Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stories We Tell

I'd like to digress a bit, this post, if I may.  The approach of the American JulyFourth holiday, my second since being back in the U.S., brings back memories of, well, the last JulyFourth holiday I was forced to endure in this country.  The staccato bursts of fireworks, unevenly spaced and like to burn down a building, thrown up furtively by amateurs who snuck over the border to Pennsylvania to buy them, have started to come more often, the interval between them shortening, like the beeping countdown of an imminently exploding bomb in a bad action movie.

As I wrote last year, I am not particular to fireworks, to the slack-jawed stares on the upturned faces of spectators, illuminated in red and blue and green by the exploding bursts above.  I am a bit alone, I have found, in my aversion to the common U.S. pastime of celebrating the war that freed a small proportion of the population by recreating the destructive forces of black powder cannons in colorful facsimile.  But it reminds me of a story.  The story of a lonely traveler far from home, another JulyFourth, another celebration of Independence.  Have I told you this one before?  No I don't think so.  I'd have remembered.

We all live by our stories, after all.  That's what this blog has been about, really.  For two years I've been making up stories, never mind the stories that have actually been happening.  Is the journey over now, I wonder?  Should I pack it in and call myself abroad no more, for real this time?  The truth, after all, is stranger than all the fictions I could come up with.  Living in this country, more and more, is like living in a foreign place, a place I don't know anymore.  A place, perhaps, I never knew.  What matter whether I am home or not?


Shall we flashback two years?

I'd been in Astana less than a month, and suddenly our boss—the American one—was talking about the party at the embassy, asking if we were going.  We responded with the customary "What?" that we'd learned was the proper response to anything our boss said to us.  He was nice enough to forward us the invitation from the embassy to all U.S. citizens in the city, and we RSVPd our way in.  In proper American fashion, it was a picnic, and we were expected to bring a dish to pass.  It seemed an odd condition, but we were excited to have a half day at work on a non-local holiday, so we took it.

Upon arriving at the embassy, I of course had forgotten my passport.  Speaking right good American, though, I smoothly talked my way in just by showing my driver's license.  Then it was on to the American-style socializing.  Which of course meant sitting apart in our own groups, pointedly ignoring all the other small groups around us.  It was just that predicament that encouraged us to move on and talk to some strangers.  We'd forgotten how stultifying it could be, talking to our boss, a middle-aged many who enjoyed chatting up younger women.  Luckily for us he began to move on to the local women after a few months.

By luck—strange, strange luck—we ended up talking to a group of construction workers—men, of course.  Without properly considering what we were doing, we entered into conversation, answering ill-advised questions like where were we from, and why did we come to Astana.  The funny part was, much as we'd been explained to about how sexist the culture was there, those construction workers were the first overtly sexist experience I had in Astana.  They couldn't believe that a group of young women would move, singly, to a foreign country, and just to be librarians.  Weren't we worried?  Where were our men?  How had they let us come?  This coming from men who probably never left their apartment complex, except to work, and if they did only went to places where they knew the workers spoke English, and only in groups.

There were other people there, interesting people.  Many of them were military, or former military.  We met the U.S. Ambassador and his wife (who was a librarian).

There were no veggie burgers.

We didn't have fireworks that day.  But the Kazakhstani were big fans of fireworks, so we had many to look forward to, and had just had a few back in June for a patriotic holiday, probably related to the president's birthday or something.

I'd never been one for patriotism, and though I played at it a bit, surrounded by U.S. citizens in a land far from it, I still didn't feel terribly inclined toward it.  Patriotism is a story we tell ourselves too, whether to hide our ignorance or warm our souls, cold from the knowledge that our allegiance is fraught at best.  Innocent, was the word Twain used; we all hold the story of our innocence close, lonely travelers in a strange land, hapless wanderers.

Even Twain's story had to end.  Even the Innocents returned home, finally.  Even Twain, king of irony, could not keep up the facade forever.  Setting out, I didn't intend for this to be my final blog post, but I find it is time to retire the facade.  Irony requires distance; I no longer have the desire or ability to distance myself from my world.  For better or for worse, it's time to go home.

You can still catch me on my tumblr, at where I review and write about fiction by women, and generally talk about feminist things.  Or catch me on twitter as eaking_vb_toeak.

And hopefully someday soon find me in print, as I retell the year of my life abroad—the truth and nothing but, of course—tentatively titled My Tapestry: Reflections of a Year Abroad. 

