I have a lot on my mind at the moment. I expect this post to be fairly long, possibly rambling, and would ask for your patience as I drive through it all.
Where to begin, though? Let’s start with Imbolc, since I missed making a post for the holiday.
As many of you may know, I experienced a rapid and unexpected change in career back in January. Imbolc is the holiday of new beginnings, when the Wheel turns us again towards the warmth of Spring and the joy of Summer. Winter is nearly past, and the Earth begins to wake from her long slumber.
The seeds of a dream I planted years ago have started to sprout and grow. It’s exciting and I have no idea how this will play out – I can only jump and trust the Universe to catch me. This project, though – this project is something else. Okay, so, check this:
All my life, I have been a wanderer. From flea markets to junk shops, from ghost towns to forgotten factories, I have searched for the cast-aside relics of America. I’ve been pretty damn good at finding them, too.
I wear many hats: artist, poet, author, and storyteller. This project, tentative titled “Reclaiming the Road Trip – A Trans Woman’s Journey Through America”, is formed partly from nostalgic memories of Charles Kuralt’s seminal “On The Road” series, partly from the StoryCorps project, partly from a desire to refute the male gaze of Kerouac and Persig, and mostly from the love of traveling instilled in me by my grandparents. I hope to write a memoir of these travels when they are complete, detailing what it means to see the same places I saw as a child growing up in the desert through the eyes of a woman in full control of her world.
It is my plan to undertake one significant road trip a month for the reminder of the Spring and Summer, leading into Fall. For April, as an example, I will be traveling to Las Vegas to indulge my other great lifelong love – bowling. This trip will be five days out, five days in Vegas, and a minimum of three days back to the suburbs of Chicago. The more folks who want to support this trip, the longer I can extend these journeys – perhaps even tackling the legendary Route 66 from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles – and then up the Pacific Coast Highway to US-101 and points north.
I will travel by car (specifically, a 2002 Subaru Outback wagon, affectionately dubbed the Roadwagon) along highways and state roads, eschewing interstates whenever possible. As a calligrapher and visual artist, I intend to keep a handwritten journal for each day of the trip, filled with ephemera, which will be auctioned to my Patreon subscribers. Here’s a picture of my soon-to-be home-away-from-home:
Once the weather turns a bit more, I’ll start kitting the Roadwagon (her name is Charlene, by the way) out for these journeys. Full size spare, 12v — > 110v inverter, video camera, new camera, and a selection of stuff from our camping suppliers are all on my list. I have to be fairly self-supporting as I travel, as not every state in our great union is kindly towards women like me. Further, as a gluten-intolerant person, fast food is right the hell out, and I will need to cook most of my own stuff on a propane stove.
In this blogspace, when possible, I hope to capture some random thoughts and impressions each day. I will also be recording the stories of the people I meet along the way, the songs of their souls, those very personal and compelling messages reminding us that we are all one. The Roadwagon I mentioned earlier? I will be essentially living out of it, as it will be both shelter and transportation. It’s going to be a truly awesome series of journeys, and I can’t wait for the first one in March.
Neil Gaiman wrote in Anansi Boys that “stories are webs, interconnected strand to strand, and you follow each story to the center, because the center is the end. Each person is a strand of the story.” This is the story of a journey like no other. Not all who wander are lost, and there are miles to go before we sleep.
(If you want to support the Patreon that is helping to fund this project, please go here, and know that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Here is the direct link, in case you need it: https://www.patreon.com/LadyNhytefall?ty=h )
Speaking of journeys… the April leg of this project may just be my penis’ farewell tour. I have been approved for surgery this Spring/early Summer, and while I don’t have a date yet, I am very close to having it. THAT shit just got real, bigtime. I’m bouncing off the walls over here, and while this is a text medium, here is an image that summarizes my current emotional state:
Good luck getting that image out of your head!
Anyway, back to the rambling topic at hand, which was…the rambling state of my mind. Imbolc, new beginnings, the road narrative project… what’s next? Ah yes, that.
