Eleanor and I managed one more roadtrip, a short one up to the Phoenix area for a little “this and that”: browsing, a little shopping, a late night cruise in Scottsdale, dinner out and a night in a resort. But that’s it. She’s got to head back to Vermont so that our child will remember that she has actual parents.
No, I’m just kidding about that last part. Eleanor will head back, but Emma is becoming as independent as an 11-year-old should. We have stayed in touch via video chat and phone calls, and it’s obvious she gets along just fine without us. Her grandparents have done a great job of keeping up with her schedule of play dates, sailing, and summer art classes. When I called yesterday I was told that Emma was down at the beach making s’mores and was therefore unavailable to speak to her father.
That’s quite a change from the days when we were living in the Airstream, roaming around the continent but rarely far from each other. People speculated that she would grow up “needy” or improperly “socialized” as a result of our extreme togetherness, which is of course utter nonsense. Why do people think that being close to your children or parents is a bad thing? (Little wonder that as a society we treat the elderly with disdain.)
I speculate that it is an old outgrowth of Puritanical beliefs, right along with the idea that we should be ashamed of our bodies. In any case, the result speaks for itself: the kid is comfortable in her skin, and while she misses Mom & Dad, she’s pretty happy with the other loving members of her family.
Not so easy for me, however. When I’m alone for weeks at a time I don’t have the support system of the family around me, and it’s a big adjustment. It’s far too easy to spend the day inside the house, in front of the computer, and not seeing another living soul all day. That’s a trap. Pretty soon you can turn into a Howard Hughes-like caricature, savings toenail clippings in a jar and growing a long beard.
I was watching a National Geographic program about Solitary Confinement (in prison) and the inmates were describing what happens to them after too much time alone. They talked about the need for human contact, and the paranoid thoughts that start to overcome them. Psychiatrists chimed in: solitary makes you start to feel aggressive toward your jailers, even if you weren’t violent before. That must explain why I forgot to water the citrus before Eleanor arrived; I was lashing out at the greenery.
I now pity the telephone company guy who is scheduled to come here to look at my DSL line. If I don’t get out to the mall to walk around and see some humans (OK, mostly teenagers, but that’s as close to humans as I can find in a mall environment), the telephone guy’s life could be in danger. And he’s a nice guy, “Tom,” who has visited here often because every summer my DSL starts getting wonky. (I’m on my third replacement DSL modem and I have all the Qwest service guys mobile phone numbers now.)
Of course, my jail cell is not enforced by the penal system, it’s self-imposed. It’s another darned Puritanical leftover, the moral imperative to do work. Once in a while I break free of that social boundary and play hooky around town, but it’s difficult for me. No kidding. I’ve been self-employed for 18 years and wound so tight about getting the job done that it’s hard to let go even when there’s really not much work to be done. Today is a good example: the Fall issue is in the hands of the printer. This post-production period is a classic “quiet time” for the magazine, or rather a “calm before the storm,” because until the issue hits the mail the phone will hardly ring, my email Inbox will be oddly empty, and I won’t be under major pressure to work on the next issue for a few weeks. So by all rights I should be having fun.
I learned this lesson a long time ago. I used to be a “consultant,” which meant nobody was looking over my shoulder and I didn’t get a regular paycheck. So I worked really hard when there was work to be done, and when there wasn’t I was usually trying to play rainmaker so that there would be work again soon. On those occasions when I felt like I had done all I could do for a while, I blew off to do something, anything, absolutely guilt-free because I’d earned it.
When I was publishing the magazine and working (2005-2008) the Airstream made it easy. We’d park it in a place where Internet and phone worked well, until the work was done, then relocate to some nearby National Park and go hiking for a few days in a cellular “cone of silence.” Usually that meant a short drive, and there we’d be, all together with our home and ready to go exploring.
It’s a bit harder now, with the Airstream up in Vermont, me in Arizona, my other Airstream stranded in Texas, and no tow vehicle handy. I am quite tempted to pack up the tent this weekend and go somewhere in the cool mountains where the forest hasn’t been scorched in this summer’s fires. What I’d really like to do is get some Airstream friends to drop in for a few days, but nobody wants to come to the desert in the summertime. (Wimps.) Hey, I’ve got 30-amp power in the carport to run air conditioners, so what’s there to be afraid of?
Now you know why I was so desperate to find a backup tow vehicle earlier this summer. The idea was to launch out to Texas and recover the Caravel, and make a big trip out of it, complete with the comfort of air conditioning. Alas, now I’m short on time. I did finally find the car I wanted — it’s the car I sold, the Mercedes 300D. I should have kept it and put a hitch on it. Another one in even better condition has popped up locally and I could buy it, but I’d really like to get that Miata sold first. Any 1980s-era Mercedes, no matter how nice, is going to suck up a bit of money before it’s fully sorted out and ready for long trips.
So I’m sitting tight for now, and looking at the tent… and my laptop. Sooner or later either the Puritans will win out, or the Airstream-inspired wanderlust will.