Raptitude’s Thoughts on the 40 Hour Work Week

I saw this article some time ago, but it’s been making the rounds again and someone pointed out how similar the thoughts are to my own:

Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

While I was always a fan of the article itself, I’m becoming a bigger fan of David Cain. While reading an article he wrote about his experience eating vegan for 30 days, he mentioned the difficulty of finding vegan options when you don’t control the menu. To which he added this amazingly precise bit of wisdom:

“This marginalization was a new experience for me, being a young, white, non-religious, non-disabled English-speaking male, and maybe it’s good for my character to get a hint of what it feels like to live in a world that wants you be different than you are.”


What’s Next

I haven’t decided yet.

I’ve finished the written aspect of my trip blog. I have several more photo posts to do, so those will keep coming for awhile. I never did do that packing list post, so you’ll probably see it before long. But more written posts? This specific blog was built to chronicle this specific adventure, so it feels strange to put anything else on it. It seems a shame to lose the connection to all this content, though I am running out of media space on my WordPress account.

This isn’t the end of my blogging, and it’s certainly not the end of my writing. I intend to turn my road trip into a book, hopefully in ready-to-sell form by the end of this calendar year. I know I’ll be blogging next summer when I attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, as I have done the past three General Conventions.

Until then? Some days when I need to write and I don’t have a project to work on, I just write about whatever interests me. I suppose that’s what a blog is supposed to be, but I’ve seen so many people start blogs with “This will just be where I post my random thoughts and whatever!” Those blogs rarely see a second post and never see much interest. Most people don’t want to follow randomness.

The unstructured “blog posts” I’ve been writing haven’t manifested into a theme as of yet. Popular topics include organization, feminism, TV, movies, productivity, writing, diets, and geek culture. The range gets laughable sometimes. I’ve got nine articles on business development. I’m finishing up a forth post on the Bechdel Test and female characters in popular film. I’ve got 800 words on what’s wrong with the song “Let It Go.”

So my blogging future is still undefined. Stay tuned for more photos and more info. Once I know where I’ll be putting my writing, I’ll be sure to let you know where to find it.

This is the real life. This is the fantasy.

It took me weeks to remember how to eat. It’s weird the way you lose certain things when you get out of practice. The first day after I was back I knew I had to go grocery shopping, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to get. I knew that before my trip I cooked all the time and had plenty of go-to meals I could make. I just couldn’t remember what any of them were. I had a lot of Thai take-out that first month.

There was much to do when I got home, which was good because it kept me busy. I was back at work within a week, but thankfully my boss agreed to have me be part-time for a while until my personal life settled down and we built a new position for me in the company.

I gave my tent a thorough cleaning in the laundry room sink and hung it out to dry in the sun.

I slowly remembered what things I liked to make and eat, and I filled the pantry and fridge again.

I put away all of the clothes I had been traveling with, and started wearing shirts I hadn’t seen in months.

I found homes in my apartment for all of my little specialty items, like my 5 gallon bucket and the last of my citronella candle.

And for a while, I felt terrible.

I certainly couldn’t have explained it at the time, and I can only guess at it now. There hadn’t been anything life-changing on my trip, and I hadn’t expected there to be. I came home to friends and family that I loved, and a job that appreciated me. Life was just as good as it had been before, but I was walking around in a daze.

I generally kept my feelings to myself, since I wasn’t sure what they were. My boyfriend Rob knew of course, since as my roommate he was present for all those times I just felt awful and didn’t know why. One such night he asked me if I thought a walk might make me feel better, since it usually does. He said over the summer he had found a little spot not far from our apartment that had a great view of the city at night. I told him I wasn’t sure it would help, but I’d give it a try.

It was October. Summer was over, and the Seattle evenings were getting chilly again. It was a clear night though, and the air was fresh as always. When we got to the spot we sat down on a bench. We were looking over the water as it reflected the city lights. There was a dull roar from the bridge overhead. He was right. It was beautiful.

I tried to tell him why I was upset, which was hard since I didn’t know myself. I started rambling about society and expectations and housing and marriage and worst of all – the 40 hour work week. There had been so many things I took for granted as normal before. I guess in my time away I’d seen so many people go against the norm – including myself – that I couldn’t bear to think I’d still have to live under it my whole life. I couldn’t bear to think that everyone else was going to do so without even knowing there was another way.

FootprintsThe blogosphere is saturated with people trying to tell you to go on adventures and live your life and give up your day job and make money online. I know because they all sign up to follow my blog, probably in the hope that I’ll follow them back. I don’t though, because most of them are trying to sell that life to you. They’re trying to convince you that for as little as following their blog or as much as buying their book, you too can live a life of happiness.

But it’s a lie.