Thanks to all who have been faithful readers, those who have shared those stories with me, and those who have just dropped by occasionally to keep tabs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Shift, or Not To Shift

As I'm sure you'll recall, my last post was about buying a new car.  I'm very happy with the new car, make no mistake.  However it's necessitated a bit of relearning on my part.  I've had to relearn how to shift.  Why, yes, it is a manual transmission.  I have, in fact, been, as they say, "driving standard" for the past seven years.  But as anyone else who "has a stick" knows, there's a bit more involved in driving a manual transmission car than just putting it in drive and hoping for the best (honestly, I had to drive a loaner car recently that was an automatic, and it felt like it had a mind of its own.  It was decidedly disconcerting).  With a manual you have to be, as they say, "one with the car."  You have to feel what it feels.  You have to remember to put the clutch in when you stop or risk stalling out and looking like an idiot in front of everyone else at the intersection.  You have to remember at what point the clutch is no longer engaged, or risk looking like a bigger idiot as your car stalls out starting from first gear.  You have to remember to put the car in first gear in the first place.

Of course I knew how to do all this with my old car.  Driving that, for me, was as easy and automatic as falling up the stairs.  But the new car.  For people who drive standard, who really enjoy it, the car becomes practically an extension of oneself (for those who don't enjoy it, you rather find yourself making a mental note never to be in a car with them again, ever).  The old car was broken in, it was easy going, it didn't complain much.  The new car, oh the new car.  All it takes is one wrong move.  Don't get me wrong, I love how it growls and purrs (diesel), how it kicks in with a bit of unexpected acceleration (turbo), but it's been difficult, learning to play by a new set of rules.  Going from a 5-speed 4-cylinder gas engine to a 6-speed 4-cylinder diesel is like going from a mountain bike to a road bike.  It does not like being in the wrong gear, and it even tells you when you're doing it wrong!  Ah, how technology has advanced in the past 13 years.

Adapting to change, as a grownup person, having been in the habit of doing a thing a certain way, for a very long time, is difficult.  It's demoralizing.  Every jerk and shudder, every less than smooth transition from gear to gear, leaves you feeling like an idiot.  And then the kinder chimes in from the back seat and asks why you keep doing that.

Kids have a way of pointing an incredibly strong magnifying lens at everything we, as adults, take for granted.  Adults are capable, dependable, good at things.  Until they have to do something in front of a child.  Children, in their innocent, blank-slate outlook on things, can make even the most confident adult person question everything they know about a situation.  So what if you're a world-class mechanical engineer, it's been five minutes since I unwrapped my new bike for Christmas, why haven't you put it together yet?  Are the little screws too tiny for your old, experienced eyes to see?  What's a war?  Why do people fight in wars?  You tell me all the time to be nice to people, why do they get to fight in a war?

Having been step-keeper of a 6-year-old for almost a year now, I often find myself trying to imagine what kind of person could ever think they were ready to be a parent.  What person could ever have their life so in order that they feel confident performing in front of a new human for 18 or so years?  We tell these little life forms all about how they must be polite, and not do destructive things to the furniture, and talk about their feelings instead of screaming and throwing things across the room, and various other things we, as adults, imagine that we never ever do anymore.

We picture growing up as an act of increasing self-awareness, the ability to measure our actions against a growing yardstick of social approval, and that we, as the grownups, have achieved such great heights of maturity.  Some of us, I suppose, truly have.  Most of us, I suspect, have got close enough that we can occasionally reach the summit with enough effort and a good enough leap.  And usually that's good enough to be getting on with.

Until we're put in front of a child.  Until we have to turn a psychopath into a human being.  Until we have to watch that little human-in-training go out into the world and perform in front of other adults, judgey adults with the kind of selective outlook on their own adultness that we used to have before we became guardian to this little person's moral and emotional growth.  Now every time we tell a child to do or not to do something, that magnifying lens immediately points straight at us, judging us for all the things for which we judge our children.  Use please and thank-you?  How many times a day do we omit please or thank-you?  Talk about our feelings instead of turning into passive-agressive monsters?  Do we always pick up our things and put them in the right place, or just when it's convenient?  Name-calling and other uncharitable speech?

