Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Magic of the Free Pile

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As always, the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous was fantastic. Oh, there were plenty of items useless to me, like the dozen pair of reading glasses and the women’s clothing in sizes so small I wouldn’t have fit in them as a fourth grader, but I got so many great things from the free pile. I know other people did too.

I snagged a brand new red folding camp chair (retail price: right around $10 at Wal-Mart) for Coyote Sue. Once she arrived, she snagged for herself a large metal watering can, a decorative mirror in a wooden frame; and a four-plex birdhouse. One day while we were free pile shopping together, I found a container of dried black beans and handed them over to an excited Coyote Sue. She may have been the one person at the RTR who loved the free pile as much as I did.

Because the free pile required no money, we allowed ourselves to take risks.

The Divine Miss M picked up a folding cart on wheels. She took it to her camp for a few days and experimented with its uses. When she found it difficult to fold and discovered the plastic it was made from was cracking, she returned it to the pile. It wasn’t long before we watched a musician folding it up and packing it into her car. Maybe she had better luck with it than Miss M did.

I found food besides the dried beans I gave to Coyote Sue on the free pile, although not as much as in previous years when the cans left over from the cooking of the chili and soup dinners were donated. One day I scored a can of Del Monte (OH! Name brand!) peas. Another day  I snagged about a dozen Wal-Mart Great Value granola bars. Later, I scored a chicken and noodle MRE; I put it in my pantry for lean times. When I saw a donated container of doggy treats, I snatched it up for my friend’s pooch.

The strangest consumable I found on the free pile was a nearly full case of cans of Miller High Life beer. At first, I thought the carton was empty, but when I peered in, I saw only two or three cans were missing. Then I wondered if the cans in the carton were empty. Maybe someone had left a carton almost full of empty cans as a joke. However, when I nudged the carton with my toe, its heft told me it was almost full.

Did someone really leave beer? a fellow free pile peruser asked after I pointed out the carton.

It’s in the free pile, I assured him.

I do like Miller beer, he said.

You should take it, I encouraged, thinking of all the sober children in China, while also feeling a bit guilty about encouraging unhealthy behavior. Maybe I should have taken the beer when I first saw it and emptied the cans in the scrub.

I would have been really excited to find that beer when I was twenty, I said as the man carried the beer over to his bicycle.

Heck, I”m 41, and I’m pretty excited, he said.

My friends gave me first dibs on some items before they were offered to the general free pile public.

Mr. B. brought over a digital camera he’d fixed. (I take apart anything broken before I throw it away, he told me. I figure I should put my education to use. Apparently taking apart the broken at least sometimes leads to repair.) I decided to hold on to the camera in the event I need to replace the one I’m currently using. (I realize taking on a spare can be a dangerous precedent for a van dweller.)

Lady Nell sent Mr. T to me with the laptop he was about to offer up to the free pile. I passed on it because the operating system on mine is newer than what Mr. T’s had. Mr. T was skeptical anyone would want it, but it was already gone on my next visit to the pile. To someone without a laptop or tablet, it must have been quite a score.

Gee also gave me a preview of her free pile donations. From her I got a beautiful reversible silk wrap-around skirt; a pair of black leggings lined with soft black fleece; and a pair of light-weight, brightly colored, slip-on Sketchers. At first I thought the Sketchers were too small, but after wearing them a couple of days, they stretched a bit, and I love them! Slip on shoes are great for van life! Alas, while the leggings fit around my middle, they were way too long for my short little legs. I passed them on to Coyote Sue, whose long Viking legs are better suited to their length.

One day a woman I’d met briefly stopped her pickup near my camp and asked if she could park there for a few minutes while she carried some things to the free pile. I said sure and offered to help her. She offered to show me what she had before we brought it all to the pile. She explained another lady had given her the items and asked her to donate them. I found a pair of brand new Duluth Trading Company canvas pants which fit me in the waist and were only five inches too long! That’s a major find for a short, fat gal like me. The pants are my new favorite piece of cold weather gear. (I also got a light blue shirt with a hood, also from the Duluth Trading Company, also in my size. Double score! Alas, I have already spilled curry on the blue shirt, and I don’t know if I am going to be able to scrub it out.)

Two of my best free pile finds were a small cast iron skillet (hello, portion control) and a stamp collection. I rummaged through the collection for stamps that had not been cancelled and found many. I gave a bunch of cancelled stamps to Coyote Sue for her collaging needs and kept the rest to sell on the Etsy shop I want to open to sell collaging and scrapbooking items I pick up cheap.

The real free pile magic happened for a friend of mine, but I was involved.

He was living in his car and hadn’t figured out a way to sleep comfortably. We’d talked about how sleeping in a tent might be better, but he was flat broke, so couldn’t rush out and buy one. Maybe I’ll find one in the free pile, he said.

I’d driven out to see a friend in a nearby town that day, and I was excited to explore the free pile when I returned. since it’s always more exciting after several hours away. I didn’t see anything good but half an hour later, I watched a man deposit a red beach chair on the pile. I thought surely someone milling around the pile would grab it, but no one seemed to want it. I went over to the pile and retrieved the chair for myself. (It’s the perfect height to allow me to sit comfortably in the van and see out my side window.)

