The Ballad of Itchy Feet." As far as I know, it's never been published anywhere of note, so I might as well publish it here. Enjoy

[More of "Letters from Trumplandia" coming. Don't worry.]

The Ballad of Itchy Feet

Once there was a man without a name.  This didn’t particularly bother him.  He never needed one.  No one ever asked him who he was or what he was called; besides, he never remained in any one place long enough for it to become and issue.  His feet did his thinking for him; he traveled or stayed at their whim. When the urge to move struck him, it came as a small itch on the underside of his heels.  A man can get along in the world without a name, so long as he never lingers anywhere so long that somebody might ask for it.

Around five in the afternoon on a day in early September, he came upon a town.  The sky over the town was filled with smothering clouds that had long drowned the sun out of local memory.  Children in the town forgot what the world looked like beneath a sky full of stars.  Day and night had become topics for uninspired Sunday sermons.  The streets were filled with rusty, useless machines—as if people drove them there, forgot their purpose, then abandoned them to the elements.  The men of the town wore gray suits and stared at the sidewalk; the women struggled with chains around their ankles attached to fifty pound weights.  They only had their hands to cover themselves, and stared at the ground out of shame and the fear of being noticed.
   
The street running through town was walled in with boarded up store fronts and withering trees.  The only open shops were the apothecary and the grocer.  The former was a squinty eyed hawker of cold corn mush, old bananas, and brown bottled water that tore up everyone’s insides.  His brother, the apothecary, pandered bitter remedies that soured the townspeople’s stomachs and rotted out their teeth.
   
The man intended to continue walking through the town and away, just as he had always done.  His feet pushed him forward, and he was content in allowing them to carry him away from the men and their suits, the women and their weights, as well as the street of rusted machines.  He has walked through many such places, and one more would simply be one more.
   
Then he saw her.
   
She wasn’t bound by chains.  Her eyes shine ahead of her like forgotten stars.  She held her head up, unashamed, and was followed by a train of long, red hair.  She was in no particular hurry. As she walked down the street, she hummed a soft lullaby.  The apothecary and grocer squinted, eyed her hungrily, and growled.  They were restless, bored, and tired of being ignored.
   
For the first time, he forced his feet to stop.  She walked toward him on the street, smiling through him, her face full of forgotten sunshine.  Before meeting her on the street, he chose a name.
   
One he would tell only to her.



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11 May, 2016

Etiquette and indignity: riding the Grey Dog


[From pocket journal, 9 May 2016]

At the. Louisville Greyhound Station, waiting for the bus to Cincinnati. I know this isn't a proper jaunt, but I feel a certain mental and spiritual release just sitting here on the floor with my rucksack and the blue guitar*. [They've taken out even more seats since the last time I was here.]

The post-Derby exit crowd is still here -- the proles that no one looks for in the expensive boxes or theexclusive parties where the rich, the famous, and the rich and famous wear ugly hats, ugly ties, and take pride in urinating on the city in a most non-metaphoric fashion while making fun of the accents, the politics, AND while the city's most glamorous whores -- the mayor, the city council, and the Chamber of Commerce** -- open wide and swallow whatever the out-of-town rubes have to offer. In addition to the obvious hangovers and economic losses being nursed***, space on the buses at a premium. This means, among other things, that that Greyhound drags out the broken down cans to accommodate the crowd.

My bus is number 6222. I always look at the number. It's a habit born out of complaining. Yes, I realize it often does no good to complain when, after riding in a mostly air conditioned sardine can for 25.5 hours from Louisville Kentucky to Norfolk, that your bus driver is lost in rural Virginia. It does no good, but I do feel a little better afterwards -- especially  after listening for 2 hours as other passengers, none of whom have ever been in the state of Virginia, try and give the bus driver directions to get back on the interstate.

I know what you're thinking, Dear Friends and Readers -- GPS makes this sort of foolishness impossible.

Oh, if only that t'were true. If only.

Traveling by the Grey Dog is one of those things I often swear I'll never do again. By its very nature, it is undignified and uncomfortable. Many people lack the basic etiquette to minimize the absence of dignity and comfort. I have even written about how I will never travel by the rolling sardine can again.

But I end up doing it anyway. And this is why they always win.