What kind of humans did we think we were, that we could successfully perform humanness in front of a new one?  How do we expect to guide the next generation of humans if we ourselves don't even have things figured out?  And, being a positive example and all that aside, how do we expect to get on with our lives, get things figured out, if we've got these little monsters running rampant around our ankles, getting into all kinds of trouble?  That's the worst realization I've come to.  Benevolence, when raising kids, doesn't really enter into it.  The best reason to fix your life and act like a decent human being is the simple fact that the more you practice your own shrill orders to wash hands, pick up stuff, use manners, not destroy things, the fewer questions you have to answer about why kids have to do all those things but adults don't, the more likely kids will be to just do the things you want them to.

So you can get back to the business of being an immature adult person.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

If You Can Read This Title, Then Read It To Someone Who Can't

April is commemorative for many reasons.  For me, it was Month of the New Car.  The last Month of the New Car was seven years ago.  I think it goes by the lunar calendar.  Or maybe the Julian.  I can never keep track.

The funny thing I learned about buying a new car is that it's much easier to do when you have no money.  The last time (and the time before that, for that matter) I had a finite amount of money, and little prospects of having more money anytime soon.  You take the best you can get for what you have.  I got lucky.  I made a good choice.  I did my research.  And the six-year-old car I bought lasted another seven years, including the year it sat in a barn while I was off having adventures.

This time round was a bit different.  I'm not the only one making use of this car (funny, the things spouses can be useful for), and so I'm not the only one paying for it now.  Meaning there was more money to be spent, potentially, on a car.  I'm not going to say how much more—because, jealousy, and all that—but suffice to say I felt rocketed quite literally into a new world, a new era, in car performance.  Let's be honest, a car with power windows and air conditioning was going to be luxury to me, so I spent most of my time looking for a new car wildly vacillating between ecstasy in choice and the sure knowledge that I was going to buy the worst car for the most money and bankrupt our household for life.  Which touchscreen is better?  Do I want the Bluetooth system that reads text messages to me, or just the one that plays music and lets me talk on the phone?  All digital, or stick with the vintage radial meters?  Color, sunroof, wheels, interior upholstery, manual, automatic, hybrid, diesel, so tiny it doesn't make a difference?  Do we buy the cheap car and pay it off quick (because you know you're going to need a new cheap car pretty soon), or the expensive one and pay it off slow and drive it until the petroleum reserves run out?

And then there's the buying experience.  Being the only driver on the homestead, I did the majority of the test-driving, talking to salespeople, reading the literature.  This wasn't the slick 50s, to be sure, but the gentleman-salespeople who thought they could turn my head with bright LED readouts and vanity mirrors surely didn't have any business selling to me.  Or those who don't believe in knowing actual facts about the vehicles they're selling.

But anyway, that's not the interesting part of the story.

Suffice to say, we bought a car from people who sold cars, for a specified amount of money.

This blog is about me.

For those of you who know, I'm the only driver.  For those of you who don't, ask someone who does.  I don't have time to unpack that right now.

It's a pretty good axiom that the primary driver of a car should be the one for whom the car is bought.  If I didn't like it, it would probably be a bad investment.  But being as the car was bought to transport the family, it's as much ours as it is mine, bought with money from both of us.  But how to do you really get a non-driver excited about something he's never really going to use?  Someone always required to ask others for a ride is going to be much more invested in his own feet than the ins and outs of any car.  Vanity, I guess, to want someone to affirm my choice in an expensive, potentially explosive, purchase.  Or just a different, rarely accounted for, point of view.

Let's take a step back.  The car we had, when we met, was mine.  Found, bought, paid for, driven, maintained, by me.  He enjoyed it for what it was.  But to everyone, not just us, not just the offspring, it was definitely my car.  Let's be honest, when I had to sell the thing it felt like an extension of me.  (But we won't get into that).  Now, depending on point of view, ownership of the car is fluid.  To those for whom money is the be-all, I suppose it goes to the one whose arbitrary market value is higher.  To the offspring, it yet remains my car.  To me, it's our car.  To him, I'd like to say it's also our car.  (I think getting his own key fob [with the cool flip out key] helped in that area).

For some, automobile matters fall squarely in the range of menfolk, irrespective of, well anything else.  I've a feeling this last is true all countries over.  Maybe there's a matrilineal village somewhere in Scandinavia where all the women have grease-stained hands and wear overalls.  I can't be sure.  Some people just want a reason to be proud of, or bask in the collective vanity, of another.  Whether or not it's founded.

