Darlene sputters, grumbles, and dies. I crank the starter again, she chugs a bit, sputters, gains the tiniest inkling of momentum as I floor the accelerator pedal and dies once again.
We’re some of the last folks at Overland Expo West and we might be stuck. Beth is off filling water for us before we leave, my mind is racing now and I don’t know what to do.
Words of wisdom gleaned from the previous week come to mind: slow down.
I crank the starter again and tap the accelerator. Darlene grumbles to life, somewhat reluctantly as black smoke billows out from the exhaust under the truck, she stalls for a second and then catches her breath. With a little coaxing she’s purring like a Wookie once more.
This time I wait before shifting her into gear, instead letting Darlene warm her fluids in neutral. The past week was full of rain, snow, sleet and hail. The soft ground where we parked our 4 ton house swallowed the tires a few inches when it briefly became mud; Darelene’s cold transmission was having a hard time delivering the required torque while staying alive.
A few minutes pass and I finally breathe again as, with a slight hesitation, we reverse from our camping spot and are rolling South towards Coconino and Sedona. My mind wanders as Beth rambles on about the past week and Alfredo whines in my ear. I’m paying attention to neither of them – instead I’m focused on Darlene: What if the transmission bands are worn? Do I need to adjust the bands? Is the transmission shot? Why didn’t she want to go? This is supposed to be a tough truck, why couldn’t she handle such a tiny task? What’s going to go wrong next? Are we going to wind up stranded with a broken transmission? Do I smell burnt tranny fluid? Did I mess something up?
I’m exhausted from my internal monologue as the outside world returns to my senses.
A friend who spent the past 18+ months traveling abroad solo shared his words of wisdom with me while we were in Asheville. His advice comes to mind as we wind our way down HWY 89A, “Don’t stress shit. Big or small. It will drive you crazy. Not worth it. Smile and say fuck it. Move on. You’re going to have really good days and really bad ones. Everything works out as it should.”
I take a deep breath and control my wandering mind, “it’s ok,” I tell myself. I know I’m right.
As of May 20 we have been on the road for exactly two months. We have been more-or-less unemployed for at least one of those months. Things are getting “real” as you could say, and our diminishing budget is becoming apparent with every passing day until we find more work, sell more art, or win the lotto. We’re banking on the first two.
Through all this however, the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with is learning to slow down, to disconnect, to not be busy.
I’ve found myself wearing my watch daily for the past two months, and in these same two months I’ve cared less about the time than I ever have in my life. Upon disclosing this to Beth she responds with the wisdom of a sage, “It’s because we don’t have that structure anymore. We don’t have those markers through the day signaling change. We aren’t waking up at the same time day in and day out, going in and getting off work at the same time. Instead we’re in the now, and on the rare occasions we’ve needed to know when now is, the watch can tell us.”
She’s right. For the past 27 years of our life we’ve had a societal structure and schedule where attendance was mandatory: wake up, eat breakfast, go to work/school, come home, have time to yourself or with friends, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. The more we fit into our daily lives the better, right?
We’ve broken away from routine and have not yet found our footing in this strange land of idle time.
Technology has seeped into every bit of our life, promising to make our lives easier while keeping us constantly engaged, constantly busy. If I sit on the john, I have my phone in hand, mindlessly thumbing through information. While waiting in line, I remove the phone from my pocket to check some seemingly important factoid a friend has divulged from the depths of human knowledge onto Facebook. Or videos of cats. As I lay in bed the cold glow of the screen illuminates, beckoning me to say goodnight with one more scroll through Instagram or Tumblr. When I close my eyes it’s hollow siren’s song buzzes against the side table – check your email, it might be important!
Now we find ourselves unmolested by obligations. My phone cries out in desperation as it’s unchecked battery dies. The reception bars on our phones act as compasses – if they diminish we know we’ve gone in the right direction. We rise and sleep with the sun, the natural circadian rhythm of our ancestors has come back to us, leaving us refreshed and full of life each day ready for…nothing.
“Surely we must have something important to do right now!” our brains scream to us in panic as we sit idly, watching the clouds above drift by as we explore our minds.
In this land of idle time, we’ve found our productivity, quality of life and feeling of fulfillment has increased. We have taken the time to talk to one another, discuss thoughts from deep within and explore our own minds – something that can’t be done by browsing Facebook or rushing from one chore to the next. We sit down and accomplish goals – I write a new article, Beth makes jewelry, Alfredo digs a hole. Sometimes all we do is stare at the campfire in silence, hands clasped save for when we pass the bourbon. All is well in our world.
This idleness is not a vacation nor vice devoid of meaning. It is necessary for our growth as artists and human beings. It is something we have lost as a culture – time used to reflect, to journey within, to allow moments of pause within conversations rather than waiting for our turn to speak.
Within these idle moments we are granted the opportunity to see the picture of life as a whole. We are allowed to make connections we might not otherwise see, to have moments of inspiration strike us and as odd as it may seem, allow us to accomplish more work.
There is a trap in thinking that by being busy we are somehow being productive. That by filling our time with things to do, we are somehow fulfilling our reason for being and accomplishing more. I beg to differ with this assumption, instead I say that by being idle we produce more meaningful work, that less is more, and that we should measure our life accomplishments through quality, not quantity.
I have spent countless hours staring at a computer screen, accomplishing nothing and feeling downtrodden and dejected – “why couldn’t I get more done” I often mutter to myself. Now I find myself staring off at the meadow around me, the tall grass casing a soft earthly glow as they catch the waning sunbeams of the afternoon light. Minutes, hours pass and I’ve done nothing. It feels great. I’m here and that’s all that I need. A hawk passes overhead and I watch his shadow dance around us as he hunts for lunch. My stomach grumbles and I realize that without keeping time I’ve forgotten to eat lunch as well.
The wind whispers through the tall pines around us as birds chatter in their perches. I sit mindlessly in my chair desiring that long lost feeling of Zen I had once before in my life. Waves of discomfort come over me as my mind attempts to find something to hold onto – there must be something I need to do right now or somewhere I need to be!
I ride these waves of discomfort, watch them dissipate and paddle back to my Zen. Slowing down is a difficult thing to do, both freeing and terrifying, but I’m determined.
I take a deep breath and exhale, staring off at the sunset. I have nothing to do, and plenty of time to do it.