One of the things I am truly looking forward to on the road are the long spaces between waypoints. Those multiple hour stretches where it is just you, the hum of the car at speed, and your thoughts. The times when it is impossible to outrun the small still voice that speaks at your core – and then forces you to have a conversation with it.
I am looking forward to those times in solitude because I have been in a period of self-imposed discernment – a process I have been through before. I turned away from the path of ministerial service when it became clear that I could not resolve the essential questions who I am and how I love with the “moral” expectations of a denomination incapable of seeing me as human. ‘Twas a problem, and I chose computer science as the answer.
This was a mistake.
Life in tech was never as rewarding as I hoped it would be, but it did provide a mask by which to bury and repress my identity. I’m good at what I did, very good in fact, but it was never what I should have been doing with my life. There is – and always has been – good work to be done. In some regards, I chose the coward’s way out.
As I have healed over the last five years, I began to reclaim the parts of me left along the way. Part of that reclamation was my identity as a person of deep faith. I recently found a home in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, a journey I have posted about previously.
It was in the atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion that I began to reflect on who I am, who I have become, who I will become, and what I should do in the second half of my life. The idea of being a cubicle-dwelling data analyst by day and a creative by night was workable, but it was always a compromise. I could do neither fully, and the work I did in both suffered.
I remember one of the turning points in my pondering of the question of “What next?” I was in the new member orientation class a while back, and each person at the table had to give a brief summary of their religious background and how they came to our particular congregation. I was second-to-last to speak, and so got to hear from new folks like myself and longer-term members. It was absolutely fascinating the different roads that had brought each of those people to our shared space.
When it came time for me to speak, I spoke of one my core beliefs- that none of us can know the face of the Divine, and all of us have different yet equal paths to the Divine. Even those of us who have no path, their path is still as equally valid as mine. I spoke briefly of my turning away from the seminarian’s path twenty years ago, and life I had built in both tech and as a creative. Then we broke to pee, because it had been A While. Ya’ll know what I mean by that.
Rev. Sean told me on my way to the bathroom, “You still got the calling on you, girl.” That comment never left my brain, like a truth burned into your conscience by a laser. The idea that I turned away from the work and the work never turned away from me, was a concept that I am still reconciling. Couple that with a growing dissatisfaction over my career, and I began to consider that maybe, just maybe, I had been approaching the entire question wrong..
So I punted. I had already made the decision to return to school and chase a B.A. in Religion, and I figured that it would give me time to figure my shit out. What did I want in a graduate degree when the time came? Academia, or service work? Advancing scholarship, or advancing the cause of social justice? Note that these questions are not either/or questions, merely that I am presenting them as such to poorly describe the threads my brain is/was chasing.
A few months ago, I began to formulate an idea of what my personal call to ministry looks like. It is not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but I can see myself working in palliative care, serving the spiritual needs of those at end of life and assisting their families with the transition from this world to the next. This is good work, hard work, but needed work and in a field I have experience in.
I had the privilege of talking to Rev. Lisa Presley of the UUA MidAmerica staff about my period of discernment back in January, and she related her own experiences to me. She also felt called to palliative care, only to find that she wanted to know a persons full story- not just the end of it, because the end is nothing without context. She…has a point. A very good point. And my thoughts shifted again, scattered but a little better formed.
Which brings us back to the road narrative project, and why I am looking forward to it. I have gotten, and will continue to get, involved in my church’s operations and needs. I want to help where I can, get to know them better as they get to know me better, and figure my shit out. At some point I will, in the words of my friend (and ministerial intern) Michelle, simply jump and trust the Universe to catch me.
That time is coming. For now though, I need to keep having the conversation with the small still voice inside, that voice that keeps telling me “You belong here, doing this work. Not there, doing that work. Here and now, present and willing.” I believe that voice, and am beginning to trust her.
Somewhere between Moab and Monument Valley, the drone of the road and that voice of the Divine are going to combine into a single, inescapable map to my future. That’s my hope – that this heretical daughter of the church, who once was lost and has now been found, will finally know her way to the secret door on the side of the mountain.
After all, not all who wander are lost, and there are miles to go before we sleep.