But anyway, I got to thinking—as I'm so poetically wont to do—about doing, and ability, and being defined by one's abilities and, yes, disabilities, and the ways in which one deviates from the perceived norm.  Being one of those modern females emancipated on a regular intravenous drip of that feminist drug which we all speak of in hushed tones, I take exception to any suggestion that my car-purchasing prowess is any less than another's.  I of course have been told in no uncertain terms, in many venues, that my ability to buy a car without the significant twisting of any undergarments is out of the norm, and while I firmly believe and state openly that that is just absolute stupidity, I acknowledge that such statements have been made in my direction and that, according to that dubious lore, I can't expect people to make an honest accounting of my abilities based on my accomplishments all the time.

No, I won't go so far as to say being perceived female is a disability.  I of all people know the inanity of that.  But it is known that strangers, and yes, friends, will change their behavior towards you when once they perceive a difference from the accepted norm.  I continuously consulted with my male counterpart about the car we were to buy because—ideas of consulting long-term bonded compatriots over major and/or life-altering decisions aside—though he does not drive, he has fairly lucid thoughts most of the time and is generally one of the few people whose judgment I trust on a regular basis.  In short, I desired his input as an intelligent being.

Some people, upon learning of the disability of another, suddenly find cause to doubt their fitness as a person to go a day without wetting themselves, or walk upright, for that matter.  To be able to consistently tell the difference between a toothbrush and scissors; to comprehend basic English spoken in a reasonable tone.  If anyone else finds the comparison to a drunk all too apt, please raise your hand now.

But where drunks have not lived in this state their entire lives (one is to hope) and will soon pass out and wake up next day without the aforementioned condition, someone with, say, a vision impairment has in all likelihood lived his entire life with it, and is better equipped than all the harassed bartenders in the world to determine where the cutoff point is.  We baby drunks, as they make of themselves children.  We give them special treatment and special passes all the time, and think nothing of it, because they can't help themselves.  But the disabled—oh no, it's almost as though they deserve to be punished—nay, that their disability is their punishment—for being born a certain way, to look at the vast majority of everything we as a society take for granted every day, and be told they can't have that.

Want to get up those steps?  Well, I guess you should've been born with two functioning legs and kept them that way.  I mean, honestly, who do you have to blame but yourself?

Want to know where the hell you're going in an airport?  In a strange city?  In the checkout line at your local grocery store?  Well, why can't you read those signs that are so perfectly sized for my eyes?  It's not my fault you can't see that.

Want to get a decent job that requires more than picking up trash in a parking lot?  Well, you should've been born able to get through school in the usual 13 years like the rest of us.

Ever wonder what people mean when they point at something and say, "look at that!"?  Well too bad.  I don't have time to expend the two words necessary to let you feel as though you're part of the conversation and not just the village idiot who's been let out for the long weekend.

After all, who knows what use you might make of all this special treatment.  If you get ahead of me in life, than I'll have no one to blame buy myself for treating you like a reasonable person asking for reasonable accommodation.  It's not as though I go round getting special treatment all the time, and look where I've got!  You must have bootstraps there somewhere, then start pulling!

Well, that was my story about buying a car.  Remember, it's all about perception.

Oh yeah, April is also Month of the Tax Return.  If you find yourself with an overabundance, please consider donating to something like this:

or any one of these:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When We Were (Not so Young as We Used to Be, But Still a Bit Younger than We Are Now)

Oh, Sing! of Galveston.  Jewel of the Texas Coast! That Shining Seashell among Dull, Wave-washed Pebbles. Galveston, where my Heart was, briefly, for a few Days at least, There.

I'd like to think that my short visit to Galveston was a sort of warm-up to the trip I will someday take to Key West, and the other Keys (presumably, North, South, and East).  You know, places connected to actual land by bridges.  Where people go to pretend that the rest of the world doesn't exist and all they have to do for the rest of their lives is fish and drink Coronas.  That day is a long way off.

But where was I?

Ah yes, the wedding.  I don't attend many weddings.  Being an introvert, I have little interest in the lives of others, in formal, mandatory fun affairs.  In pursuit of this, I keep my circle of friends small.  But this wedding was different.  Mainly because of the food.  And the fact that I was allowed, nay encouraged, to wear pajamas.  My good friend, who I met in Astana, who shall remain nameless, except to the two people who actually read this story and also know me from Astana, who is from Texas (honestly, getting a Visa to go anywhere from that crazy country must be a nightmare), is also, in a roundabout way, from India.  In that her parents are.  Normally, other than a passing interest in places that are something other than the country backwoods where I grew up, I pay little attention to background, ethnicity, culture, except to studiously avoid situations in which I might have to converse with people.  Any people. (Introvert!).  But.