This particular bus is one I'm sure I've ridden before. It used to be a nice one, too. One of the late 90's models -- seats still wide enough for a non-stick figure person (though certainly not big enough for a man of large appetites to stretch out). Plenty of room in the above head storage bins. Unlike the new buses they advertise, there is no free wifi, and there are a few electric outlets every 3 or 4 rows. It's true that the newer buses have shiny, all faux leather seats, free wifi, and plenty of electric outlets. But the seats are more narrow, there's less leg room, and the above head storage compartments are smaller and shorter.

The seat I'm sitting in is stuck in a reclined position that I have always found uncomfortable on buses. It's more slouchy than relaxed and I've slept better on the bus sitting straight up. I know this seat will not be fixed. Mine is not the only broken seat, as the seat ahead of me is also stuck in a reclined position. The young woman sitting in it, trying to master English as a Second Language with an adult ESL reader, is apparently unconcerned that her head is almost in my lap and that a jolt or a speed bump could make us far friendlier with one another than either of us wants.

These seats will not be fixed or replaced. At some point, after the engine has been taped together from all the miles and abuse, it will finish out its service somewhere in the Great Empty -- a large, square state like Iowa, Wyoming, or Montana. They send all the broken up cans out there to rust, rattle, fall apart and die like an underfed racing hound.

Yes, the buses are made to be driven into the dirt. But the inevitable entropy is driven -- pun intended -- by riders who think a bus seat is a recliner, who don't know how to use earphones, and by those who don't seem to grasp that no amount of lounging, seat hogging, and a total lack of spacial awareness makes rolling along at 55 mph in a rolling sardine can more dignified.

And moreover, the basic business model -- as far as I can tell from my vast experience riding the Grey Dog and its various geographically locked clones -- is built on a mutual acceptance of an undignified humanity. They tend to put the nicer, newer (and smaller) buses in larger markets in the northeastern seaboard and southern California. Then, once the buses get a little too used in service, they're moved to more populated markets in the midwest, south, and west until they make the death roll even further west, into the mountain time zone far, far away from the shiny, made for TV background coasts.

I wish there was a train between Cincinnati and Louisville. There used to be. But CSX won't pay to update and repair the tracks for commuter trains. So on the bus I go.

There is, I suppose, always this:

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*The blue guitar is a Washburn Rover, a travel guitar. Sounds a little tinny, but holds a tune and can fit in the above seat storage. Someday I'm going to put in an electric pick up so I can plug it into an amp.
** The Chamber of Commerce has rebranded itself as Greater Louisville, Inc. You know. Because that changes the nature of what they are, which are parasitic savages.
***No one who wins big at the Derby takes the bus home. It's a universal truth.
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28 March, 2016

Ontology and Texas: Vacationing and the Traveler

 There is nothing more grotesque to me than a vacation. - Dustin Hoffman

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.  - R. Buckminster Fuller 


My angel asked me if I miss being on the road.

"I know you miss it," she said. "But..."

"I do miss it," I told her. "But I'd miss you more."

Anyone who has met me in the last couple of years has only heard me talk a little about my urge to travel. I don't get out as much as I used to, and when I do there's more of a deadline than when I was chasing after the Nomad Nation a few years back. I suspect that many people who have only known me over these past couple of years have a difficult time imagining me wandering across the country and the countryside, with only one more temporary destination in mind, but open to the possibility that another will be just as fine or better.

When Amanda asked if I would switch up how I portioned my time and stay with her more than I was on the road, it was an easy decision to make, and I don't regret it. I like to think she doesn't, either.

But when we announced our intention to go down to Austin and visit her brother and his family, a few people who DID know me back when I traveled pointed out that I must have been excited to travel again. My mom, knowing full well that my itchy foot* hasn't dulled, it's only semi-restrained, asked if flying to Texas would quell the itch that apparently everyone including the eerily accurate Pandora algorithm noticed.

It was a good visit. We arrived in time to see my sister-in-law Cassie's movie, The Liberators premiere at SXSW. We were able to visit a tiny house village for the formerly homeless being built by Mobile Loaves and Fishes.  I was able to touch the first draft, with author's revisions, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Most importantly, we were able to spend time with family that we don't get to see often, and I was able to meet more of the extended relatives in Cassie's family.

The truth is, though, that while I did enjoy the trip and enjoyed Austin** mightily, the trip did nothing to scratch my itchy foot.

