Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

December 26, 2003. About writing.

Going through my files, I came across something I wrote in 1983, about the summer I spent in Tunisia studying Arabic. It captured my puzzlement at how to answer the question I kept getting Ė ďso, how was Tunisia?Ē When I was traveling a lot I just parried that question, because I felt that I couldnít explain it, and no one was really interested anyway. They thought they were, for perhaps five minutes, but then they didnít hear something that really resonated or could be fit into their world Ė or perhaps I didnít know how to describe it so it resonated.

I think it will be the same this time. Everyone says they want to hear about my travels, but do they really? What is the interest in one more tale of going to a strange place, dealing with minor hassles, meeting a few interesting people? And yet I enjoyed stories that James broadcast on a listserv Iím on about his Mediterranean cruise. It was about what they did, about life on a ship, about the other people on the ship, about some of his reactions to the other people. It presented him as who he is, an elderly Chinese- American man who sometimes gets tired, and is glad to be there with his daughter. I donít remember much of what he said about places, but I have a sense of his trip being full of people and a social world.

My story isnít really about traveling around the US in a van. Itís about coming to grips with where I fit in this society. Or more accurately, coming to grips with not really being tied in to our society, feeling that I live on the edge of it as an observer. And more importantly, perhaps, realizing that I like living on the edge, and can stop mourning my lack of connection. Suzanne asked me a few months ago what I was running away from in moving into my van. Running away has the wrong spin. Iím taking my leave and embracing my outsider status after decades of trying to be inside and feeling trapped and unconnected. Iím no longer trying to be connected, and that is liberation, not flight.

I always feel more of an outsider at Christmas, when everyone else is rushing off to see family and organize parties and dinners and buy presents, and Iím doing none of it. Itís a time of limbo, like lying in my van and feeling that Iím in my own world. Itís a week of days with no structure, with everyone else gone somewhere else to take part in a ritual that isnít part of my world. It used to make me depressed, that I didnít have the community and the ritual to be part of. For the past few years, though, Iíve felt liberated by it, I can just exist outside of time and society. My life will be more like this when Iím traveling in the van, because Iíll have fewer ties to the rest of the community and I can always feel liberated.

I keep coming back to that word, liberation.

But why should I write about it? If I really want to be liberated from the rest of society, why would I want to write about my thoughts and reactions and show my writing to the society Iím moving away from? This is something of a paradox. Perhaps Iíll resolve it over the next few months? Is my life supposed to be a lesson to others in how to live differently? I suppose I have thought of it that way, when I focus on having less things and trying to have less money but more time. Iíve never read that book ďyour money or your life,Ē but that is what I am trying to live Ė as are Susanna and Bonnie and other friends of mine. Does it matter whether I have great plans for the time Iím buying back? Does it matter if I never accomplish anything with this gift? I donít know.

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