Three months later...and what really happened.

Note: Over the last several weeks, it’s come to my attention that alert readers (I have readers?) wondered whatever happened to me after my most recent July 9, 2018 voyage out “to my new island home” on Peaks Island, Maine.

I kind of—OK, completely—trailed off after that. Life continued to happen, but I stopped writing about it, somehow feeling as though I were “done” with my desperate, astonishing, and magical California-to-Maine travelogue. I started living my life unobserved again, completely oblivious to the miraculous fact that people had been paying attention as I deliberately re-create my life.

And so, encouraged, here I am with an update on my continuing adventures since I last wrote on July 9 aboard a ferry out to Peaks Island, certain of my future and vision for what would be.

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I love Peaks Island. I really wanted to live there—especially after the owners showed me around their rambling old place filled with local art, a view of the ocean from every front window, and the thriving, riotous garden out back. The ferry ride out had been spectacular and inspiring, and I had no doubt I was seeing my new home for the first time.

And then…the probably-OK-ish $750 rent suddenly became a thoroughly overwhelming $1,000. (“Oh, yes, did we mention utilities?”) And I’d have a housemate—an idea that filled me with misgivings, having lived happily alone for several years. Plus, Mini would have to stay on the mainland to be useful, which would take more dough. I started to get a heavy feeling of dread in my stomach that I’ve learned (finally!) to recognize as the sign to drop a Bad Idea.

peaks island ferry.png

I’d also (“Oh, and how would feel about this?”) be in charge of all house maintenance and paying utilities while they were out of the country most of the year. On returning me to the ferry dock to go back to the mainland, the couple dropped me off late and I had to run and jump over the part of the boat that was rising up and away from the dock, wrenching my cartilage-less hip. I found a seat and took a deep breath.

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” I thought.

And it didn’t.

That night I went back out to the countryside outside Portland and the lovely attic room I’d been staying in at my parents since I’d arrived on June 24. You know, thank God for my parents. After being gone for 30 years, they took me in and let me stay as long as I needed, with no strings and no expectations. Honestly, this whole thing couldn’t have happened without the soft landing place they offered with such love and kindness. I love them hugely.

Meanwhile, there was my increasingly intense search to find paying work. Just something to get me started and pay the bills as I redesigned my new life around me—preferably something I found meaningful and worthwhile. While I’ve continued to work with my California coaching and writing clients, I really wanted to find a solid income source to reduce my anxiety and stress levels. Sometimes, I’ve found, a steady gig can be just the thing for a freelancer. The hustle gets pretty rough sometimes.

Operating with the notion that I’d pick up some writing work at a paper or magazine in Portland, I started making phone calls, sending in resumes, and filling out online applications. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Until one day Portland Magazine called and said they’d like me to pitch some ideas for their October issue. I was thrilled and came up with some great stories based on my experiences of the city as a newcomer. I had an appointment to meet with the editor and the owners, who were “excited” about my talent and experience. The meeting was postponed to the next week. No problem. I was ready! Then it was postponed again. (“We’re really sorry; it’s crazy busy!”) Um. Finally, after more delays, I left the editor a message saying I’d be around if they ever wanted to meet. But by that point, I didn’t.

Yeah! Uh, no.

Yeah! Uh, no.

Not so much with the writing, then. I applied to the local grocery store, the University of Southern Maine, Trader Joe’s, ACE Hardware, and a dozen other places. ACE in Portland wanted to hire me to be their full-time “rock star cashier,” but (again with the dread feeling!) I turned them down. Cashiering is sooo not my natural environment. I still have trauma from being fired as a kid when I worked in a busy deli and kept ringing up tuna sandwiches for $37, with a line of impatient customers trailing out onto the hot sidewalk. Seriously, it sucked and I swore I’d never do it again. I tried one more time in a bookstore just to be sure—same result. I think I saved myself (and ACE) a lot of headaches.

One day my mom and I were wandering around in Portland and came across a little natural foods place (“Oh, I completely forgot this was here!”), which turned out also to have a very nice supplements section. We went in for some sandwiches, and Mom was talking with the supplements assistant manager about something while we waited. I was looking around, recognizing many of the brands I’d worked with in the supplements section at Lassens Health Foods in California right after the divorce. There was a pause in the conversation, and into the silence I heard my voice ask, “Would you happen to be looking for any help?” And then my conscious mind caught up and I found the supplements manager staring at me, wide-eyed. “As a matter of fact, we are!” she answered “We were just about to advertise the position!”

