The past few weeks have trickled by with a rich palette of experiences and adventures. I spent a few restful days at Max’s little mobile home in the high lonesome desert (as he likes to say) of Keeler, CA- beautifully nestled between the Eastern Sierra and Inyo Mountains. We camped in Wanda for a sweet 3-day music festival (Millpond), where each night, after the performances ended, passionate musicians magically appeared from the campground to play lively bluegrass around the welcoming fire next to our site. Then we packed up again for a delicious and relaxing 5 days at Max’s penthouse timeshare in Las Vegas. There we saw a jaw-dropping performance by Cirque du Soleil, nurtured our foodie desires with fine French and Italian dining, soaked in the private hot tub on the deck, took a fun and informative tour of the neon museum, enjoyed a gorgeous hike in the Red Rock Canyon National Park with Riley, watched some of Max’s eclectic old video collection, played music, and rarely did much of anything before noon.
I also took a few days to camp solo in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA, a famous location for filming old western movies. I got my first taste of the changing of seasons, as it was too cold to stay up late at night writing, and I spooned with Riley under my cozy comforter to keep both of us warm. I spent a couple of days in South Lake Tahoe working for my son, Shawn, after I realized I’m going to be short on money this month (it was fun work and he said I was really good at it!). And now I sit on my daughter’s (Kira’s) couch in Santa Cruz, CA, catching up on writing, finishing some home maintenance I didn’t get to before I left in August, giving Wanda some TLC at the shop she’s used to going to, and packing for my trip to Peru next week. I am filled with a peaceful contentment for what I’ve done and am overjoyed for where I’m going. Oh- and I also celebrated my 60th birthday here with both of my kids. Life is pretty wonderful right now!! I LOVE being in the right now time….
Many of you have asked about Max: who is this guy that’s suddenly showing up in my life? It’s a story that began long ago, so a little background information may add to the significance of his presence in this part of my journey…. Since I turned 17 I’ve been in 6 romantic relationships that lasted over 5 years- four were almost exactly 5 years. Each one provided a wealth of growth for me, as well as challenges I never figured out how to overcome. Through them I learned to love, nurture, give, speak my truth, clarify my boundaries, collaborate, compromise, deal with disappointment, build a house, ride mountain bikes, develop my intuition, seek help, ask for what I needed, accept differences, and try new things. I was inspired to climb mountains, to reveal my deepest secrets, to push my physical limits, to explore the depth of my emotions, and to embrace life without fear. I was also blessed with two children from two of them, and being a mom to Shawn and Kira will always be my greatest reward and accomplishment. They provide a purpose for me like nothing else I can imagine.
However, I have continually judged myself for not finding my one true love and sticking with it, as that is what the norm is in our culture and what I always expected would happen for me. But so far, it hasn’t. I’ve often thought something was wrong with me and, as a result, have attended several years of counseling and relationship workshops to try to figure it out- especially when I was at the point of thinking my relationship would end. I just ended an 8 1/2 year relationship last January- one that seemed so promising at first, until I realized how what we wanted in life had diverged to the point that we had become mere housemates over the past 3 years. There was no passion shared about a future life together, and after a couple years of couples and individual counseling, I awoke to the fact that I had no desire to continue to work on something that wasn’t moving in a direction that sparked any interest for me. Fear of another failure kept me trying, but I finally realized I want more from life! Even though I’ve had some very loving and exceptionally ecstatic times in my relationships, they have also resulted in some of the loneliest times in my life. There are no obvious patterns I see that would enlighten me as to how to find and keep a lasting significant relationship alive, but I do see that the common denominator is me, so part of this year’s journey is to spend a lot of time getting to know myself. Through listening within, and being curious instead of judgmental, I intend to develop a loving relationship with myself this year. I believe that I have to be the love I want to receive, so my question to myself is- who is that person that would attract that love? I’ve put a lot of energy into being who I think the other person wants, and then feeling like a victim when that dedication does not come back to me, so now it’s time to commit my energy toward self-discovery. I intended to stay single through this process.
So….. Max and I met over 45 years ago. I had become an angry and rebellious teen, and left my home in Illinois to live with my mother in East Palo Alto, California. The high school in her district, which was predominantly black, had decided to embrace desegregation with an innovative plan of bringing in creative teachers from wealthier schools to offer engaging classes. The idea was to entice students from the white neighborhoods to transfer in to the mostly black school while providing classes that brought students from different backgrounds together. Attending Ravenswood High School was the best thing that could have happened to me! Instead of being bored with school and getting into trouble, I took classes that interested and inspired me, many of them hands-on and experiential, rather than memorizing facts from a text book. I had my first backpacking and camping experience (in the snow!), began a life-long habit of doing yoga, got lost in creative play in the jewelry lab, began journaling, performed in plays, enjoyed fascinating field trips to understand history and social issues, and made lots of friends. Although parts of the inter-racial environment were frustrating and scary for me, I had many life-changing experiences that shape who I am today. I had a core group of friends for most of the time I was there, and Max was part of that group. At the time I thought he was way too intellectual for me, and he always made jokes that I didn’t understand, so I was a little intimidated and in awe of how he felt so free to just be himself- smart, funny, adhering to his own unique style that included combat boots, and riding the moped he rebuilt as a young teen to school. The only time I remember spending one-on-one time with him was when I asked him to show me how to change the brakes on my VW bug- I wanted to learn how to do things like that myself (part of my mom’s influence!), and he knew how to work on cars. I was delighted and nervous when he agreed, and remember the satisfaction of that day well.