Five minutes later, I was talking to my friend, who was still trying figure out how to sleep in his car. I told him I’d seen some foam bed padding on the free pile and offered to go see if it was still there. I went over to the pile and saw the padding was gone. Bummer. But then I saw an interesting nylon bag. Could it be? I peaked inside. Yep, poles and more green nylon. It was a tent.

I picked it up and carried it over to my friend. Heres that tent you manifested, I said as I handed it over.

 

Plans

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When I was traveling with Mr. Carolina, I’d sometimes ask him about his plans. Whenever I’d utter the word plans, he’d throw back his head and laugh uproariously. Mr. Carolina knew we can plan all day long, but the Universe does what it wants when it wants and our schemes mean nothing.

These were my plans for 2017:

Attend the RTR

Spend a few weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit in MegaBabylon

Work on writing my second book

Spend a few more weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit again for the same woman in MegaBabylon

Work some more on my second book

Get paid to score student responses to standardized tests

Head to California to spend my summer working as a camp host and a parking lot attendant

Those plans were supposed to get me through the middle of October 2017.

I made it to the RTR, but after that, the Universe had other ideas for me.

At the RTR I hit it off with a very nice man (who has a very nice dog companion). We up and decided to go to New Mexico together, where we both came down with terrible colds. I still managed to do two readings from my book, Confessions of a Work Camper. I sold ten copies of the book, as well as some jewelry and shiny rocks. Life was good, even though the man and I were sick.

I had a lovely birthday in New Mexico. The man and I soaked in hot mineral water, then joined two more friends in the park for ice cream and pie. It was a wonderful day.

The next day I was scheduled to leave New Mexico and head back to MegaBabylon for my house and dog sitting engagement. Saying good-bye to the man was bittersweet, but I’d decided to travel back to New Mexico to see him again between my two house sitting gigs. He’s a carpenter by trade and had offered to transform wasted space in my van into storage space. I was going to borrow power tools from my host family and work with the man on a van project. I was excited about the project and excited about seeing the man again.

When I got into the van that morning, there were no messages on my phone. I looked out of my side-view mirror and watched the man watch me as I drove away. I listened to Old Crow Medicine Show sing “Wagon Wheel” and tried not to feel sad. I’d known this day would come. I’d known all aspects of life are fleeting. I’d known all we have is the present moment, and I’d done my best to enjoy each moment I’d had with him to the fullest. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t already miss him.

Before I got on the interstate, I had to stop at Wal-Mart. I was still sick, and the sickness had settled in my lungs as a cough. The coughing had kept me up the night before, so I really wanted to be able to take a big swig of cough syrup when I arrived at the free camping area I’d decided on as my stopover. I thought my best move was to get some cough syrup before I left town.

When I stopped the van, I checked my phone, as is my habit. The screen showed a notification saying I had three messages. Three messages? What was up with that?

I went to my messages and saw they were all from the woman I was supposed to house and dog sit for starting the next day. She said she’d hurt her back and was just leaving the hospital. She’d had to cancel her trip. She didn’t need me until April.

I was reeling. What to do? Head back to MegaBabylon anyway? Stay and spend more time with the man? Something else I hadn’t even yet imagined?

It took me a couple of days and a couple of long conversations with the man to figure things out, but I made some decisions. I could tell you my plans, but what’s the point? The Universe is going to send me wherever it wants me to be.

 

 

I Am a Good Person

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Trigger warning: This post is about a past violent relationship.

I wrote the following words on Sunday, January 29, 2017, when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep.

For a few weeks, I was waking up every night right around 3am. That’s what happened to me the night of January 29. The next day, when I mentioned to a friend how I’d woken up at 3am and how waking at that time kept happening, she told me I should pay attention to what I was thinking about when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, maybe write it all down. I told her that’s just what I’d done.

My friend said (and the Power of Positivity website [https://www.powerofpositivity.com/if-you-wake-up-at-the-same-time-every-night-this-may-be-why/] confirmed),

If the time that you awaken is between 3:00 am and 5:00am, it could also be a sign of your Higher Power alerting you to pay attention to messages that are being sent to align you with your higher purpose.

In any case, the following words are what I wrote that night:

The fear is not just that he would hurt me, but that I would go back. I’m scared I’d set eye on him and feel his power over me again, succumb to it, run into the sickness with open arms.

It hurts to say I participated in my own abuse. We’re not supposed to talk about this aspect of the violence, but the truth of the matter is, I stayed. Sure, he threatened to kill me, my family, the dog, my friends, everyone I ever loved, if I left. Sure, he said it would be my fault if he ever ended up back in prison, the thing he feared most. He said I’d pay if he was ever put back in a cell, that he knew people and had connections and could have me killed. But I could have left, walked away and never gone back, as I finally did. What took me so long? And after the first three times I left in grand and bold ways, why did I go back?

I had hope, I suppose–hope that this time could be different, hope that this time I could be different, hope that this time I could be the person he wanted me to be, hope that maybe this time his anger would dissolve.

No one ever told me hope can sometimes hurt. No one ever told me hope should sometimes be released. No one ever told me that sometimes a situation really is hopeless.