I could blame flying***, or I could blame my perpetual (and familial) issue with the freestanding Republic of Texas. The problem is much less dramatic, however. After the third day, I pointed out to Amanda that I was starting to feel like we were there too long -- you know, Dear Friends and Readers, that old rule about visitors and fish -- she clarified the issue in her usual direct manner.

She told me "You don't vacation very well."

It's true. The problem presented itself even before we left River City, when I was trying to pack. How does one pack for vacation? I understand how to pack to live out on the road for 3 or 4 months at time, or longer. But vacation? You're generally expected to have enough clean changes of clothes, optional nicer looking clothes for special occasions. Right? Swimsuits? Flip flops? Where do I stash my emergency fire starter? Oh, right, that doesn't fall under the list of acceptable items for carry-on luggage. Pocket knife? Nope? Medicinal bottle of bourbon? No bottles bigger than 3 ounces. What about my blanket, and emergency warm layer in case I hit cold weather, and my poncho that can also double as tent (with camping rope or clothes line... neither of which is TSA approved for carry-on luggage.)?

There is an ontological difference between traveling and vacationing that many people take for granted. Traveling is, in itself, the purpose the trip. It's true that travelers stop places and see things and meet people, but the momentum is the point.

Other the other hand, the destination is often the point of a vacation. Also, the fact that a vacation is, by definition, time taken away from something else -- from job, from the usual schedule -- places a different premium on the time. An hour is always just an hour, but that hour earned (or stolen. or bartered for) on the job creates a focal point for energy and intention. You're supposed to fill the hour with as many activities as possible and take pictures so that you can go back to work and show your co-workers, many of whom were probably cussing about you since they had to pick up your slack. Vacation implies a finite amount of time during which the vacationer "de-stresses" or "re-centers" or "drinks like the fish he was born to be."

Traveling may include any, all, or none of those things, except that the time isn't taken. It isn't earned, stolen, or bartered for from your boss, your co-workers, or the grand capitalist system in which we are all replaceable cogs and nothing more. Traveling means embracing the notion that your time is yours, and when you stop, or work, or don't work, it's your time to do with what you want.

This is why most people aren't travelers. There's more freedom and fear wrapped up it than many are capable of or will to handle. And it's probably why I don't vacation well, though I do enjoy any time I get to spend with My Angel. And I still had a great time.
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 * itchy foot, n. ph. - a disposition to desire momentum that sometimes presents as a need to travel for its own purpose and value, regardless of final destination. (Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Electronic Desk Ed.)
** I've never had luck with Texas while traveling. I either get side-tracked, searched, derailed, or stuck at the bus stop in Amarillo during a police siege... which happens more than you might think. Also, I have it on authority of an over-told family story that my Old Man also had problems with Texas... to the point that former Governor Ann Richards wrote him a letter promising a long prison term if he was ever to return to the state. To my knowledge, he never did return. Austin, however, is a nice enough town if you can afford it and there is more beer -- by sheer volume and label options-- than any other place I have ever been.
***More undignified than riding bus, but faster... which, in my experience, is the only thing it. I have it on authority of my older brother, who has flown First Class before, that it is much better. This does nothing to endear it to me, however. 


If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/mickparsons You can also leave a tip if you'd like. Thanks for reading!

15 July, 2014

Steady the Course Along the Dirty Sacred River: Sometimes the Universe Throws a Straight Pitch

This summer has not exactly gone as expected. I'd planned on heading west again, back to the big sky territory out in South Dakota and Montana. For a variety of reasons, none of which are particularly blog worth, I've not made it and probably won't. I am getting ready for another eastbound slingshot to attend The Kid's wedding to Plus 1... I mean Will... I mean The Soon-to-Be Son-in-Law.

the axis mundi
Mostly, I've stayed closer to the axis mundi here along the dirty, sacred river, tried not to kill the garden, and struggled with a few of those "all growed up" decisions that occasionally sneak into what I generally consider to be an idyllic life. I recently applied for a full time teaching gig that I didn't get*, which set up a whole series of stress-ridden mental labyrinths for me to navigate.** I've been trying to get some new projects up and going, which is surprisingly complicated when you're unemployed.

I was also turned down for unemployment benefits because, in the nomenclature of the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I have "reasonable assurance" of future employment. Basically, I was denied benefits because I will probably have a job soon... though no steady paycheck until the end of August. I guess I'm supposed live on hay until then.  But, given the intolerance and general lack of human empathy demonstrated by Top Cop Commander Kim and by some of the folks I call neighbors*** I guess it's a good thing I haven't had to resort to panhandling.

