Tag Archives: fear

The Fear of What Could Be Wore Me Down (an interview with Dawn)

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I met Dawn at the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I heard she was an anthropology student studying what her website calls the “growing culture surrounding solo female nomads in the American Southwest.” When we spoke, I found her to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind. About two weeks after the RTR, she interviewed me for her project. One afternoon we sat in the sweet motor home she’d renovated to suit her tastes and needs. She asked me questions, and I talked about my life as a solo female van dweller. We talked and talked until after dark, and honestly, I wish we could have talked more. I didn’t want to Dawn to just be someone I’d met once or twice; I wanted Dawn to be my friend!

 When I began my series of interviews with nomads, Dawn came immediately to mind. We hadn’t been in touch in a while, and I was interested in what she was up to. I wanted to share her story with my readers, but I also wanted to satisfy my own curiosity. Had she gone native*, as we say in the anthropology biz? Had she become a solo female nomad or was she planning to start living her life that way?

Turns out Dawn had decided nomadic living is not for her, and that’s ok. Nomadic living is not for everyone. I think it’s important for folks who are contemplating a change to life on the road to consider both the good and difficult aspects of this way of life. In this interview (conducted via email) Dawn talks about the joys of renovating her rig and the hardships and stresses of life on the road, including “the fear of what was going to break next,” pets that never fully adjusted to life in the motor home, and the near constant struggle of figuring out how to survive.

 Rubber Tramp Artist: I don’t think you’re a full-time rubber tramp. To what extent do you live nomadically?

Dawn: At this point, not at all. I came home and fell into the bathtub, air conditioning, the static -ness of poo that goes away when you flush the toilet and kissed the earth. I never felt the thrill of traveling. Only the fear of what was going to break next. Which is, in hindsight, almost ridiculous. Nothing bad EVER happened.  I never was stranded on the side of the road, I never felt “endangered”. But the fear of what could be wore me down to the point of what I seriously think is PTSD from what was…five months on the road?  It’s insane intellectually.

With that sort of experience behind me I decided to face a phobia of flying this summer…and discovered, yes, I still want to live nomadically, but in hotel rooms, with a backpack, and a jet plane that takes me from here to exotic places in a few hours. I don’t want to worry about pets, propane, plumbing, leaks, gas mileage, wind, cold, heat, being alone, where to dump, where to shower…I am…a…marshmallow. I have no desire to live off grid, or with constant dirt and fear. I’m too freaking old for this crap.

RTA: Tell me about your rig. Make? Model? Year?

Dawn:  1984 Dodge 360 V8, under 75K, Mallard, Edelbrock Carb. Probably gets 7 miles to the gallon despite being 22 ft long and 2000 lbs light in the rear end.

RTA: I seem to recall you remodeled your rig. Tell me about that process.

Dawn:  I loved it. It was completely amazing. I learned so much. Unlike actually living and traveling in it –

Let me explain. I learned plumbing. I moved the water pump, replaced it, learned about pipes and connections and can now change out a faucet or a drain. It isn’t rocket science.

You know what else isn’t rocket science? Electricity. There’s 12volt and there’s blow yourself into the wall 110 volt.  There’s 30 amp and 50 amp. There are batteries, solar panels, half a dozen different sizes of wiring and fuses and tools you need, electrical sockets and solar panels…and it takes forever to wrap your head around, but when you do? You realize that there is a certain amount of self-sufficiency that has been stripped away from us–by lobbyists for the electrical industry, as in this instance.  I’m all for public safety and policies that ensure that, but on the flip side we are reduced to calling in professionals for the most minor of repairs that could be accomplished with basic skills.

You respect, you research, research some more, and then you do it.

Same with propane.

Same with construction.

I had no skills. I was a web designer that knew how to search Google and YouTube, and ask questions at my local Ace Hardware. Sometimes I paid a professional to do it. But mostly, I discovered that maintaining an RV – an entire household system plus a car – was doable.

RTA: How did you get interested in nomadic living?

Dawn:  One word – community. In the mid-2000s I talked my BF into buying a Class A and trying it. Unfortunately, his job left us circling Denver (imagine, he’d rather entertain people at a theatre than pick beets!) and that is not an RV-friendly place. Buy your pot and keep moving. But, what I discovered was a different breed of people that RV’d. No matter their religion or politics, they were always willing to lend a hand. In retrospect, living in an apartment was more isolating.