I gave up on him changing early on. He was a pillar. He was steadfast. His anger was not going anywhere.

How can I bring out the worst in a person I love so much? I often wondered.

Now I understand I wasn’t a catalyst for the worst, but an excuse.

Why didn’t I leave?

I thought we were cosmically linked. I thought our stories were meant to be intertwined forever. I believed it was us against the world.

I believed his lies. I believed the lies I told myself.

I thought maybe I was so flawed, that this was the best I could ever do.

I hoped under all the bullshit, he really did love me.

I thought maybe he was capable of hunting me down and hunting down my family and hunting down my friends and killing us all. I thought I was responsible for protecting all the people I’d ever loved. I thought I was responsible for protecting him. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I was responsible for protecting myself.

I’ve forgiven him, for the most part, to the extent forgiveness can extend to someone I still fear.

You don’t have to hate him on my behalf, I told a friend once. I’ve let go of any hate I felt for him. I feel great compassion for him, he who’s been locked in cages since he was 12. I wish him peace. I wish him love. I wish him to stay as far away from me as possible.

I’ve mostly forgiven him, but it’s just occurred to me that I need to forgive myself. I am my own most precious gift, and I squandered my own safety and value and self-worth to appease a bully, The hardest thing to know is that I sacrificed myself all for nothing; I gave up myself and it wasn’t enough for him. I could never give up enough of myself to satisfy him.

So now I’m working on forgiving myself for staying, for loving him and protecting him more than I was willing to love and protect myself.

My new mantra is I am a good person.

I say it to myself before I go to sleep at night. I am a good person. I say it to myself when negative self-talk creeps into my head. I am a good person.

I say it to myself when I want to say You really fucked that up or No one’s ever going to love you because you’re so fucked up or You’re going to die alone and no one will even remember you. Instead,  I say, I am a good person.

Currently, I chant it frantically. I am a good person. I am a good person. IamagoodpersonIamagoodpersonI amagoodpersonIamagoodperson.

I’m hoping if I say it enough, I will come to believe it; the thought will become automatic; it will be true. I am a good person.

I’m hoping eventually I will be able to say it calmly, slowly, from a place deep within me. I. Am. A. Good. Person.

Because I know I can only let go of the fear of drifting back to him by loving myself enough to truly believe I deserve better than his bully bullshit.

Valentine to My Own Dear Heart

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Coyote Sue told me about the contest.

A local coffee shop was holding an art contest with the theme “Sacred Heart” just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Oh yeah, I thought. I can collage it up to that theme.

Wikipedia says,

The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart[3] shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. Sometimes the image is shown shining within the bosom of Christ with his wounded hands pointing at the heart. The wounds and crown of thorns allude to the manner of Jesus’ death, while the fire represents the transformative power of divine love.

I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do when I started the project. I knew I wanted to make a collage, and I knew I wanted to profess the sacredness of my heart. As interesting as a heart pierced by a lance wound and surrounded by a crown of thorns may be, I decided not to go the Jesus route with my project. Yes, in the collage for the contest, I would make the sacred heart in question my own.

Most of my collages are small, usually about 4″ x 6″, postcard size. The minimum size accepted for this contest was 8″ x 10″. OH! This was going to be a big one.

I started gathering materials at my favorite purveyor of inspiration, the thrift store.

This is the original wall ornament I used in my project after I painted about half the border with red fingernail polish.

At the thrift store, I found an inspirational plaque with the saying “Home is Where the Heart Is.” I liked it because the words were written on a piece of heavy cardboard that projected from the frame. I also bought half a bottle of red fingernail polish which I used to paint a copper colored border. Finally, I found a big red cardboard heart to use as the focal point of the project.

After painting the border, I started collaging the areas within and outside the border. I used mostly images I had on hand. I also collaged the big red cardboard heart. I went back and forth between those two parts of the project.

Royalty Free Images Anatomical Heart Vintage

This is the royalty-free anatomical heart image I got used in my project.

I wanted my sacred heart to be somewhat realistic, so I found a royalty free image of an anatomical heart from “a Vintage Circa 1884 Science Book.” I used colored pencils to color the body of the heart red and the blood vessels a purply blue. Later, I used purple and red glass beads to accent the parts of the heart and the blood vessels.

My final touch on the anatomical heart was to add words of inspiration and aspiration next to the letters marking the different regions of the heart. For example, the letter H shows the part of my heart where “breathing with joy and ease” occurs. Part C of my heart is “joyous.” The letter I points to the area from where my compassion flows.

In addition to the images I cut from magazines and catalogs, I used real stones on my collage. I added turquoise (which is said to stimulate romantic love), rose quartz (the stone of unconditional love and infinite peace) and quartz crystals (a powerful healer and energy amplifier) I dug up in Arkansas. In the middle of the anatomical heart, I glued on a cubic zirconia a friend sent me last summer. The cubic zirconia and the self-stick “jewels” I bought at Wal-Mart give the whole project a bit of bling.

