The Easy Way (don’t skip the postscript)

I’ve crisscrossed this country by road a dozen times, but usually it’s just me, my bland but nutritionally dense assortment of road food, and my outdated playlists. My custom is to drive until my eyes burn like fried eggs and my ass is as numb as Donald Trump’s conscience. I fall asleep within the flimsy four walls of some roadside motel, lulled by the late night break-ups, make-ups, and pay-per-view selections of my neighbors, then wake early for a bleary run along some lonely stretch of two-lane highway, the roar of the interstate never out of earshot. This is followed by yoga modified to the constraints of a room little bigger than the cheap nylon bedspread that dominates its decor. A shower, a few handfuls of food, and it all starts again. Continue reading

The Hard Way

I wanted to feel strong again. I wanted to feel healthy and capable and full of my old fire, the way I’d felt just before I left for the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I wanted work that was inspiring, service-oriented, and many rugged miles away from a desk, so I decided, in the waning days of my Peace Corps service, to apply for a three-week National Outdoor Leadership School course geared towards aspiring outdoor educators on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I’d had friends undertake a variety of NOLS courses, puffy and dull with their collegiate pizza diets and beer pong marathons, who came back bright. Sharp. Tough. Continue reading

Ghost Camp

I’ve stolen away from pre-semester preparations in Belfast, Maine to visit the Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp in neighboring Northport for the second time in my life. The first time, I was writing a book about the return to church and the search for ecstatic spiritual experience therein. I went everywhere, gave every vaguely churchy denomination a whirl. Near the end of that fruitless search, I came to Temple Heights to see if Spiritualism (which holds that spirit communication is possible and beneficial) might be just kooky enough to make getting a blessing within four walls make sense, the way it did when I was a young girl in love with God. I came to Temple Heights because I wanted fireworks. I wanted to be transported. I wanted goddamn Jesus Christ Superstar.

What I got during my first visit to Temple Heights was a tame, boilerplate service led by a reverend from Florida who looked like Suze Orman and talked like a life coach hawking magnetic bracelets on late-night QVC. I didn’t get the spirit. I didn’t even get a message from the spirit realm, though I was the only one in the crowd who didn’t. Maybe Suze picked up on my Doubting Thomas vibe, or maybe my loved ones on the Other Side are all WAY too important to be hanging around a rustic pavilion at some grown-up ghost camp in mid-coast Maine.

I ambled by the ocean and poked around the salt-scored, listing buildings of the camp, hoping to stumble into some paranormal activity that would send my internal EMF meter off the charts. Aside from the goosebumps I got from the cranked-up AC in the gift shop, all readings held steady at zero.

And yet here I am again, spending the one afternoon allotted for rest and rejuvenation during our marathon preparations on another trip to Temple Heights. Truth be told, anything smacking of the paranormal draws me in like a snake charmer’s flute. I’ve just had too many brushes with “What the hell was that?” to not be seriously intrigued by the answer to that question. Also, sometimes visiting places of high-density weirdness can make a body feel less so themselves. It is for that, too, that I came.

To make the most of my precious hours, I decided to plunk down twenty dollars to participate in a message circle where every participant is guaranteed to get a message from spirit. I’m not sure how it’s possible to guarantee such a thing. It seems like one of the benefits of being a card-carrying entity would be the freedom from time-bound obligations, but what do I know? Anyway, I’ve done worse things with twenty bucks.

The medium-in-charge was a sweet, middle-aged lady from Virginia named Kathleen, who could have been any one of the daffy, spirited teachers I had in grade school. She got right down to business, asking each of us in turn for our first names and a metal object to hold. She spent ten minutes per person delivering impressions and messages, and had the whole shebang wrapped up in sixty minutes. Some of the things she told me (apparently the antique store necklace that my friends just gave me came with a loving, cigar-smoking man attached) landed flat, while others knocked me for a loop. Kathleen saw me driving a huge truck or bus with a group of people on board, for example, and described my Grandma Carter to a tee. She said other things that are a tad too personal for cyberspace, but sufficed to say that with no more than my first name and the feel of my necklace in her hand, girlfriend knew things.

Maybe the whole afternoon was the best way I could think of to do something that felt like it was just about me and the weird corners of the world I seek out when I don’t have other peoples’ opinions, agendas, or well-being to worry about. So I went to ghost camp. I took pictures of the rambling old houses, ate roadside blackberries, and rubbed fir needles between my palms while the ocean air buffeted my face. When the time finally came, I got my message, then took myself out for a burrito so I could sit down and write about it all. I know there will be plenty of perfect afternoons once the semester is in full swing, but none, I am sure, quite like this one.

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Mean Charlene

I wasn’t banking on charm. Not this time. I’d studied, practiced, and worried myself into an arrhythmia in preparation for D-Day: the Class B CDL Inspection, Maneuver, and Road Test that stood between me and the semester to come. Yes, I said “stood”. I’m not going to make you work for that one. I passed, my darlings, praise the high holy ones, but it wasn’t easy.  Charlene made sure of that. Continue reading

Where There Is No Doctor…

As a newly sworn in Peace Corps volunteer about to get sent off to the tiny village (seriously, part of its name translates as “tiny”) that would be my home for two years, I was given a black plastic suitcase. It was full of Band-Aids, nuclear-grade prescription drugs, and a book called Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook. This text has been translated into over 100 languages, but the jury is still out on whether English is one of them. Yes, the tome The Journal of the American Medical Association once praised as “probably a useful stop-gap measure” would serve as doctor, nurse, and (in desperate times) entertainment center for the twenty-four months to come. Continue reading

Going All the Way

Head met Door loud and hard at 3am this morning when I woke up to pee. A hazard of the itinerant lifestyle is the chance that you will forget your whereabouts in the middle of the night, as well as the placement of doors and walls. This is exactly what happened to me when Head met Door, though I got more than just a mild concussion out of it– I finally got a handle on a theretofore elusive metaphor, which, if you know me, you know is solid gold. Yes, I walked into that door because I hadn’t the first clue where I was, but also because, in my desire to disrupt my sleep as little as possible, I kept my eyes at half-mast and my brain powered down. Really, I hit the door because when I woke up, I didn’t do it all the way. Continue reading

The Wheels on the Bus

Rain. Rain rain and more rain for three days straight. I’m wearing pants and a rain jacket in August, when I should be frolicking in rivers in nothing but a bikini and LOTS of sunscreen,

but this great practice for fall in the Pacific Northwest. Also great practice are the hours I am spending cranking the wheel of an enormous, groaning school bus to practice straight backing, offset parking, and even the ghastly parallel park. Thanks to my past incarnation as a truck driver, these maneuvers are pretty much old hat, as is threading through traffic and double-parked streets in something the size of a mobile home. The wheel is heavier, and I’ll have people on board instead of cheddar cheese and arugula, but I remember what it feels like to move a body that big through tight spaces just fine. Continue reading