My new neighborhood

My new neighborhood

I had an interview a week later, during which I was hired to work in the supplements section. Just as I was leaving Portland to go back out to my parents’ house, I got a text that a room in an ocean-front house right around the corner had opened up, and was I interested? So I went over there and interviewed with the two housemates (hey, whatever), falling in love with the spacious, white-painted loft with windows on all three sides, and the Atlantic right out front. And that’s where I live now. It’s a beautiful 10-minute walk to work along the ocean.

It feels good to be more settled now. I mean, my definition of “home” has broadened over the years—particularly since the cross-country drive—to include any place where I sleep regularly. So right now, I’m home.

Meanwhile, the small-but-steady part-time paycheck I’m getting every two weeks (I even punch a time card, lol!) has done quite a bit to reduce my financial anxiety. I like structuring some of my time, too. I’m meeting the whole city and working with a lot of young people, which I love. I’m expected to cashier when it gets busy up front, and it’s still not my thing, but I’m getting better at it as long as no one tries to give me 7 cents as I’m getting their change. In my head, I’m like, OK, what the fuck is that?! I look at them blankly. Most just smile and say, “Now you can give me a dollar back instead of 93 cents.” Others just tell me what I owe them now that they’ve thrown random change at me at the last second, just when I thought I was in the clear. I’m fine with that. Geez! Also, I get a little panicky around the deli sandwich button.

But the work has also given me the space and time to pursue what I feel is my most important purpose for this phase of my life: writing songs and singing them.

Here’s the first song I’ve ever written, from last week. It doesn’t have any music yet, but I’m learning to play guitar to remedy that. Portland is great place to see interesting, weird, inspiring things.

Credit: Baltico Studios

Credit: Baltico Studios

Tiny Bones

Chickadee, sweet chickadee-dee-dee
Chickadee, sweet chickadee-dee-dee
What's befallen you?

Cold, tall, city glass
Looked like the sky
Like your great blue sky
And now you sit on the sidewalk bricks
Your tiny bones on the earth

[chorus]

I came upon you, dazed and stunned,
Slowly press you into my warm, heavy hands
You fight and then settle
For a few moments
Just a few

[chorus]

A man and his dog arrive
We consult on your welfare
And set you to rest
Down low, on a branch, but

Chickadee, chickadee-dee-dee
You burst from my hands
To soar
Soar
Soaring...out of sight

The man and I high-five
Glad of our sudden good deed
And the beauty of the day
And of every day...

Setting foot upon my new island home

Today was a big day. After driving from California to Maine from June 1 to June 24, it took me 11 more days to venture out to Peak's Island, where I'm going to live starting in late August. All the tourists are going to leave, and then it'll be me and about 1,000 other hard-core Peak's Island residents, just minding our personal and collective businesses for the fall, winter, and spring.

Driving to Maine: Day 24 (I arrive.)

I awoke late today to the smell of breakfast coming from Liz's big kitchen and the sounds of eight or nine enthusiastic 20-somethings getting ready to go their separate ways. The Mulshines have one of those houses where all the kids gather. Its a fun, nonjudgmental, and huge space, with a tremendous view and an expansive deck to savor it from.

Driving to Maine: Day 23

After leaving the Seneca Reservation around noon (heheh, the Lighthouse Inn checkout time was a ridiculous 10am), I had breakfast at Tom's Family Diner next door. Everything has gravy on it here. I mean, the gravy is smothered in gravy. So I had an omelette with gravy and tons of coffee and home fries, and then paid $4.50 for the privilege of getting back on I-90 toward the East Coast.

Driving to Maine: Day 22

I woke up today to a voicemail from my dad announcing that he'd scratched himself on his dresser during the night and that by dawn, he was suffering excruciating pain in his neck and left arm. He was going to the ER, and would I please not come by.

I haven't seen him in about 10 years.

Driving to Maine: Day 21

Leaving my friends and Chicago after a torrential downpour, which had left them with over three inches of rain in their balcony rain gauge in just a few hours, I programmed my phone for Cleveland, Ohio. It seemed the logical next stopping place, as it's halfway between Chicago and Elmira, in upstate New York, where my dad lives. I'd booked an Airbnb there with a nice Chinese electrical engineering doctoral student named Harlin.

Driving to Maine: Day 20

It was with a little reluctance and sadness that I left Hopi and Dick's place this morning. It had been like being home again, or vacationing with my parents. The atmosphere was very quiet and relaxed, with NPR's Morning Cup playing softly in the kitchen or Terry Gross's Fresh Air interviews wafting upstairs while I wrote.

Driving to Maine: Day 19

Man, did I totally sleep in today. I ignored it when I woke up at 8:30. I ignored it again when I woke up at 10:30. "Just a few more minutes," I thought. I checked the clock a few minutes later and it was 11:45. As I'm prone to do when I sleep that late, I jolted bolt upright in bed, my embedded Yankee Work Ethic program instantly online and already berating me for wasting most of the day.