I pierced the representation of my heart with little skewers which once held tea bags from the shop sponsoring the contest. Those skewers sport little red hearts. I think the skewers evoke the piercing by the lance in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I attached  metal spirals which I painted with glittery nail polish, as well as a large red glass heart which had been crookedly glued to my dash. (I used three different kinds of glue to make this collage! Is that some kind of a record?)

The queen of hearts represents me, and the pink image of Guanyin (or Guan Yin) represents the compassion and mercy I want to offer to myself and others. (For those who may not know, Wikipedia says Guanyin

is an East Asianbodhisattva associated with compassion as venerated by Mahayana Buddhists. She is commonly known as the “Goddess of Mercy” in English.)

Since I’m a word person, I couldn’t let the piece go without a written explanation.

My heart is sacred, fragile, and precious.

I used the definitions from an old dictionary Coyote Sue gave me to explain the meaings of the words “sacred,” “fragile,” and “precious.”

I call this collage “Valentine for My Own Dear Heart.” It’s a reminder to me that my heart needs to be treated with reverence and care. Anyone who gets close to my heart better be prepared to treat it kindly.

I took the photos in this post.

Lady Party

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Sixties Groovy Female Symbol by GDJHow had I ended up at this full moon party with all these rich young women?

When I looked across the room and saw my roommate, Baby Dyke, I knew the blame lay squarely on her.

The hostess of the party was a friend of Baby Dyke’s friend from work. The work friend had invited Baby Dyke, then Baby Dyke had invited me and Big Mamma and a handful of other slightly dirty, more-or-less punk, full-on-lesbian or somewhat-bisexual, women-loving-women. I guess Baby Dyke didn’t know the rule about guests of guests not inviting guests.

The first indication we were out of our league was the gate…as in gated community. This was perhaps my first foray into a gated community, but I knew it was where the rich and fearful resided.

Not to worry, Baby Dyke reassured me when I questioned our entrance into a gated community. The house wasn’t actually the home of the hostess. The woman was simply holding the party at her parents’ house. That was supposed to make me feel better? As if somehow the woman’s parents were loaded and she had access to their house, but she was working class like those of us being brought in by Baby Dyke?

We found the house and entered. The house was huge, as I’d suspected it would be, and tastefully decorated. I’ve since been in houses as fancy, but that night was a first for me.

I don’t remember being met with any hostility. All of the friends of the hostess were very polite. I realize now, they weren’t the children of the uber rich, but they’d obviously grown up with access to advantages I’d never had.

We started the evening with sangria in the kitchen. The drink was served in delicate tea cups. I remember Big Mamma laughing about the little teacups disappearing in her big hand. She was a little more somber later when she said she’d spent the whole night worried some part of her big self might smash something expensive.

We took our tiny cups of sangria out onto the back deck where we were treated to a stunning sunset view of the hills.

It’s so nice to be able to see the hills, one of the friends of the hostess gushed. So many people don’t even know they’re here.

How could they know they’re here? I wondered. If the hills are surrounded by gated communities, only people living in the gated communities can see them. But being Southern and all, I kept my mouth shut.

To this party I’d worn a polyester blend, blue and white checked housedress with a zipper up the front. I can’t remember if I’d carefully chosen this dress to wear to the party of if Baby Dyke had breezed into our home and told me I was going to a party at such the last minute that this dress was the best ensemble I’d been able to pull together. If I wore such a thing now, I’d look like what I am: a middle-aged, fat woman wearing something loose and comfortable. Back then, I was young and thin enough to believe I looked cute in old lady clothes.

The dress, or course, had been bought used. More specifically, the dress had come from the dollar bin at a really hip little second-hand store near my house. Finding the dress in the dollar bin (one step away from the rag bag) definitely marked it as not quite as hip as the other items in the shop.

I thought the dress was a reasonable party outfit. It wasn’t a dressy party. Baby Dyke and Big Mamma were wearing trousers and masculine shirts. The friends of the hostess were wearing casual summer clothes. Nobody looked too fancy.

Did you get your dress at The Gap? one of the friends of the hostess asked me.

For years, I’ve laughed at the woman. How could she possibly think the dress had come from The Gap? Nothing about the dress indicated The Gap.

Now I wonder if maybe she knew as well as I did that the dress had not come from The Gap. Although I thought of The Gap as a place where rich people shopped, perhaps she thought she was putting me down by suggesting my dress came from a place where middle-income people shopped for poorly made clothes. I don’t even know. I was absolutely naive about the ways of the rich and thought the young woman was just dumb. If she was sending a cutting insult my way, it was lost on me.

Oh, no! I told her. I explained I’d gotten the dress our of a dollar bin at a second-hand store. Any judgment from her went right over my head.

At some point, someone suggested we sit in a circle of chairs on the deck and enjoy the cool night air. I can’t remember if we went around the circle and introduced ourselves, but I do remember someone suggesting we play a kissing game. I don’t remember who exactly suggested the kissing game, but I’m pretty sure it was someone from Baby Dyke’s crew. We weren’t just dirty, punk, women-loving women. We were dirty, punk, horny women-loving-women.

For me, bisexuality was new enough to be exciting. I was still nursing a broken heart after being dumped by my boyfriend, and I thought perhaps a sweet new girlfriend might ease my pain. Alas, no sweet lady ever offered me any sexual healing.