For those of you unaware, Indian food is the best food.  And my friend, for all her faults as being a person who is not me, quietly sitting in a room by myself, is a pretty awesome person.  And she told me to wear traditional Indian attire, which is incredibly more fun and pretty and comfortable than the usually expected tiny cocktail dress—because all of us, everywhere, couldn't possibly be going to a wedding with the expectation of fun and eating a lot, instead of seducing everyone who looks at us—that is usually worn to weddings in countries in which (or next to which) I have grown up.

I also got to meet her husband, who stands as one of the tallest people I know.  He also seemed quite nice, and looked at my friend as though he would take those giant tall-man-hands of his and cut a swath through any and all people who ever dared be an ass, or otherwise mean, in any way, to her.  Which is an acceptable quality in a new husband.

These (those?) aforementioned circumstances, though enough to tempt me off to the strange land of Texas, were not the only lure I was chasing.  I also was looking forward—in that theoretical way that introverts do to social interaction, before it actually happens—to once again seeing some of the people I knew in Astana.  I'll admit, nice as it was to know a whole table-full of people at a wedding (who were not my family), contextually it was quite weird.  But I suppose I can grudgingly say that it was also fun to talk to them again, and also the wine helped very much.

My trip to Galveston was defined, in most part, by an excess of something I've not had much of since I returned to ye olde States: free time.  We spent much of our time in and around Galveston just killing time.  Wandering.  Looking for places to eat.  Eating.  Digesting.  Wandering back from where we'd just eaten to mope around wondering where our next meal was going to be.  Sightseeing.  There isn't a lot to see, besides ocean, at a tourist attraction during the off-season.  But we made do.  I took off my shoes and stuck my toes in the sand.  Walked down the beach briefly before cold and a fear of stepping on something rusty and pathogen-covered became too much for me.  Fantasized about what would happen if I stuck a piece of rebar through the spokes of one of those four-person-bike-carriages that annoying and/or drunk people kept driving(?) down the sidewalks at us and by which we were nearly run over countless times.
Toes in the Sand

All in all, it was a leisurely trip.  And it's glad I am to be back up in the Industrious North.  But I still have my pajamas.

Monday, February 24, 2014

(A) Snow Day

Where was I? Ah yes, I was regaling you with stories of old Galveston when I found myself sidetracked by thoughts of future apocalypses and zombie-filled nightmarescapes.  Back to my story.

But first, I'd like to interrupt this little memoir to let you know about a real danger facing those living in snowbelts across the northeast. Specifically New York State.  Specifically Monroe County.  Specifically all those suburbs full of people to moneyed and important to shovel their own damn driveways.  This little Public Service Announcement brought to you by Elite Snowplowing, or Ken's Snowplowing Service, or Residential Snowplowing by Brockman Tree and Lawn Care, or one or all or some of the seemingly hundreds of pickup trucks with oversized plows attached to their front ends, driving willy-nilly all over the normal-width roads of Fairport, menacing all who encounter them.

I heartily apologize to all those who thought I wrote my blog posts in real time, and who feel disillusioned with my obvious departure from warm and sunny Texas back to the gray and snowy skies of Rochester, NY for this little word-storm, as it were. But I just can't keep this to myself!

And besides the danger these contraptions pose to those forced to concede the road to them, there's the immeasurable damage being done to lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and any standing structure against which hundreds of pounds of snow is pushed over and over, every time it snows. I myself know of at least one telephone pole that looks in immediate danger of falling over, simply from the amount of snow that's been rammed against it all winter, every time some suburbanite decides their Audi can't get over the three inches of snow pushed off the road at the end of their driveway.

Listen, you'll say.  It's not the end of the world.  Plenty of more pressing issues going on right now. Well, true as it may be, from a global standpoint, let's find some perspective. I drive, as you'll recall, rather a bit more than the average 9-5 business-hours-only office monkey (yes, I went there).  And there's that fun statistic that likes to remind us all we're most likely to have an accident within twenty miles of home.  Well, all the driving I do is pretty much within twenty miles of home.  Miles and miles of it. In the same not-so-big circle.  So when I have to dodge the erratic reverse, or the overzealous yellow line hugger, or that guy who thinks because he drives a pickup truck he has a right to do whatever he pleases, not limited to driving on the wrong side of the road, well, I'm going to complain.

