Note No. 72

June 9, 2010

Here’s what I know: the United States is huge. And I love banana blueberry smoothies.

This I deduced after a week of ups and downs.
Up: got my wheels.
Up: got my sidekick.
Down: can’t find a rear axle that I trust to make a 12,000-mile journey in my camper, because the one I thought I found was the same one I have on there now, which is the one that will potentially discombobulate at any point, scattering wheels, limbs and heads to all four points on the compass.
Down: can’t get my parents to get behind this trip of mine.

So let’s focus on that last point; shall we? Because while not everyone is a parent, everyone is a child; therefore, everyone knows what it feels like to be caught in the disapproving gaze of a parent. I suppose it affects everyone differently but I have this sneaking suspicion that no matter how tough someone is and how impervious they say they are to other people’s opinions of them, everyone wants a pat on the back from their parental unit.

Right?

Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a Gen Y thing. I think I’m part of Gen Y. And if so, we’re apparently good kids, rule followers, close to our parents— which explains why I want mine to like what I am doing. But I guess part of growing up is recognizing that it is not always possible to get that parental approval. Furthermore, you should probably be concerned, if you are succeeding in getting it too frequently. One of my favorite quotations ever comes from, again (of course), Penelope Trunk. Her theory is that there are basically two possible scenarios in life:

You either scare your mom by creating an unstable life or you scare yourself that you are living merely the life your mom wants for you instead of the life you want for yourself.

She limits it to moms but I think that it applies to all parents and at this particular crossroads in my life, I find the statement extremely comforting. It’s like a badge of some sort, like I am fulfilling my duty as a child in this world.

It’s not like I’ve never done things at which my parents balk. When I was 17, I decided to hold off on college for a year and I went West to work first on a dude ranch in Wyoming, then on a ski resort in California. There were definitely some long arguments over that one.

Then, two years into actually using the journalism degree that I had finally gone to college to earn, I told them I was moving to Europe and that I was going to support myself by teaching English. Again: mild feelings of discomfort at child behaving irrationally.

This time around, my dad initially stayed quiet on the matter of my upcoming endeavor. Meanwhile, my mom was crowing about it, wondering who I thought I was to embark on such a journey, asking how I planned to finance it, pondering why anyone would want to read about my visits with friends in the first place.

Then my dad spoke up. And he was what you might call excited. Then he proposed a whole bunch of changes to my plan, so as to make it what he saw as a safer, less risky version. He wanted me to use his hybrid car and his phone and he wanted me to borrow my sister’s dog.

I said that I would think about it. And I did. And then I continued to plan the trip the way I saw that it needs to happen.

Then he got quiet again.

Then he asked me out to dinner and our table conversation consisted of his concerns with what I am doing and my attempts to soothe his fears. He wanted to know: was this a trip to find myself, one of self-discovery, or was it about writing? It was about writing, I said. But, I added, everything we do is about self-awareness; right?

It has to be. Even if it’s wrapped up in the premise of being selfless, like you’re going over to Haiti to help them rebuild their country or something, you’re still going to discover something about yourself, even if it’s just how you react to brushing your teeth with bottled water— though I am pretty sure it would be a more profound realization than that.

I thanked him for his concerns and his advice, because I honestly did want to hear his side of the story and I honestly did listen to what he had to say. But then he wrote me a long e-mail the next morning in which my mom was included and he reiterated why he thinks it’s a better idea for me to do this by borrowing everything. And thus began a lengthy, time-consuming, passive aggressive exchange of e-mails between the three of us. The three of us, who currently live three miles apart and yet, we spent about three days talking over e-mail. Silly.

By Friday morning, I found myself bent into a ball of frustration. Nothing I said was getting through to them. I had been wasting valuable trip planning hours in order to pull up every article I could find and to tell them every anecdote I could remember, all as evidence for why I should be doing this the way I am doing it. I found support that hybrid technology is not necessarily the solution, as it’s by no means perfect and we do not even know that much about it, given its time on the market. Furthermore, using an older vehicle, assuming it’s not belching out black clouds, is another way to reduce your carbon footprint, because you are BUYING SECONDHAND and NOT CONTRIBUTING to the manufacture of new vehicles.

I also told them that I needed to have my own vehicle and that it kind of DOES need to have as much character as Roxanne has, because it is part of the package of this trip and no one, especially me, is going to believe this project if I am doing it in my daddy’s luxury SUV. Sorry.

Plus, I added, I have been a nomad for four years and I have not really had a living space to call my own since I moved out of the apartment I shared with a friend for a year in Barcelona and even that was not my own. I NEED my own space, even if it is a humble, 33 year-old vehicle.

AND, even though the camper is so old, in some ways, I told them, I could see it being better, because I would not take its condition for granted. A new car is assumed to perform better, to protect you better, to crap out less. But that is not always so, as we saw earlier this year when gas pedals started sticking into the floorboards on new Toyotas. In the case of my chosen steed, I told them that I would no doubt be more vigilant, more attuned to proper maintenance, more careful when driving, simply BECAUSE it is so old.

And meanwhile, I started having crazy thoughts, like: what’s the point in even TRYING to be careful? I mean, you could get sucked into a giant sinkhole on any given day, just because you are home reading the Sunday paper. I think I’ll be a LOT safer in my old, beat-up camper.

And as for the dog, I explained that I needed my very own sidekick, my buddy, my constant companion, my source of support when things inevitably go wrong. By borrowing a dog, I was basically going to be saving money on the adoption fee, I said, because all other care would still be in my hands.

And then, after having devoted all that time to explaining myself, I realized that they were the only people who had asked me to explain myself so much and I realized that everyone else had had questions about what I was doing but no one else had made me feel so small and so infantile and so helpless, and so I got angry. And I said that I was tired of defending my ideas and that if they really wanted to help, they could try to understand what I am doing and why I am doing it this way.

And then nothing. The e-mails stopped.

Now I have a pack of information on health care coverage that my dad has given me to read over. He has told me to pick out a plan that I like and that it will be my 30th birthday present. It’s a really nice offer. Like, super generous. I just don’t know what it means.

I know. It probably has something to do with all their concerns surrounding the fact that I am doing something kinda crazy and I am doing it on my own and I am the baby in the family and that by giving me health care, they at least feel like they have a hand in my well-being.

I guess I just wish there were another way to do this. But there’s not. So it goes.

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