In any case, whenever I was invited to play a kissing game, I was ready to participate. Red Lips by kuba

The hostess and her friends seemed a little hesitant. Maybe they’d never explored the loving of women. Maybe they had explored it and decided it was not for them. Whatever their previous experiences with women, they all agreed to play the game.

As my fuzzy memory clears, I think it was Big Mamma who suggested the game and explained the rules. She pulled a big slice of pineapple from the bowl of sangria. We would pass the pineapple around the circle mouth to mouth. When the slice was passed to a new gal, the woman doing the passing would bite off the chunk of fruit she’d been holding in her teeth. When a woman was presented with not enough pineapple to bite, she and the woman who’d gotten the last chunk had to kiss.

The fruit started moving around the circle. When it came to the woman to my right, I turned and used my mouth to take it from her. There was only a small piece of the fruit left, and I knew I’d get to kiss the stranger to my left.

I turned and showed her there wasn’t enough pineapple for her to bite. I swallowed what was left and puckered up, but my kissing partner balked. I don’t know if she didn’t want to kiss me in particular or any woman at all, but her quick no offense in my direction did little to soothe my fractured self-esteem. She must have wanted to kiss someone in the group because she had agreed to play, but she obviously didn’t want to kiss me.

A second piece of pineapple was put into play across the circle. There was much giggling and whooping as women put their mouths close, separated only by a bit of tropical goodness.

The fruit made its way to the woman on my right. Again, there was only a small piece of pineapple to take from her. Again, I showed the small piece of pineapple to the woman on my left, chewed it, swallowed it, and puckered my lips. Again, she who was meant to kiss me balked. This time she accused her friends, You set me up! This assurtion was maybe true, since they’d started the pineapple with the same woman as the time before. She again lobbed a no offense or two in my direction, but she’d already shattered my fragile ego.

If she didn’t want to play, she shouldn’t have played. If she didn’t want to kiss me, she should have sat next to someone else or hid in the bathroom. It wasn’t like I was going to stick my tongue down her throat or expect her to marry me, but I suppose she had no way of knowing my intentions.

I don’t know how the hostess and her friends ended up feeling about the party, but the evening was pretty much a bust for me.

Images courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/282925/sixties-groovy-female-symbol and https://openclipart.org/detail/176576/red-lips.

 

Reconnoitering in the Desert

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Last week my friend and I walked around the desert, looking for a place to make a good camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. While we were walking around, I took photos of some of the things I saw.

This photo shows the old car we found in the wash. It’s very rusty.

The most unusual thing we saw was the rusted remains of an old automobile. Believe me, the car was not in a place it could have easily been driven to. In fact, it was in a place that seemed impossible to drive to. It was high up in a wash, in a place I think no motorized vehicle could go.

How do you think that car got here? I asked my friend.

I dunno, he drawled.

I think it was washed here in a flood! I said. How else could it have gotten here?

The car seemed old, not just because it was rusty. The design of the car seemed old. I think the car had been sitting there for years, decades even. I don’t think anyone is going to drag the car out of the wash. I think the car is going to sit there until it becomes one with the earth.

This is the front of the car we found in the wash. It looks really old to me.

Wow! Look at that bug! I said when I saw a beetle sunning itself on a small rock. I like to see creatures hanging out in nature.

We poked at the beetle a little, just to see it move, then we felt bad about disturbing it. It tried to hide in the shadow of the surrounding rocks. I tried to move it back to the sun where I’d first found it.

Later, I almost stepped on it as I skidded down from a higher level where I’d climbed.

Watch out for our little friend, my friend said to me, but I thought he was talking about the dog. Luckily, I didn’t step on the beetle, although I was pretty out of control at the moment, waving my arms and trying to get down the steep, rocky incline without falling.

Here’s the rock formation I’d climbed up to look at more closely:

I stood at the base of it and looked at the openings in the rock. I think it was full of packrat nests. I saw what I thought was feces, and got away from it fast. I don’t need any New Mexico plague, thank you very much.

I think the formation was made of sandstone. It felt gritty to the touch, and seemed as if it could easily disintegrate or wash away. Although at first I thought camping up against it might make for a good campsite, we ended up deciding it was too unstable to trust with our lives.

After a couple of hours of walking around, we found a spot my friend liked. It was mostly flat and mostly secluded. He set up his tent and hauled his things over while I reorganized the van.

As I left in the late afternoon, I saw the sunset in my sideview mirror.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day in the desert.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

What I’m Learning About Self-Publishing a Book

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Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
I recently self-published my first book, Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s a 200+ page collection of short essays about my experiences as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a popular trailhead in a National Forest. Some of my readers have expressed interest in publishing books of their own, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about self-publishing so far.

#1 Writing the book was the easy part.

Confessions of a Work Camper includes 15 never-published-anywhere-else essays, as well as newly written introductions to each chapter, and some fun lists, but the bulk of the book has appeared in blog posts. For the most part, the book was written before I decided to self-publish it.

The steps that came after writing were the more difficult parts for me.

#1a Proofreading is a pain.