Because I live in the suburbs now.  It's a pastime. We've so much going for us, we have to invent things to be annoyed about. I'm sorry, I meant outraged. I am just outraged that a thing that is convenient to others is so incredibly inconvenient to me. Not even inconvenient. A minor nuisance. I'll even go so far as to call it, a thing I notice occasionally that I decide to be annoyed about. Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.

Next time on Suburban Social Justice: How green is too green? A memo to those annoying neighbors whose compost pile is more attractive than my landscaping.

Oh yes, and South Texas hellscapes.  Good times.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Abroad Once More

I did not expect to travel again so soon after returning to my point of origin. I wouldn't have, but for circumstances beyond my control. As it was, we almost didn't make it, due to weather beyond our control. It seems I am doomed to uncomfortable airplane rides for the rest of my life (more on that later).

But why, you may ask, were we venturing out, daring international travel, giving up the comforts of our domestic life? Well, it seems my international life was not done with me. I had, while I was abroad, the great misfortune of making friends. Yes even I fell victim to that ploy, so far from home, and for such a long time. I couldn't help myself! And I did it to such a thorough extent that I got myself invited to a wedding. How could I refuse? I could not so disappoint the feelings of one who so obviously adored and needed me there with her at such an important time of her life. And so I bought the plane tickets, booked the hotel room, and bought a new outfit just for the occasion.

The last time I was abroad, I did not dare try to drive, in any of the countries I stayed in, left side or right. This time, though, we really didn't have a choice if we didn't want to spend an arm and a leg getting ferried around. So we rented a car. And I have to say, it wasn't as bad as I expected. The cars weren't terribly different, though they showed a marked propensity for oversized pick-up trucks and ridiculously fast cars that would skid directly off the road at the mere sight of a snowflake. Yes, it seemed we would do alright, down in Texas.

That was, of course, once we arrived. Though the weather was practically tropical in that Texan city of Houston, getting out of Rochester, and making our connection, took some luck. Flying out of the Northeast in the middle of January is never a sure bet. And the weather in this country seems to have undergone some odd "climate change" in the year I was away. Now even the weather in such southern climes as Florida, nay even Georgia, is unpredictable enough to delay a flight.

Rain. We were delayed for rain. Hours and hours we waited. And then we finally boarded the plane and took off, and I began to wish we'd waited even more. Every bump and jump of the plane made me flash back to that day, my last time flying abroad. Returning home from my yearlong adventure, I feared the plane might simply drop out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere.

Obviously it didn't, then and now. And this time, at least, I got to watch the landscape go by as we came in to land. Texas is so flat, so brown. It's a wonder people want to live there at all. Well, maybe they have some odd immigration restrictions, keeping people from leaving the country. Perhaps it's the language barrier, keeping them from entering the U.S. Though their dialect is somewhat similar to ours, there are remarkable differences that make them almost impossible to understand at times.

Be that all as it may we did, finally, get to Houston—they didn't lose our luggage!—and set about getting our rental car. Having only ever rented a car in my own country before, I was unsure about the process here. And so, one false start, a ridiculous amount of waiting, a confusing shuttle ride, and a certain amount of uncomfortable standing in front of an unstaffed rental counter later, and we were knee-deep in unintelligible paperwork. How much insurance did we want to buy? Turns out that in Texas they are tired of determining who is responsible for accidents (are they all overly prone to accidents? maybe it's all those bridges they have signs all over the place about, the ones that freeze before everything else), so they just assume everyone's responsible. Thus we left in our new used rental car feeling either grossly underinsured or ridiculously overinsured, I'm not really sure which. In any case, we had a car and we were on our way.

The speed limit on most roads in that country is higher than I am used to, and everyone there seems to take it as an invitation to simply drive as fast as they can, all the time. Except when there's construction. Or any random slow-down, really, in which case we were suddenly traveling at 30mph, when just moments before we had been going 75. This made our trip down to Galveston—I still haven't worked out whether Galveston is a part of that country, or some kind of commonwealth—somewhat longer than we'd hoped, also a bit exciting from my repeated attempts at manually shifting a car with an automatic transmission. Truly I felt as though I were missing a limb, trying to drive that car.