After we both finished high school in 1974, I didn’t see Max again for a few decades, though I did wonder about him from time to time. Finally, there was a high school reunion in the mid 90s and I decided to attend. I was excited to reconnect with people from my past, some of whom I didn’t remember until we started talking, and as my memories surfaced I found myself looking around for specific people. One of them was Max, but after asking a few people and looking around for an hour, it seemed like I had just missed him. Another decade or so passed and I joined Facebook in order to see photos a friend posted from a trip to Alaska we’d taken. Soon after, I began to receive friend requests from Ravenswood folks I’d lost track of. It was so fun re-connecting, that I started sending out friend requests to people I remembered, including Max. We had some engaging exchanges getting re-acquainted, and I looked forward to his detailed and often humorous responses. I always liked reading Max’s posts on FB and a growing curiosity about him evolved. He lived in the LA area, which was too far away to get together, though we both had put the invitation out to possibly re-connect if either of us was in the other’s neighborhood. One year I had a work conference in LA, so I decided to see if Max was available. He wasn’t, but I enjoyed our writing back and forth again. When my daughter began attending San Diego State University, I found myself traveling from Northern to Southern California a few times a year, so decided again to see if Max wanted to get together. On my way home I met him at his work and we went out for a delicious lunch that was filled with enthusiastic conversation. I drove home glowing, recounting the stories we shared and how easy and fun it was to talk with him. I had just begun a new relationship in Santa Cruz, and wasn’t about to get involved in anything long-distance, but I could not deny that there was a spark. Max invited me to stop by his place for homemade sourdough pancakes any Sunday morning, so every time I drove south to see Kira I thought about stopping in, though I never did.
Last August I decided to take a year leave of absence from my high school teaching job and move into my Westfalia camper, Wanda. When school started up with its typical frenzied mode of scheduling my 28 students and getting them all started with new, individualized curriculum the first week, I realized I wanted to take a break from this work. Every summer I felt a joyous peace when I had the time to pursue whatever I wanted each day, but by the time I got used to my own rhythm and finished a few of my always-long list of projects around the house, it was time to gear up for going back to teaching. I was never ready. That voice inside kept whispering and wondering what it would be like to “just live” for a year. I also knew that I had to make a change in my floundering relationship, and thought that taking off on my own would help me decide what to do. I happened to notice on one of Max’s FB posts that he was retiring soon and wanted to spend time traveling in a vehicle, similar to what I was planning. I envisioned meeting up with him somewhere, thinking it would be fun to have my alone time broken up with meeting friends at different places, so we messaged each other back and forth a few times. At the same time Max put together a FB page for anyone who graduated from Ravenswood as a way to reconnect and make meaning of the unusual high school experience we all shared. Soon people started talking about organizing a reunion, and it was decided to make it happen in January. As the date got closer I got more and more excited to reconnect with old friends, but I realized I was mostly looking forward to seeing Max again after so many years. Recognizing that helped me finally accept that all my inner messages were telling me it was time to end the relationship I was in, and I decided to fully let go instead of letting it linger while I went off traveling for a year.
The reunion was a stimulating blend of memories and faces I knew and didn’t know and photos and yearbooks and memorabilia and engaging conversations. And a connection with Max that felt warm and familiar. He offered for me to come to the desert (where he now lives) to look for spring wildflowers some time- an offer that spoke to some of my most passionate joys- the desert and wildflowers. Over the next 2 1/2 months we emailed back and forth, planning a visit during my spring break in April. After a few weeks our writing took on a flavor of some romantic spice, and our exchanges became daily events that I anticipated with pleasure each day. We never talked on the phone- all of our communication was done through writing, the way relationships grew for so many centuries. At one point Max transferred our writings to a text document, which totaled over 500 pages! The depth of our sharing amazed me, as well as discovering how many ideas and desires we have in common. Knowing each other since high school provided a trust and foundation that made it refreshingly easy to be open and frank with each other. Though I did not want to jump into another relationship right away, the love that was growing between us could not be denied. My visit to see the wildflowers and to celebrate Max’s retirement was a blissful reconnection that ended all too soon. We continued writing, never calling, and began talking about other adventures we could take together. After a few months, I realized I really wanted him to join me for the first part of my journey- going to see the total eclipse in Wyoming, and so we began planning in detail how to set up Wanda and what all we wanted to experience together. This kind of collaboration and passion-sharing was just what I’d been missing in my past relationship, and I was ecstatic!
Now Max and I have lived in my little Westfalia for 6 weeks, and explored at least 4000 miles of the western and midwestern United States together. We’ve had some tense moments as we negotiated decisions and learned to accept each other’s idiosyncrasies. Max developed shingles half way through the trip, which put a new strain on our budding relationship, but with everything that we’ve been through, I found myself able to focus on being the love I want to receive and being curious about what’s going on for this other person. I think I’m taking more responsibility for creating the relationship I experience, and Max is open to trying out new things to create a deeper connection. In fact he seems excited about it, which I am delighted about! I’ve promised myself not to make any decisions before this year has completed- a wonderful opportunity to continually tune in to what I’m feeling in the moment, without expectations. We both value solo and independent time, so I am sure I will have plenty of space to do my internal exploration and pursue my writing.
And now I’m shifting gears, getting ready to go for a new adventure without Wanda and Riley or Max- going to the Andes of Peru to visit the mystical Machu Picchu, do yoga every day, and develop my writing skills with Laura Davis- who has inspired so many to uncover the hidden stories lying within and make them come alive for the reader. If you are interested, you can follow our trip on her FB blog at:
Or you can subscribe to Laura’s email list (even temporarily) to receive a digest of entries every few days so you can see photos and hear about what we’re experiencing as we go:
And here are some quotes Laura shared with us about traveling:
“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
– William Least Heat Moon
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
– Ibn Battuta