Believe it or not, I edit my blog posts several times before I schedule them. I thought I’d been doing a great job proofreading until I put the texts of posts into my book document and found typos all over the place. So I did more proofreading and editing. Then I did more proofreading and editing. Then I took a friend up on her offer to help, and she read the entire document and offered some corrections. Then I read the entire book aloud and found more mistakes. So when it was time to approve the proof of the book, I did so without reading it one more time. That was a mistake.

When I started reading my essays again in preparation for reading them aloud to an audience, I immediately found more errors. I’m not talking about formatting problems. I’m talking about wrong words in sentences. Since the words aren’t technically misspelled, the spell check didn’t alert me to them, and my eyes glided right over them. Sigh.

Every typo is an embarrassment to me.

The first edition is barely complete, and I already need to work on the second edition.

#1b It took me a while to figure out how to use CreateSpace.

I needed some form of Adobe to use CreateSpace’s cover creator. I couldn’t get Adobe to work with Firefox. I had a telephone conversation with a CreateSpace representative in South Africa. He was exceedingly nice and very helpful, but Firefox and Adobe still wouldn’t work together to let me use the CreateSpace cover creator. I ended up using Google Chrome to do anything on CreateSpace that required Adobe.

I put the text of the book in a Word Starter document. (Word Starter is the word processing program my laptop came with. I never upgraded.) When I transferred my text into the document formatted for CreateSpace, any words in italics transferred to all caps. Since I use italics to indicate thoughts or conversations, this glitch made it seem as if all the people in my book were YELLING AT EACH OTHER. I had to go into the CreateSpace document and manually change each instance of capital letters into italics.

When it came time to approve the book’s formatting online, formatting that looked fine in the CreateSpace Word document looked all wrong in the examples of the actual book. I spent an entire morning working on the formatting, and it’s still not perfect.

I’m not saying CreateSpace is impossible to use. When I got frustrated with it, I reminded myself that people many people use CreateSpace to self-publish every day. However, there is a learning curve when using CreateSpace. (The Poet had warned me of the learning curve when she first told me all she knew about publishing with CreateSpace.) Until a writer learns the ends and outs of CreateSpace, getting a book ready for publication may take more time than expected.

#2 That book’s not going to promote itself.

Again, writing the book was easy, compared to getting people to buy it.

My book was first released as an ebook. In the first day the ebook was available, it sold nine copies. This is great! I thought. From there, sales dwindled. Once my friends who read ebooks bought their copies, I had to figure out how to get strangers to buy it.

#2a Public libraries aren’t so keen on buying self-published books (and sometimes they don’t seem to want to buy any books at all).

I had the idea to get all my friends across the country to ask their local libraries to buy my book. To make it easier for them, I researched different libraries to find out how my supporters could go about requesting a book for purchase. Many libraries have an online form for such a request, but while some library systems (I’m looking at you, Las Vegas, NV and Richmond, VA), say sure, patrons can suggest a book for purchase, I found no indication of how to do so.

I filled out an online request for the purchase of my book with a library system in a major U.S. city where I happen to have a library card. I received a response saying they don’t even consider buying a self-published book unless it has at least 50 reviews on Amazon or GoodReads. (I currently have seven reviews on Amazon and none on GoodReads.)

#2b I’m not much of a hustler, so figuring out ways to promote the book hasn’t been easy. I’m encouraging folks who’ve read the book to leave reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads. I’ve set up an author’s page on GoodReads. I’ve announced the book (repeatedly) here on my blog and on the Rubber Tramp Artist and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.

I’ve done two readings so far, and have another scheduled for the day this post runs. The two readings were at the RTR and both were small. Making a reading a success seems to take a lot of promotion, including hanging flyers and sending emails. I haven’t given up, but it’s a lot more work than I expeted.

#2c It takes CreateSpace a while to deliver 100 copies of a 200+ page book.

It was Christmas before I was able to approve the book for publication and order the 100 copies I wanted for promotion. I thought I’d get them by the first week in January, which was based upon absolutely no concrete information. Instead, my estimated delivery date was January 17. I was hesitant to schedule reading where I hoped to sell copies of the book when I had no copies of the book to sell.

#3 Lots of people want to write a book.

When I mention I’ve recently self-published a book, the person I’m speaking to often says s/he has written a book or wants to write a book. I try to be encouraging while also making clear that writing a book is only the first step in getting it read.

 

Something to Talk About

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When a man and a woman start spending time together, people seem to automatically think the two are a couple of the romantic/sexual variety.

I hate the term “just friends,” as if only romantic and/or sexual involvements are somehow real and friendship is lesser. Calling a relationship just a friendship means it’s only a friendship and puts the friendship lower on the relationship hierarchy.

But yes, my new friend is a man, and it seems like many of the people who encounter us are trying to figure out what’s going on between us. It’s not unusual for me to have male friends, so I didn’t even consider what other people might think they were seeing.

It started subtlely, while we were still at the RTR. A woman I knew stopped by to talk to my friend and very formally apologized to me for possibly interrupting anything.

Oh no, I reassured her. No problem. But I thought her apology was a little weird, since she’d never apologized for walking up on a conversation I’d been having with a lady friend.