Driving to Maine: Day 18

I left the beautiful old Minneapolis house at about 11, an hour late. The housekeeper had already arrived and was bustling around in the kitchen. A stunningly beautiful Jamaican woman with long, fine braids in a ponytail down to her low back, she told me, "Shugah, don' you worry nah. I've got two othah rooms to do fust." Wow. I was in awe of her beauty and grace.

Driving to Maine: Day 16

Isa and I said goodbye in the morning, agreeing to stay in touch, and I got on my way. It was hard to leave the beautiful, restful Plenty Star Ranch and her. We'd grown so close in such a short amount of time. I hoped to get to Sioux Falls today, despite the 7+-hour drive. On my way to I-90 East, I stopped in Hot Springs, not too far from Plenty Star, to get some gas and eat the rest of my buffalo sandwich for breakfast.

Driving to Maine: Day 15

Today was really low key. I needed a break from the road, and this lovely spot was just the thing. It was great, too, knowing I had the whole day to poke around and not be up early the next morning to check out.

After sleeping for about 10 hours in my fabulous tent, I woke up slowly and wandered over to Isa and Jack's ranch house nearby. There was fresh coffee on the shady deck overlooking the property, and Isa came out after a bit to say good morning.

Driving to Maine: Day 14

This morning in Cheyenne, I left Motel 6 behind (perhaps for good, because I don’t want you to leave a light on for me if all it does is show how dirty the room is) and found a nice breakfast place called The Egg & I. The server showed me to my seat, but almost the whole room was occupied with what sounded like a city council meeting.

Driving to Maine: Day 13

After leaving Mel and Ron's place, I stopped at a cafe called the Brown Dog in Buena Vista. Around here, that's pronounced "b'YU-na vista." It's a phonetic thing. I wrote there for a couple hours, breaking a long fast with a great sandwich, a big, home-brewed coffee, and a thick vanilla shake. Must be the mountain air or something, but it seems I'm constantly hungry on this trip.

Driving to Maine: Day 12

I’m going to keep this kind of short tonight, as it’s already 11:15. There’s no Internet access here above the tiny Rocky Mountain town of Howard, so I’m writing in Word on my trusty laptop and will upload tomorrow on my way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’ve got myself propped up in my tent with Cisco’s old Pillow Pet (buffalo variety) and a Mexican blanket. My faithful traveling companion, Miss Kitty, is here by my side.

Driving to Maine: Day 11

It's 9:30 PM here in Salida, Colorado, and it's still a little light out. For some reason I find that remarkable. The wind is making whistling noises under the door, and I can smell smoke from the far-away-but-huge Ute fire I traveled to the east of all day.

I'm little upset with myself for staying at a hotel again, but I got here late after spending part of the day in Taos. And you know what? Fuck it. I'm on vacation for the first time in, let's see, 9 years. So yeah, I'm not beating myself up too much. There was a cool spot to camp that I missed, though.

Driving to Maine: Day 10

After leaving the Super8, I discovered I hadn't gone far enough the day before and hadn't really gotten into Taos proper. A few minutes of driving north brought me into an area known as Taos Plaza, which is where all the galleries, shops, music events, and cool hotels were. Out of curiosity, I looked up Taos on Airbnb, kicking myself for spending $136 the night before when I could have stayed in a private bungalow in the the heart of town for half that. Dammit! Note to self.

Driving to Maine: Day 9

Leaving the Lariat behind after being scolded by the Hindu proprietor for being 15 minutes late, I found my way to the locals' favorite breakfast place. I walked in and for the first time in my life, I was the only white person in the room. I tried not to stare at all the beautiful faces around me or at the long, glossy, blue-black hair hanging down people's backs, loose or in thick braids. Some spoke a language I'd never heard. Many paused to pray before they ate.

Driving to Maine: Day 8

Stupid fucking bird again. But I kind of smiled when I thought it this time. My little forest friend was in the same tree, it was still dark out, and I still didn’t want to get up, but I was a little grateful for this natural wake-up call today. It was time to leave Angel Valley and Sedona, and my dear friends. I felt a little nervous to leave the cozy bubble of their love and support, but also eager to be back on my own on the open road.

Driving to Maine: Day 7

A large-ish bird, probably another infernal mockingbird, settled itself in a tree near my head way before dawn, stars still shining down, and launched proudly, brilliantly even, into his finest mating repertoire. There were chucks, beeps, trills, fabulous credenzas and arpeggios, inquiring whistles, and even complicated clicks and pops used to punctuate the whole complex concert.

Stupid fucking bird.