Still shaking my head over this whole charmed time in my life

This morning I randomly ended up sharing an elevator with a nice guy on his first day at my coworking space. We introduced ourselves by our first names and went about our business. I looked him up in the directory, saw his last name, and realized WE’VE BEEN CONNECTED ON TWITTER FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEARS.


UPDATE: To be clear, I’m new in town, and this is not someone I should have already met. I’m having a hard time thinking anything at all is ever random in this life.

Take it

If you ever have the chance to lose everything in your life, some of it voluntarily, and leave your current place to live in a succession of new places, hosted by friends, never really knowing what’s next or if that person you just met will have an impact on your life because each connection is blazing with this almost visible energy and the connections keep winding tighter and tighter, faster and faster, I suggest you take the opportunity and enjoy the ride, even if you have to learn, maybe for the first time, what it means to enjoy any ride.

Modest fruits of my insubstantial labor

Prompt 1: “And trust me, there are times when the last thing you want to hear is the truth.”

“Does this skirt make my hips look big?” she asked.

Damn it, I think. Why does she do this every time? I just want to enjoy a nice dinner out after a long week at work. She knows she’s beautiful. It’s dark out, the restaurant will be dark, and no one will be paying attention to two middle-aged _____ out for the first time in months. No one will see her or her hips.

If I tell her the skirt looks fine, she won’t believe me. If I tell her the skirt’s not working, she’ll sulk, just like that time in New York. I was foolish to think she wanted to hear that much truth after going so long without much at all. New York was a new start, and almost immediately I screwed it up, and I did it by giving her what she wanted! If I tell her about this dilemma in my head instead of giving her a “real” answer, she’ll think I’m avoiding my “real” answer, and she’ll assume I think she looks fat.

I can lie, disappoint her, or disappoint her by making this about me. I can’t win. I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want her to be unhappy. I don’t want to be difficult or appear to deflect. I want her to smile. I want her to feel loved and know that’s my intention.

None of these choices actually is a lie. I’m not invested in how that skirt makes her look. I can say whatever I want to say with a clear conscience. I just don’t want her to . . .

Prompt 3: “I wanted to kick him in the balls and make him pass out.”

It was a simple question I asked him: “Does this skirt make my hips look big?” Before I’d even finished, he had that sick look on his face. I’ve seen that look before, too many times before.

We agreed after New York that we were always going to be honest with each other. That’s the only reason I feel comfortable asking him questions like this. It took me six months to work up the courage to be vulnerable again, six months to decide my self-concern was worth sharing with him, and he just sits there with that dumb look, like he’s trying to think himself out of the room or off the planet.

This is not hard to answer! Some pieces of clothing and color combinations flatter a woman’s shape better than others. Some times of day, week, or month are more flattering to that shape. I like my new skirt, but I wonder what it looks like from five feet away. I can’t tell on my own, so I thought he could offer just a little bit of help, but that seems to be too much to ask.

Oh, his mouth is moving now. I swear, if he says, “You look fine, hon,” I’m going to hurt him. I want his honest opinion. Especially after New York.

I recently began attending a weekly writers group that focuses very directly on practicing writing. We take turns reading random lines from books, magazines, or anything else with words, then set a 15-minute timer and write. We can write about the prompt or choose to write something else. The point is to write anything. At the end of the session, we share (or don’t) what we’ve written, then the next person reads a prompt.

This is a difficult exercise for me. I’ve become lazy and have a hard time doing creative things on a schedule. I’m much more comfortable putting a lot of thought into what I’ll write first, but that means I sometimes don’t write anything at all. This group is helping me work past that.

These are both rough drafts. I haven’t done any editing to what I wrote during those sessions. There was also a Prompt 2, but I didn’t write anything I liked. I just thought it was fun that Prompt 3 randomly gave me an excuse to consider what I’d written for Prompt 1 from another perspective.

Everything I need fits in my backpack

When I board a train or an airplane, I bring just one bag with me, a backpack that holds everything I need for being away from home indefinitely, yet still fits under the seat in front of me. People on the internet love to look at how mavericks like me do something so seemingly radical, so I figured I’d offer a look at my belongings to those who are turned on by living small.

My backpack home is different from other travelers’ setups in one important way, though. I didn’t buy any of those fancy, reversible shirts you can hand-wash or pants that zip apart to become shorts. I left home in January carrying only clothing and belongings I already owned. I didn’t have money to spend on high-end travel attire, so I made do with what was in my closet.

Here you go. I’m not going to upload detailed photos of what I carry, so if you’d like to visualize what’s on my list, go look in your closet. You already have just about everything below.