RTA: You’ve turned your interest in nomadic living into graduate studies. How were you able to do that?

Dawn:  Ah. I needed a thesis and this – studying women that decided to do this RV/vandwelling thing alone – was the only thing that interested me. So I should point out – this is an undergraduate thesis. But I am not going into more debt, at my age, to go any further with my education. So I decided I might as well go all out and make this PHD style. It has really cemented a new direction for the rest of my life writing and working with women to tell their stories. I know a lot of women did this without going into debt, but I couldn’t sell anything, didn’t have steady income being a student, so I did this by going into a lot more debt than I was comfortable with. It just kept snowballing as I found I needed this, or that (or thought I did). And, living on the road was much more expensive than what I budgeted for. Unexpected repairs, food costs, gas…

RTA: Why do you think it’s important to study modern nomads?

Dawn:  Because, look at this – this is completely outside of the norm. This is fringe culture. This is creative. This is women sticking their middle finger to not just society but gender norms and saying I’m going to live and find my life, and screw the lot of you. I love this. Women never get to do this. Ever. Look at history. It doesn’t matter if they fail at being a nomad, or hate it, or whatever. These women are authentic, powerful, and are choosing to experience liberation. I see them as journeying on a trajectory of becoming fully self-evolved. Does that make sense? As far as rubber tramps and American nomads, gender aside? It’s like the release from a pressure cooker. Our culture, and American lifestyle is deteriorating – and rubber tramps/nomads are the first edges of that implosion looking to survive.

RTA: What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned from rubber tramps?

Dawn:  The goodness of people. Ordinary people with varied religions, political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. It is an antithesis to what we see portrayed in politics and the media. We can and are living in two different realities.

RTA: How can my readers find out more about what you’ve learned from people on the road?

Dawn: [My website]  http://www.junowandering.com – it will be a slow process, though – an evolutionary ethnography. [This website also includes Dawn’s blog where you can read about her travels.]

RTA: Do you see yourself ever living nomadically full-time?

Dawn:  Yes. But not in an RV/van/car where I have to navigate being part of the fringes. With a backpack and living wherever fate lets my head fall as a ‘tourist’, instead. Of course, this doesn’t seem practical. And, I could not do this as long as I’m responsible for pets.

RTA: What were your three favorite things about living in your rig?

Dawn:  I didn’t share it. I could move it. It felt like the center of my world.

RTA: What three things did you hate about your rig?

Dawn: Fear. Constant fear of what was going to go wrong and how I’d fix it. Fear of the weather – heat or cold, and taking care of pets. The horrible gas mileage and expense.

RTA: When I met you, you were traveling with two animal companions. How was it for you and the animals?

Dawn:  Hard.  The cat adjusted but the dog is getting older and had issues with skin infections and arthritis. I had an emergency in Quartzsite and couldn’t find a vet for 200 miles – that almost broke me mentally. It is good to be home. The dog is so much happier, as is the cat.  They like their routine and space. They adapted, but I can honestly say they weren’t happy.

RTA: Do you still consider yourself a participant observer**, or have you gone native?

Dawn:  Nope. [I haven’t gone native.] I admire the lifestyle. Rather, I admire those that live it. But, it’s not for me.  Even though I feel like a wimp saying that!! I feel like I failed some test. Living full-time as a nomad is like being a farmer. There is nothing else – there is no time or energy to be creative, to relax, to just ‘be’. Maybe, if you have a retirement income. But not if you have to figure out how to also survive. It’s constant – trying to find resources, deal with the weather and legalities of where to park, negotiate new situations, maintain both a car and a home that are constantly undergoing both earthquakes and tornadoes…

Does that make sense? Perhaps if it was like traditional nomads that traveled in familial groups? But alone? I think – I think – that there are a lot more people doing this under an illusion of what it could be, than are actually mentally cut out to live like this. Just a thought from the ‘new’ nomads I’ve met…

*Merriam-Webster defines “go native” as “to start to behave or live like the local people.”

*Merriam-Webster defines “participant observer” as “one that is engaged in a research technique in anthropology and sociology characterized by the effort of an investigator to gain entrance into and social acceptance by a foreign culture or alien group so as better to attain a comprehensive understanding of the internal structure of the society.”