Galveston, like all places worth making the site of a post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopia, is reached by driving across an enormous bridge. I'm not yet aware of any post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopia being set on that island yet, but there's always hope for the future. It was at some point, I'm told, the site of a great storm which caused a large amount of damage. Maybe whoever writes it can work that in somehow. At any rate, we used that storm scenario as the premise for why the city of Galveston seemed so bare, except at a couple of the larger intersections. Walking around the city, looking for things to do, places to eat, one could practically see the zombies dragging their half-rotted limbs down empty streets. Many of the houses are quite old and (no doubt) haunted. Honestly I don't know why someone hasn't written this yet.

Maybe I'll go do that now.

Stay tuned for the (eventual) conclusion of Abroad Once More...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let Go Your Burdens

A funny thing happened to me some months ago, which precipitated my rather abrupt departure from these parts.  I may have mentioned, in a previous post (oh, I don't know, I think it was sometime near enough Labor Day) that I started a business--being bored after the bustle of city life in Astana, with no job and little enough to do all day while the husband was off to collect the proverbial bacon--after all, what is one to do when no jobs simply walk up and present themselves?  A pet sitting business, to be precise.  And away one afternoon I went to walk some dogs in a nearby wilderness.  We drove, in my car, parked in the lot, and off we walked.  Upon coming back I found my window smashed, and my belongings, which I'd applauded myself so heartily for putting in the trunk, rather than leave them lying about in plain sight, oh so cleverly looted.

And of course I was furious when I discovered the misadventure.  And I performed all those tasks one is obliged to do when one becomes the victim of such dastardly deeds--called the police and made a report, called my banks and cancelled all my cards, called my husband and told him I might be a bit late getting home.  And as I waited there, in the gathering rain, for the police to come, for the full scale of everything I'd lost to sink in (for the dogs' owner to come pick them up as my car was full of shattered window not safe for sensitive dogs' paws), it occurred to me that: for this I came back.  A full year I endured the suspicious looks of security guards, convinced I was out to steal all the soap at the grocery. A full year I dutifully read the emails from the U.S. Embassy about protecting oneself from various forms of theft that local masterminds were out to wreak on all us expats.  A full year I eyed any gathering of strangers, speaking a language I didn't fully understand, more than two people standing together, with a wariness only cooped up chickens facing particularly sly foxes could rival.  And a full year later I returned home only to have all that I'd carried with me, to the other side of the world and back, stolen.

A day after the incident, two days later, a week.  I was astounded at all I'd lost.  All I'd carried with me in that small bag (some would call it a purse [on a good day I might agree, though the word yet feels odd]) added up to so many years, so much responsibility, so much history.  I began to feel lighter, for the lost pieces of plastic, the half-used travel bottles of lotion, the membership cards to shops I'd visited once and never returned to, the keys I'd kept on my keychain in the off-chance I'd use them again--never used.  Perhaps it is true what they say.  That civilization is a burden; that we are held back by what we think we need. And so I conceived the idea of my walkabout.  I'd take this new-found freedom and see where the wind blew me.

For who could argue, having felt the liberty of a life unconstrained by the petty rules society throws upon us, that to take part in this civilization, is a benefit?  To rely upon the belief, shaky at best, that one can participate in an idea greater than oneself, that an idea can protect one from poverty, from wrack, from ruin.  I am come to the belief, espoused by so many self-help gurus and hackers of life, that to throw off one's chains and embrace the island that is man, is to achieve a mode of living quite superior to the everyday cares we all throw upon ourselves.  Truly, the poorest among us are indeed richer for their experience, for their lightness, for they do not partake of that  net, so-called "safety," that society throws down. They do not drag their multitudinous belongings after them, they have no losses to mourn.  Who, given a choice, could do otherwise?  I should, I do, thank those who, by crossing the shoddy boundaries of civilization itself, have shown me the false idea of security that society breaths into my ear.  By transgressing what I held as freedom, they have truly set me free, and so should we all be set free.

And so I have gone on my walkabout, unburdened by all that was taken from me.  Do not ask where I have gone, for I carried no maps, no gadgets, no technology that would record my passing.  I return to you now, for the cold season is upon us and there are no hotels that will give me a reservation without a credit card, I return with evangelical spirit and open heart.

Also empty stomach.  Please send food.  Some lotion would not go amiss.