  • one pair of jeans
  • leather belt
  • one pair of athletic shorts
  • five cotton t-shirts (all free, from tech start-up companies)
  • five pairs of socks
  • five pairs of underwear
  • one long-sleeved t-shirt
  • one long-sleeved buttoned shirt with a collar*
  • leather jacket
  • hoodie
  • Doc Martens
  • knit cap

Three each of the t-shirts, pairs of underwear, and pairs of socks fit in a half-sized packing cube that makes loading the backpack easier.

Everything Else

  • 11" MacBook Air
  • iPad mini
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • pocket stuff:
    • wallet
    • keys
    • cheap Android phone
    • Retro 51 Tornado pen
    • business cards in a case
  • charging cables for everything
  • disposable spare pen*
  • refills for the Tornado pen
  • Moleskine pocket notebook
  • two 1 TB external hard drives
  • wifi access point (for hotels that only have wired internet access)*
  • iPad stand
  • ethernet cable*
  • usb extension*
  • mobile broadband dongle*
  • headphone splitter*
  • handheld HD video camera*
  • earphones
  • 8.5” x 11” spiral notebook
  • plastic quart-sized bag for toiletries:
    • toothbrush
    • toothpaste
    • dental floss
    • razor
    • bar of soap
    • deodorant
    • comb
    • tube of hand lotion
    • a few small bandages
    • nail clippers
  • travel bottle of ibuprofen
  • one locking carabiner and a Qlipter
  • small, stowable backpack for grocery shopping or casual day trips
  • padlock*
  • two handkerchiefs
  • pillbox
  • checkbook
  • passport
  • travel towel
  • DreamSack (a sort of sleeping bag made out of silk)

*I haven’t yet used these items.

The travel towel and DreamSack are specialty travel items. I had the towel from an RV trip I took, and the DreamSack was a purchase from almost 15 years ago. You probably don’t have those in your closet, but if you’ll be traveling like I am, staying in people’s homes, you won’t even need them.

What makes this system work for me is understanding I only need to carry what I’ll be using in the immediate future. I can ignore winter items because it’s summer now. When I need to make a change for the seasons or for relocating to a new region, I swap in or out items as needed. When I moved away from Grand Rapids, Michigan, I left the Docs and the leather jacket and replaced them with running shoes and a windbreaker. I also brought an umbrella I’d forgotten to put in storage with my old, unsorted documents.

In Austin, Texas, I left my hoodie at a friend’s house. In Arlington, Texas, I bought a pack of inexpensive t-shirts and two more pairs of shorts, one for working out and one for wearing on warm days. When I left Arlington, I only kept a total of five t-shirts, and I left my umbrella behind.

In Kansas City, Missouri, I tossed out some worn items and picked up a new shirt from a friend. I also bought my first piece of true travel clothing, a short-sleeved button up shirt that dries quickly. I also replaced my shoes with a new pair of inexpensive running shoes.

I originally left for a weeklong trip, but after five months of living without my own home, I can confirm it’s possible and desirable to make do with what you already have. I’ve got a bike and a backpack full of normal items, and I’m doing well. Traveling light is all about being flexible and thinking just far enough ahead to be prepared for daily life. If I focus too far into the future, I’ll bury myself under burdens I don’t need to carry. Why drag those around the world?

How can you not love Kansas City?

I’ve been in Kansas City, Missouri, for just over a month, and I can easily see myself settling here at some point. I mean, I’m not even trying hard to find something to do this weekend, and I already found these:

This is just over one weekend. No, it’s only this Saturday!

If you find me at the Irish Faire, I’ll buy you a Guinness.

Getting Around Without A Car

I sold my car last November and started traveling back in January, even though the traveling part was kind of by accident. That’s a long story I’ll get into at another time. I also have so many other stories about all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, but those need time to properly develop before they’re published.

For now I thought it’d be fun to look at some numbers from the last three months. The data tells its own story, if you know what to look for.

February, March, and April 2015

Places I’ve stayed for at least one night

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Port Angeles, Washington
  • St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Somewhere in Arkansas
  • Austin, Texas
  • Arlington, Texas
  • Kansas City, Missouri

Public transit systems I’ve used along the way

  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Port Angeles, Washington
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Austin, Texas
  • Kansas City, Missouri

Time spent traveling

  • Airplane: 5.5 hours
  • Regional Bus: 6 hours
  • Puget Sound Ferry: 1 hour
  • Car: 22 hours
  • Amtrak Train: 81 hours (not including delays)

I have no idea where I’m going next.

The Empire Builder from Seattle

I’m on board the train that will bring me across the North to Minnesota. Unlike most people I know, I’m happy to spend nearly two whole days on a train instead of flying the same distance in only hours. This is my pace.

I’m glad to be making this trip, but it’s bittersweet. A cross-country ride, whether it’s in a car or on a train, is better when shared with someone else. Maybe that isn’t always the case, but my lone journeys of the last few years have worn me down.