It happened more openly the last night we stayed at the RTR site. The stragglers got together for a dinner around the main campfire. I was grateful to have been invited, and part of me wanted to go, but my social anxiety kicked in too. I probably would have talked myself out of going had my new friend not walked across the way with me and carried our contribution to the meal, a big pot of beans and rice and green chilis (in honor of our upcoming trip to New Mexico).

We hadn’t been sitting around the fire for long when a woman stood in front of my friend and said, Are you with Blaize?

Well, bless her heart for asking a direct question, but I’m not sure what the preposition “with” meant to her. It seemed a strange way to phrase the question. Are you Blaize’s friend? I might have asked or How do you know Blaize? But no, she wanted to know if he was with me.

The weird part of the interaction was that I didn’t know the woman. My friend thought the interrogator must have also been my friend, but I didn’t recognize her as someone I’d ever met. Maybe she’d picked up my name at one of the women’s meetings or when I’d held up my book and mentioned my upcoming reading during morning announcements.

I just let my friend field the question of whether or not he was with me. After all, I hadn’t been addressed.

About the time I turned to speak to the woman on my left, I heard my buddy say, Well, I’m her friend, in his slow Southern drawl. The rest of his explanation was lost in my conversation, and I didn’t hear any questions that may have followed.

When I told the woman on my left that my new friend and I would be traveling together, I could tell the wheels were spinning in her head as she tried to understand our relationship. I answered all of her questions. No, we weren’t taking two vehicles. No, we weren’t consolidating our belongings and jettisoning duplicates. We were just going on a road trip together with all our stuff. I could tell she still wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with me and the guy.

The next day when I stopped to say good-bye to the woman who’d so formally apologized for her interruption, she gently probed me for information on the status of the relationship I had with the fellow.

We’re friends, I told her. We’re going to take a trip together.

But you never know, right? she prompted.

Sure, I agreed. You never know.

I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been talking that way if a woman had been joining me for a few days in the van.

So my friend and I have reached our destination safe and sound. It was a blissfully uneventful trip with no catastrophes to report. We stopped at a couple of free campgrounds along the way, and my friend and his dog slept in a tent while I curled up cozy in my van. We had many deep conversations, as well as a lot of laughs. (On several occasions, this man has made me laugh until tears rolled down my face, my sides hurt, and I gasped for breath. He’s a funny one.)

We’re talking about buying some cheap land together in the mountains, make ourselves a place to stay in the summers. I suspect we’ll continue to field questions about our relationship status if we’re living on the same quarter acre.

 

 

 

 

Coyote in Our Camp

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Coyotes live in the southern Arizona desert. I know this because I’ve heard them in the evenings and early mornings yipping, yapping, and yes, howling. It has been their desert before it was mine, and I’m not afraid to share the area with them. I don’t have any little dogs to protect, and I haved no fears for my own safety, as I’ve never heard of a coyote attacking an adult human.

I do, however, expect coyotes to keep their distance. What do I have that a coyote might want? I seldom cook meat–maybe a little seafood now and then–so there are usually no enticing odors or bones lingering around my camp. It’s a big desert, the friend I share a campsite with says, and it’s true. I believe the coyote and I can coexist there without getting in each other’s way.

I was surprised to see the coyote(s) skulking near another friend’s camp as the sun sank in the late afternoon sky. We were eating boiled shrimp, it is true (this desert isn’t so very far from the sea), but the coyote(s) displayed quite a boldness to get so close to the camp. I suppose the smell of shrimp was too delicious to ignore

(I’m still not sure if we saw one or two coyotes moving around the outskirts of the camp. I never saw two together, and I was unable to distinguish any identifying features, so I may have only seen one coyote changing its location.)

The friend I was visiting does cook red meat often, so I suppose his camp beckons to the canines with a plethora of enticing aromas. He doesn’t feed them, and he makes sure his garbage can’t be broken into, but still the coyotes come.

My friend suspects other campers feed the coyote neighbors, which is never a good idea. If wild animals grow accustomed to eating handouts, they’re going to hang around where people are. If coyotes hang around campsites or homesteads, one of them might snack on a cat or a little dog. If a coyote kills a pet, people will call for a coyote hide. In the desert, coyotes and humans should keep a respectful distance from one another.

But at least one coyote was close the night of the shrimp boil, hoping for a handout or an opportunity to snatch a delicious morsel. We offered neither.

A couple mornings later, I got out of the van and walked toward my campmate’s rig. In my path was a large pile of feces.

Look at this! I called to my campmate, who strode over.

I think a coyote has been here!

Are we 100% sure that’s not from a human? my campmate asked.

I shot her a look. We’ve got big problems if a person’s coming onto our campsite to shit.

She got her camp shovel, and we bagged up the waste.

Why would a coyote be in our space? we wondered. Then I spotted the five-gallon bucket set next to the firepit. Yep, it was full of water. The coyote was probably passing through our site to drink from the fire safety bucket. We dumped the water and agreed to offer no more drinking opportunities.

I can’t remember if it was that very evening or a few days later, but soon after, I was sitting in the doorway of my van in the late afternoon. I was making a hat, but some movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I looked up, and there was a coyote sauntering through the camp. It was on a trajectory which would bring it past where the bucket of water had stood, straight to the area where a coyote had left a poop deposit.