Eek!

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I knew I was behaving like a stereotype, but I couldn’t help myself.

I was standing on the living room couch, shrieking at the top of my lungs after seeing a mouse skitter across the floor.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownI don’t know how it happened, but at some time during my 16 years of life, I’d developed a fear of all things rodent. I didn’t think hamsters and gerbils were cute (although for some reason I could tolerate guinea pigs). I didn’t think mice were cute either, and rats were straight-up deplorable.

Once when I was about twelve, my family was leaving my grandmother’s house late in the afternoon. My grandmother lived on the outskirts of a small town surrounded by crop fields. She had a huge front yard, and I don’t know how many acres in the back. There was plenty of room for wild critters to live all around her.

On this particular day, as my family was about to walk out onto the back porch to say our lingering good-byes, we saw a horrible site. In the utility room accessible only from the porch, rats come pouring out of a metal trash can close to the door. I’m not exaggerating when I say “rats.” These animals were not mice. These were pointy-nosed, long tailed rats. There was not one thing cute about them as far as I was concerned.

I may be exaggerating when I say rats were pouring out of the trash can. In my first recollection, there were at least a dozen rats jumping one after another from the trashcan and running around helter-skelter as if they were trying to desert the proverbial sinking ship. But could there have really been twelve rats in my grandmother’s utility room? I know there was more than one rat, more than two, definitely more than three. I know I must be correct if I say there were between three and twelve rats running willy-nilly in the utility room and on the porch.

My grandmother kept a clean house, but she said she’d been having problems with the rats in the utility room. I think my uncle hadn’t been around to burn the trash, so the rats had taken over the trash can. My grandma moved the trash can into the utility room thinking the rats wouldn’t venture in there to get the garbage. WRONG! The rats had no problem going into the utility room to get to the trash. They must have made their move into the can while we were in the house visiting. When they heard us near the back door, they rushed out of the can in search of better hiding places.

I had never seen a live wild rat in real life, but I was certainly terrified by these. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was terrified. I was not just uncomfortable, not just bothered, not just scared. I was losing my shit. I was acting bat-shit-crazy. I was unreasonably, illogically terrified. I was immediately screaming, sobbing, bawling. I refused to leave the house and walk five steps across the porch, down the concrete steps, and across the carport to the family car. I simply refused.  My father had to carry me—still sobbing—to the car. I was too old—and certainly too big—to be carried, and my dad was not accustomed to indulging such foolishness, but he must have known I wasn’t going to leave if I had to rely on my own two feet.

The fear I felt was primal and deep. I was not just a little scared. I had moved into the realm of phobia.

(More than three decades later, a friend said maybe my fear of rodents was some sort of ancestral memory left in my DNA by people who had avoided the Black Death by avoiding rats due to a fear of them. This theory makes as much sense as any other reason I’ve come up with.)

On the day the mouse was in the house, I felt the same primal fear. I was afraid, and I wanted to be as far away from the mouse as possible. I didn’t weigh my options, consider my choices, then decide the sofa was the place to be. No, there was no careful thought process. I simply jumped up on the couch and began shrieking.

What was I afraid of? The only concrete fear I can name is the concern that the mouse was going to run up my leg. Is that even a thing outside of slapstick comedy? Has any mouse anywhere ever run up a human’s leg? Does flight ever bring a wild animal into closer proximity to the flailing, screaming bigger creature? Doesn’t the concept of “flight” necessitate movement away from danger?

In any case, there was no good reason for my fright.

It’s just a little mouse, said my annoyed mother.

It’s so cute, said my animal-loving sibling.

I’ll set a tramp, said my practical father.

I stood on the couch long after I stopped shrieking, long after the mouse had hid itself somewhere safe. My family didn’t understand, but to our reptile brains, sometimes the tiniest thing is really the biggest and most important.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-cute-little-mouse-301448/.

Bike Theives

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During my 20s, I lived in a dangerous city. Almost everyone I knew had been mugged at least once, sometimes at gunpoint. Homes (and by “homes,” I mean the substandard housing that nearly everyone I knew lived in) were burglarized. Wheels were stolen from bicycles. Entire bicycles were stolen. The murder rate was through the roof.

