Travel Interruptus


“To be free is to be capable of thinking one’s own thoughts –- not the thoughts merely of the body, or of society, but thoughts generated by one’s deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one’s individuality.”
- Rudolf Steiner

I was worldly enough when I was eighteen that I knew I could handle buying a truck, getting a dog, and hitting the road. I wanted to see sunrises from the east coast of America and sunsets from the west coast. I wanted to see the land between the sunrise and the sunset. I wanted to experience our Earth firsthand. I had read, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac and it infected me.

I was one of the few, out of my small-town class of 100 graduates, a high percentage of which were pregnant, who showed promise of doing well at an institution of higher learning. I knew what awaited me at college and I knew it could wait. I just wanted to live on my own terms for a while.

I didn’t think my desire was all that unusual, but, to a person, everyone told me that I was nuts to be a single female and travel around like that. Even if someone was initially excited about living vicariously through me, or had done something similar themselves when they were young, they ended our exchange with doubts, and the ever present belief that women aren’t safe out in the big wide world by themselves.

Go to school and learn how to support yourself”, they said. But, I figured I’d learned how to support myself in all the important ways already – how to navigate the system, how to not go totally bat-shit crazy or end up in prison – isn’t that the bottom line? Whether we’re rich or poor, the institutions of psych wards and prisons are often the last stop for those of us that can’t deal with life. I sure as hell didn’t want to join any institution quite yet, not even one that promised higher learning.

Then I got a couple of local scholarships, and this tipped the scales. I was the only person, out of my entire graduating class, that applied…and the money wouldn’t wait for me to wander around for a while. So I succumbed to the false sense of security a college degree promises. But I would never actually know that false security, because three semesters into college I quit and moved to San Francisco to follow my harmonica-playing boyfriend.

While the geographic change was exciting and liberating on many levels, it was not the nomadic life I had envisioned for myself. Instead of inciting the travel bug in me, my time in San Francisco, in many ways, showed me how to stay put. I was lucky to be part of a circle of friends during this time of my life, who became family to me. These people taught me how to give myself enough room to roam, but always helped me find home again. I experimented with various types of “freedom” in San Francisco, (If you’re going to do it, there’s no better place than San Francisco!) and only occasionally experienced the speeding-away-into-the-unknown of a long road trip. I sped away into my inner world through yoga, Buddhism, and psychedelics, and my outer world on my own two feet, public transportation, and the passenger seat of the lovers who followed the harmonica-player. Little bits at a time, I learned that freedom was a state of mind that I could cultivate, no mater where I was, or what I was doing.

Despite not having a college degree, I learned how to find, and keep a job. I knew how to pay bills, and stretch the rest to make it to the end of the month. But I also learned other ways of supporting myself. I supported my creative needs with many art, writing, and movement activities and classes. I supported my mental health by starting to disengage from unhealthy family dynamics. And, I discovered the welcome openness of my chosen community.

I sowed most of my wild oats in the City by the Bay, not along the freeways and backroads of the world, where I thought they would fall. This may have been a blessing in disguise. Who knows where I would have ended up had I followed the call to wander far and wide. I may never have found my current partner or had the opportunity to raise children. The seven-by-seven square miles of San Francisco contained many ways for me to experience freedom while still having somewhere safe to land, if I needed it.

When I had my first child, I knew that my almost completely subsumed desire to wander would have to go dormant, at least for a while. It as a chaotic and challenging time in my life. I was with a man that I had only known for three months before I became pregnant and, while we did eventually marry, our lives where not to be bound together for long. I had gotten a position at a local university as an assistant to a man that was a virtual rock star in the ethnobotanical world and I was struggling under the pressure. After a change of jobs, and some soul searching, I am blessed now to be married to the father of my second son, who has the same love of travel that I do, but also has a strong sense of family and home.

Surely, I have known moments of freedom, but it seems to show up unexpectedly and blessedly like a summer thunderstorm – hardly ever when and where I want it to. As I sit here to write in a momentarily empty house, I feel free to write about it. And yet, the freedom to reflect is not the same as experiencing something for the first time.

My life is now bound to my family and community, and I find freedom by looking at each day with the freshest pair of eyes I can. To see my life, that looks like so many other lives out there, through a wide -open, thoughtful and unencumbered gaze, is probably where I would have eventually ended up, after I was through with The Road, and had come back home. That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.

No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.” – Rothfuss


6 Comments on “Travel Interruptus”

  1. Mary says:

    It’s nice to read about your journey home. And, whether you feel its freshness, or not, I know that you travel in the wilds of the mind, and the jungles of creativity. Your openness is a brave place to travel.

  2. Stephanie Birdwell says:

    I had saved this for a needed moment of inspiration – so glad I did. your post really lifted my afternoon and gave me a different perspective on the word, “freedom.”

  3. oldsongster says:

    Excellent Naima, a road twice travelled has many treasures. Please, continue. Tony.

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