I didn’t even consider what I should do. I just yelled.

Hey! I shouted in my sternest voice.

The coyote froze.

Get out of here! I yelled as meanly as I could. I would have liked to befriend the coyote, but I knew we belonged to two different worlds. It was better if we didn’t try to meet.

The coyote turned tail and ran off the way it had come.

About that time, my campmate came tumbling out of her rig.

Is everything ok? she wanted to know.

I explained I’d just chased away a coyote.

I heard you yell, she said, seeming a little dazed. She obviously hadn’t known just how big my mouth and loud my voice are.

I used to be in pep squad, I explained.

Apparently the voice I once used to cheer on the football team works just as well to chase off coyotes.

 

Coyote at the Bridge

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I’d been away from the Bridge for a while. When I left in late October, I planned to be back in time for Spring Break, but plans change. By December, I’d decided I wanted to spend the summer working as a camp host. By January I’d applied for several camp host positions. By April, I was on my way to California.

I decided to head back to New Mexico when my work season ended. If nothing else, I needed to say good-bye to friends who thought I would only be gone a few months when I left. Of course, once I was back, I couldn’t resist the siren’s song of making a few bucks at the Bridge. Soon I was unfolding my tables and setting out my wares.

Many aspects of life at the Bridge were unchanged. A dozen or more vendors vied for the tourist dollars. Vendors still fought among themselves but showed each other kindness as well. I continued to arrive early to get a good spot where I could attract the attentions of shoppers. Of course, the scenery was still beautiful; the rugged high desert landscape surrounded by snow-peaked mountains always makes me stop and take notice.

There were differences too. Although still officially fall when I arrived, days were cold. I soon wore a comical number of colorful layers in an attempt to stay warm. Days were shorter too. While in the summer we had until seven o’clock or later to catch the sunset visitors, in October and November, daylight was gone by 5pm. Also, the number of visitors must have been less than half of what we saw in the summer.

This photo shows the wild coyote in the vending area at the Bridge.

My favorite addition to the Bridge community was the coyote.

During the many nights and early mornings I’d spent at the Bridge, first while sleeping in a picnic pavilion and later in my van, I’d heard plenty of coyotes. Sometimes there’d be simple, predictable howling, but often I heard the yipping and yapping I anthropomorphized as “partying”–as in the coyotes are really partying tonight. While I knew the coyotes were relatively close because I could hear them, I never saw one. For all the noise they make, coyotes know how to be visibly discreet, so I was surprised to see one skulking around in the sage on the highway side of the fence, pretty close to where the vendors set up.

I was excited to see the coyote, but other vendors were blasé . They knew this coyote; it had been coming around for a while.

Some of the vendors left food our for it. Early in the morning, when there weren’t many people around and food was available, the coyote would come right into the vending area. That’s when I realized the coyote walked with a limp, which is probably why it hung around close to humans who were willing to leave it food.

By talking to other vendors, I pieced together the coyote’s story.

Sometime after I had left the previous fall, the coyote’s foot had been injured. I don’t remember anyone saying what exactly had happened, but whether by trap or by gun (or some other way entirely), the coyote’s foot had been seriously hurt, and it could barely walk, much less run. The vendors saw it limping around and one of them (a great friend to animals although often causing strife for humans) started leaving meat out for the coyote. Her offerings probably got it through the winter when it couldn’t hunt.

The vendor who told me the coyote’s story repeatedly referred to it as “she.” I wasn’t sure if he could tell the animal’s sex by its size or markings or if he’d been close enough to check out its genitals. While I certainly never saw testicles or a penis, I can’t say I got a definitive look. Maybe because of the months the coyote had been around, the vendor felt confident in what he had and hadn’t seen.

While the coyote certainly wasn’t fat, it was by no means skeletal. I’d expect a coyote that was only living on human handouts to be bony and weak. This coyote was lean, but seemed healthy. I think the coyote was hunting again and only supplementing its diet with what the vendors shared.

Although the coyote obviously limped, it moved around well. It was still quick. It wasn’t difficult to imagine it hunting, especially if it used cunning to get the job done.

I had mixed feeling about the coyote hanging out so close to the vendors. I typically think wild animals should stay wild and humans should stay uninvolved in the lives of wild animals. I worried about how close to the

I worried about the coyote crossing the road, as it is doing in this photo.

road the coyote came when it skulked around the vending area looking for food. I got really nervous when I saw it actually cross the highway. I worried about what might happen to the coyote if it did a perfectly normal coyote thing like snatch a little dog for a snack. Now that the coyote could take care of itself, it was better off leaving humans behind.

On the other hand, I was glad the vendor had fed it when it was injured and couldn’t hunt. I’m glad she saved the coyote’s life. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the animal up close too. Not everyone gets to see the beautiful independence of wild creatures. Even though the coyote was eating scraps left by humans, it wasn’t begging. One look at the coyote and I knew it belonged only to itself.

I haven’t been to the Bridge in over a year, so I don’t know if the coyote still visits with the vendors early in the mornings, but I think of it whenever I hear a coyote howl.

I took all of the photos in this post.