You don’t even need to do that.

Nothing life-altering happened to me on the road, and that is the idea that altered my life. There was nothing I did that is not entirely achievable by the vast majority of people. We convince ourselves such things are out of reach because it’s so much easier to not do anything at all. It’s easier to take on the hardships that we recognize – the hours of monotonous work, the unending mortgage, the debt, the drinking, the kids, the suits, the air conditioning. And ultimately all of that is no more or less work than climbing out of a canyon or confronting your enemies or spending hour after hour with only yourself for company. Settling down is just as hard as staying rootless. There are so many things to do and be out there, and we choose so few of them. When I got home I couldn’t stand the thought that I was still a part of that machine. I won’t work 9-5 forever, but 9-5 won’t end when I stop. Because everyone I meet will still be weighed down by the expectation that this is all there is, and I’ll spend my days being told I’m brave or I’m lucky or maybe they’ll say nothing and just give me that same suspicious smile.

It’s been a year since I left. The world spins on and so do I. I have dreams that I’m working towards, and I intend to reach them. And in those dreams I’m doing that which makes me happy and fills me with joy, and I am not burdened with anything I don’t absolutely adore. In those dreams I work only as much as I need to, and never because I have to. And in the most fantastic of those dreams, no one thinks it strange.

The Long Drive Home

Bear on BenchI’m going home.

That was my first thought as I scrambled myself out of sleep in my parents’ RV the final morning of my trip. Before long I could smell butter melting in a pan. The night before my parents had been discussing breakfast options, and my mom brought up the possibility of pancakes.

“We have the mix,” she said, “But I don’t think we have any syrup.”

“I have maple syrup,” I said. My parents looked at me. Even I was surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth.

“The people I stayed with in Ithaca make their own every year, and they gave me a whole jar,” I explained. I hadn’t opened it because I didn’t want it to go bad or have an unsealed jar of syrup bouncing around in my car, but it didn’t seem to matter with only hours left to go.

Wooden BlocksMy final stop was Leavenworth, a popular weekend vacation town for Seattleites. Leavenworth is a theme town, capitalizing on its German roots. The whole place is covered in stereotypes and kitschy paraphernalia, from the architecture to the decorative beer steins. I got into Leavenworth an hour before my folks and walked around for a bit. Despite living a mere two hours away, I’d never been. I saw the nutcrackers and the hats and the fairies. I saw more of those same damn decorative pieces of wood with white lettering in different sized fonts that spout cliches and grandpa jokes. Most of the shop employees were in costume. I went browsing for decorative glass figures in a store run by a Polynesian woman in a German blouse.

I met up with my parents for lunch at a local diner. My dad ordered the Schnitzel and I got a brat with sauerkraut. I made the wrong choice. Mine was sour. His was covered in gravy and came with a pretzel bun.

FairiesAfter saying my goodbyes to my parents I hopped back on Highway 2. It’s a road I know well, because it’s the one I always took to get to summer camp growing up. It’s also home to the small town of Startup which itself is the home of the very best milkshakes in the world. I have, on more than one occasion,  driven the hour from Seattle to Startup just to get a milkshake.

The final two hours of my trip had the potential for a lot of culminating actions, but I neglected all of them. I didn’t bother to stop at my summer camp to reminisce about days gone by. I didn’t stop for my favorite milkshakes in Startup because I was so full of German candy. I forgot to listen to the road trip playlist that I’d spent months reworking and remastering. I just sat in my car and drove, listening to podcasts and futzing with the cruise control. It was like any other day of my trip.

Seattle Sign PortraitI came home to a cold, clean apartment. My boyfriend was on a trip to Hawaii at the time, and I had the place to myself for a few days. I don’t remember what I did first. I don’t remember how long it took me to unpack. I don’t remember most of that evening. My notes on the day were routine, outlining a few details from Leavenworth and a scribbling about German candy. But I must have been feeling grand, because at the very end of my notes was this:

“The Journey is over. It has just begun.”

The Grand and Final Dam

I stayed too long at a Starbucks outside Spokane trying to get a post done. As I left the sun was setting, and I didn’t have much time to make it to the Grand Coulee Dam. My parents were in their RV and parked at a campground not far from Grand Coulee, and we were hoping to catch the evening laser show at the dam. I knew I didn’t have time to get to the campground, so I called to tell them I’d meet them at the park itself.

SunsetI made good time and arrived a few minutes before my folks. I walked around the visitor’s center playing with the exhibits meant to teach kids how dams work. I already knew how dams worked of course. I’d learned the last time I was at the Columbia River, on Day Two of my trip when I stopped at Bonneville Dam in Oregon.