As I walked or biked around the city (I didn’t have a car), in the back of my mind was always the worry I’d accidentally witness a drug deal or a murder and get shot because of my wandering eyes. I learned to navigate through the city by moving briskly with my head up, alert, paying attention to my surroundings, but not showing any interest in what illegal things other people might be doing.

One night I was walking with my male friend. It wasn’t too late–maybe 10pm. I can’t remember where we’d just left (maybe work, maybe a bar) or where we were going (probably a bar). We’d left the busy tourist area and were walking through a residential neighborhood, but we were only a couple of blocks away from a cluster of bars where people were likely partying.

My friend was pushing his bicycle. Normally, he would have been riding it, but since I was on foot, he was walking too.

I don’t remember how it happened–if they stepped out of the shadows or approached us on the sidewalk from the opposite direction–but two men we didn’t know were suddenly right there with us. Before my friend could walk past, one put his hands on the bike’s handlebars and said he was taking the bike.

As is so often the case in this type of situation, it all happened so fast.

I didn’t see a gun or a knife or a weapon of any kind. I just saw two guys–one with his hands on the bike, saying he was taking it; the other silent, acting almost as if he didn’t really want to be involved.

I started yelling. I probably screamed Help! I think I screamed Fire! (My mom had told me to scream Fire! if anyone ever tried to kidnap or rape or otherwise hurt me.) I started running in the direction of the bars where I knew there would likely be people.

While I was screaming, but before I ran, I saw my friend had his hands on the handlebars too, fighting for possession.

(For years, whenever I remembered this incident, the image I saw in my mind was that of my friend swinging the entire bicycle up and over his head. My friend says it didn’t happen quite that way. Memory is a fascinating and untrustworthy phenomenon.)

So I ran screaming away from my friend and the would-be bike thieves. I ran a couple of blocks, right up to some guys standing outside a bar. My friend is being robbed, I told them. Two guys are trying to steal his bike. I asked them to please come with me and help my friend.

The guys were slow to react. Maybe the alcohol that was surely in their systems had slowed down neural connections, making what I was saying difficult to comprehend. Maybe they feared I was trying to lure them into the dark where I had friends waiting to rob them.

Before they could decide if or how they should help, my friend came around the corner pushing his bike. He’d gotten away from the would-be thieves. He’d escaped transportation disaster.

I can’t remember now (so many years later) what made the would-be thieves leave, but I’m going to believe my screaming and running for help discouraged them.

We were so cavalier back then. As we continued on our way, we critiqued the technique of the men who’d just tried to rob us. How silly of them to try that without a gun, we laughed. They didn’t even have a knife, we jeered. The second guy should not have let me scream, much less run, I marveled. He should have had me on the ground with his hand over my mouth, I strategized.

We decided we could could be much better robbers than those guys were. They didn’t even know how to do what they were trying to do.

In my naiveté, I thought everyone lived more or less in fear. I didn’t realize until I moved away that I’d spent almost all of my adult life always feeling afraid. Some events were scarier than others, but I always felt some degree of fear. Being afraid was so normal, we laughed at scary situations.

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I took this (only marginally related) photo.

Fear

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“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves…”
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
I read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild last December and really enjoyed it. I recommend it.

This quote about fear really struck home for me. I know that when i am alone in my van at night, in an isolated area, I can lie awake telling myself scary stories about who is out there and what could happen to me. Or I can go to sleep.

There are plenty of scary people and situations in the world. I do my best to stay away from them. But if I’m doing everything I can to protect myself, why do I need to tell myself scary stories about what could possibly maybe might happen?

I know some people believe that if one dwells on negative circumstances, one will draw such negativity to him/herself. One friend of mine who communicates with angels says if one dwells on negative situations, the angels think one is asking for a lesson and will allow those very negative situations to happen. I don’t exactly believe either of those things, but I do believe the power of our minds is stronger and vaster than most of us understand. I think I need to be prepared to protect myself while not worrying endlessly and working myself into a panic over something I’m only making up.

Like Cheryl Strayed, I’m going to tell myself new stories, different stories. I am going to tell myself that I am strong and brave and free. I am going to tell myself that I am confident and competent, fierce and kind. I’m going to tell myself those stories until my fantasy turns into belief, until my belief turns into reality, until my acting becomes my truth, until my doing turns into being.