But I'm feeling pretty good, and looking forward to the trip. I love my daughter, even if I have trouble reconciling myself with the fact that I was once stupid enough to marry her mother.  Stella's been going through some "all growed up" stuff of her own lately that I will not list at the moment. One of those things, though, has to do with the fact that conventional wisdoms -- in spite of being conventional -- are wrong.  She's a good person and has a smart head on her shoulders that she sometimes uses. She just wants to live her life, be happy, all that. But she is having to learn that doing the right thing doesn't always mean that you get the reward you deserve.

In fact, it's increasingly the opposite... and not just for Stella.

One of the nice things about children is that they have all the potential in the world to grow beyond the limitations of their parents... if they can dodge hard luck and if they can reject conventional wisdoms that worn paths of other people's success is the path to happiness.

As for me, I am reminded of Krishnamurti's insistence that the truth is a pathless land. And I'm also encouraged by the fact that even though I am still not "gainfully employed" ... ie, I apparently don't deserve health insurance or retirement benefits, but I am good enough to teach college freshmen how to write and think critically .... that I still have plenty to keep me busy. There's plenty to do.

I'm including a link to my latest story posted at my reverbnation page. Check it out. Hope you enjoy.

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* My last full time teaching gig was out at ASU... an experience which drove me out of the classroom. And no, it wasn't the students. My usual beef with Upper Education is that the people who administrate it are morons. And by administrate I mean the ones who do not or have not ever step foot into a classroom since they flunked Intro to Literature... back when they still TAUGHT basic literature courses as a general ed requirement. Out at ASU in particular, I was enraged by an especially incompetent department chair who was more interested in sucking his way into a Dean's Office than he was in actually taking the concerns of his writing faculty seriously.
** My position as an adjunct, while financially insecure, is probably more appropriate. I suck at committee obligations and they suck on me. Also, the minute you sign on for full time employment, people immediately assume you have growed up, quit dreaming, and are working assiduously for a docile retirement during which you will actually allow yourself to live. If I have to wait until I'm 70 to live, I might as well crawl into a bourbon bottle now.
*** These folks run the gamut from comfy democrats to stalwart republicans to pissy tea bagger bigots. And all of them have one thing in common - for the most part they reject the notion that hard luck can hit anyone at any time.

09 May, 2014

Everything Flows: The Dirty, Sacred River of the Soul


One of the things I like about traveling is the reaffirming sense of my place in the world. Riding the bus out here from River City, barrelling through the night the cement slipstream through Tennessee into West Virginia and Virginia, I thought about all the other times I'd been through those places. Tennessee -- Knoxville in particular -- continues to leave a bad taste in my psyche.  There was so much promise, so much denied, and, looking back, the foundation of my second marriage's eventual failure has it's roots somewhere in that haunted little city overshadowed by a large state school and the unrealized hope of the sunsphere... remains of the 1984 World's Fair... and the nuclear warhead manufacturing facility in Oak Ridge. 

I found myself feeling increasingly cynical and bitter as the bus rolled through the Volunteer State, even though I was generally happy to be back out again. The academic year is finished. I got most of my list of tasks completed. I scribbled a few lines in the first entry of a fresh travel journal about the leaving and about looking ahead to the sun I am perpetually chasing:

So long to the bean counters.
So long to the nit picking biddies.
So long to the dirty sacred river.
(Your memory courses through my veins.)
So long Beloved, until my promised return.
(Your love courses through the marrow of my soul.)

I would have prefered to bring The Traveller's Angel with me on this jaunt, like I would prefer to have her with me on every jaunt.  I've mentioned before that she travels well and how I appreciate her observations, her quick wit and insights about the world. It is important to be able to see the world differently when you are out in it, even if you are travelling to a place you've been before.  

And even though she couldn't come out with me in person this time, I carry her with me, anyway.

I was asked recently by a friend and fellow Wob, J.P. Wright, how I managed to find a woman who understands my need to be in my head... which sometimes means I need to be out and on the road, moving.  