My folks arrived and we grabbed some warm gear out of the cars. We knew the laser show was a good half hour long, and it was getting chilly. I wore my sleeping blanket around my shoulder like a shawl. I was getting used to being prepared for anything.

Colorful lasers shot across the flat cement faces on the dam and the show began. It was narrated by the low, booming male voice of the Columbia River itself. He spoke at length about his own power, wildness, and might. He told us the history of the region, and how it was once used by natives before the white farmers came. Then the top soil dried up. He explained how the huge Columbia Basin Project, which built over a dozen dams along the Columbia River, also helped the country get through World War Two. Most of the story was told with a slow, authoritative pace, but he sped up when he started to talk about how the dam was built and how it worked. This was a shame because these were the parts that sounded most fascinating to me. Did I hear him say something about hand polishing the granite bedrock so they could lay the original concrete? I’ll never know.

Near the end of the show there was the obligatory homage to American prosperity and ingenuity. The song “They’re Coming to America” played over the speakers and the laser images showed famous American symbols and landmarks.

“Far,” Neil sang, “we’ve been traveling far.”

The first thing shown in the montage was Mount Rushmore, where I’d been just ten days earlier.

“They’re Coming to America.”

Next up was the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C., and I thought about standing in the spot in Pennsylvania where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.

“Oh, we’re traveling light today.”

There was the Liberty Bell, whose Wisconsin replica sits in the Madison Capitol Building and looks down on the labor protestors who sing there every afternoon.

“They’re coming to America.”Liberty and Propane

There was the striking image of the Statue of Liberty, and I thought about seeing that same statue in Las Vegas, in Birmingham, and on the side of a lonely highway in Nebraska.

“Home, to a new and shiny place.”

A bald eagle flew across the screen, like the pair my parents and I had seen that afternoon flying over Kootenai Falls, or that one perched on the side of the road in Minnesota, or in that birdcage in Dubuque.

“They’re coming to America.”

It took me four months to see America and here it was, flashing before my eyes.

Today. Today. Today.

After the show I joined my parents back at the campground. I pondered the significance of spending the first and last nights of my trip near the banks of the mighty Columbia River. I closed my eyes thinking, “This is my last night on the road. Tomorrow I will sleep in my own bed again.”


Kootenai Falls

On our way back from Glacier my folks and I decided to stop at Kootenai Falls, a nice little road side spot outside of Libby, Montana. The falls themselves are a short hike from the highway, and the feature is more about width than height. Had I been in charge of naming them I probably would have gone with Kootenai Rapids, but perhaps that’s why I’m not in charge. The main viewing area for the falls is from a large, open slab of rock. It made my acrophobic mother terribly nervous to have my father and I standing in the open without guardrails or clear paths.

Dad and the Rapids“I think we’re supposed to watch them from back here,” she yelled to us from her stable position on the trail.

After taking in the view and beginning our walk back, we came across a fork in the path that lead to a rope bridge over the river. We stopped for a moment and my dad looked over to the bridge with longing. My mom looked at him.

“How long do you think it will take us to walk there?” she asked, with a tone that implied, “because we don’t have time and should be getting on the road.”

“We don’t have to go if we don’t want to,” Dad replied, looking back at the bridge and shrugging.

“You want to go to the bridge, don’t you?” my mom and I said simultaneously. Dad laughed and we started walking.

Bridge with StairsThe bridge itself was suspended from the top of a tall and sturdy flight of stairs. “Oh boy” my mom sighed as she looked up at the stairs. I told her she could stay right there, she didn’t have to go with us. By the time I finished my sentence Dad was already at the top of the stairs.

I walked out to the center of the bridge with my father. It was swinging in a way that would make you nervous even if heights didn’t bother you. The drop was a long way down to cold, dangerous water. After enjoying the view for a minute, Dad and I turned to see my mom at the top of the stairs. Her arms were tensed up and her grip was solid on both handrails. She placed a single foot on the bridge and Dad and I froze. The bridge swung with every shift of weight, and we wanted to keep it still for her. She was staring straight down at the planks and moving very slowly. At ten feet she looked up at us with a nervous smile.

“I’m on the bridge!” she announced proudly.

“Nice job, hon,” Dad said, congratulating her with a smile.

Mom on BridgeThat was quite enough for my mother, who immediately turned back and shuffled her way to the stairs. Dad and I joined her on solid ground, and she looked like she’d just jumped off a cliff she was so jittery. We walked back to the cars and got back on the road to Washington.

I’ve said before that I don’t like it when people call me brave for having gone on my trip. I don’t think you’re brave by virtue of doing that which would scare others. It’s true that on my trip I did a number of things that scared me, though most didn’t compare with how much it scared my mom to walk out onto that bridge. Bravery isn’t how far you get, it’s how hard it was to get there.