My only answer is that sometimes the universe is inexplicably and unjustifiably kind. Though it's possible to reconstruct the timeline of our relationship (which, in all honesty has roots that reach back almost 20 years) I am mindful of the words my friend George Eklund told me on one the many times he and his wife Laura have welcomed me into the warmth of their home: 

"You know," he said, "there's someone for everyone. But the chances of actually running into that person are so against us."

This is one of the ways I understand grace,and am learning to accept faith.

Travelling without her in the seat next to me is hard; but there is magic and a miracle in loving someone and in being loved by someone who understands that I need to get out and stretch my legs from time to time, if only to meditate on my place in the world and see what there is to see.

My eastbound jaunt takes me once again to Virginia and the Atlantic Coast. The weather is better, and The Kid is living on her own (with her boyfriend, who I'm starting to like inspite of my deep and intense desire to not like anyone who dates my daughter.*), working, and going to school.  I have spent most of her life trying bolster her up across large geographic boundaries, and I was never able to visit as much as I would have liked. Now that I dedicate time exclusively to being on the road, it's easier for me to drop in and check on her, if only so she knows that I am in her corner regardless of my current zip code.

Travelling as I do, sometimes visiting friends, I run back into my own footsteps from time to time. But with each new visit, I am aware that the footprints eventually wash away, that even familiar places are always a little new, a little beautiful, a little sad, a little dangerous. 

And though I stand by my assertion that Norfolk is the UNFRIENDLIEST CITY I HAVE EVER BEEN IN, I have always had an affinity for the water, and I like the North Atlantic coast.  I never get tired of staring out into the horizon, focusing on everything and on nothing, feeling myself saturate and be saturated by the place in the distance where the water meets the sky, and everything merges into one thing. 

This is the only way I can grasp what sacred means... that place where all things merge, where the Traveller's Angel's soft touch reaches out to me in a sunbeam carried by North Atlantic winds, and I can watch my daughter and marvel at the adult she is becoming.

More later from down the cement slipstream...

17 March, 2014

Culpeper Tells, Winter Talks Back

The Traveller's Angel and I jaunted east of the dirty, sacred river, barrelling up I-64, through the deep Appalachian darkeness of  the West Virginia Turnpike at night. We left River City Friday afternoon on a warm and sunny afternoon in order to make for the second day of Culpeper Tells!, a brand new storytelling festival in Culppeper, Virginia.

Culpeper is a pretty litttle town that has, over the past gfew years, built itself back up from devestation. The town has survived four earthquakes in the last year. The Big One, though, happened in August 2011. The town of Culpeper  built itself back from a 5.8 magnitiude earthquake. 

We had the opportunity to see some tellsers we've seen before, and to hear a few we haven't. Naturally we signed up for the story slam. But time ran out before the Kentucky contingnent could storm the stage.

We left Culpeper Sunday morning and rolled down VA 17 towards Norfolk to visit The Kid. And, as is almost always the case when I travel, winrter was at my back. The storm warnings blew up behind us, ad we hit the coast a good couple of hours before yet one more last hurrah of winter rolled through dropping ice, snow, and sleet in a wide swath from Loiusville to the coast. 

The North Atlantic coast may not seem the most romantic of destinations in March. Even without the interminably long winter  weather, it's still chilly, windy, and rainy.  But it's been a while since I've seen The Kid's smiley, shiny face. It's also been a while since I've seen Will, the boyfriend -- who is a nice guy, in spite of the fact that no one will ever be good enough to date my daughter.

We're staying at a Super 8 -- the same one I managed to stay in when I was here in January 2012. That trip was a very different one. I was here then to deliver bad news, among other things. I was convvinced that I was on my way to disappearing, convinced that, with the dissolution of my marriage that I most certainly would disappear, because I had convinced myself that no one weould see me the way my ex had seen me. 

I didn't know that I was on the road to put myself back together. I didn't even know I was broken. 

Amanda travels well. She's smart, pays attention to her surroundings, and drinks up new experiences. She wants to see everything she can,learn everything she can, experience all that she can. Although we've known one another for nearly 20 years, I like to think it has taken that long for me to get back to her. That it's too me 20 yeasrs to see myself in a proper enough light that I could allow her to see me. Some processes take longer than others.

And now I am here, with her, visiting The Kid -- who isn't really a kid, I guess -- and even though the North Atlantic winter is lingering outside, I am basking in the wearmth of a deeper, lovelier and more permanent light. The light where all the stories and poems and songs come from, where road unrolls under our feet and there is blue sky ahead.