It started even before the pandemic. I’d always been the responsible one. Supermom capable of breastfeeding while cooking dinner and wrangling a toddler. I worked full-time while raising two kids and was involved in the community, volunteered downtown, and climbed the corporate ladder at a state job.
But you can only live at full speed for a certain amount of time before you start unraveling. I’d been unraveling for years, layer by layer. It’s hard to help others when you’re empty. There’s nothing left to give.
My writing has always been my lifeline.
It’s my coping mechanism, my way of understanding the world, and how I express myself. It fills my creative well. Once the kids were grown and we downsized and decluttered I realized my writing was not only my lifeline but also gave me other creative opportunities and ways to spend all those newly-empty hours. I attended writing and science fiction conferences and workshops, met other authors and editors, and became part of an amazing world of generous people making a living with their minds and imaginations.
Then the pandemic hit and there were no more conferences, coffee meetups, masterclasses, or any kind of in-person social events.
At first, I was like most introverts. I was all right with staying home for weeks. But then weeks stretched out to months and I realized that although I thought of myself as introverted, I craved the in-person meetups, laughter, and coffee dates. Cabin fever has never been worse than in 2020.
My team of doctors on the other hand were ecstatic about how completely healthy I now was. I wasn’t being exposed to germs from people who said they had “allergies” and I wasn’t working in what was dubbed the “sick building” of the capitol mall area. I was healthy, strong, and felt better than I had in decades. My lupus was finally in remission.
But my mind, although grateful for the world slowing down and my newfound energy and health, craved more.
If I was honest with myself, I had craved much more for many years now. I ached to be out in nature, climbing rocks and chasing waterfalls. I wanted more opportunities to join five thousand other sci-fi lanyard-wearing fans for a week of cosplay, geekdom, and exciting panels and workshops. I love both the peace of nature and the excitement of huge conferences and large cities.
How long would it be before the world felt safe to travel again? To congregate with more than ten people? Would masks be a permanent travel safety necessity just as my lessons in Kajukenbo were? Would normal travel return in another six months? Would it be safe in a year? Two? All these questions spinning in my head gave me panic attacks. I was overwhelmed and felt trapped.
I’m positive most of the world felt the same way. But what was I going to do about it? For me? For my situation? I had always traveled safely – with six autoimmune diseases, it’s a necessity. But now, it was just all too much. Each state had different regulations, people were rioting over wearing or not wearing masks, and I personally knew many normally healthy people that were in ICU with Covid-19.
It was time to pivot.
I tried writing my way out of the dilemma. But it was like walking through quicksand. Although I now had all this time I didn’t need to waste on commuting or shopping, I couldn’t write as much as I desired. Even my words weren’t solving this problem.
Then one article I read during quarantine changed my mindset and my life. In 2019 I had attended several conferences. One of my favorites is right here in my town of Boise, Idaho. The Convertkit Craft+Commerce conference is an amazing, diverse, and inspiring gathering. They have a blog series where they highlight creators and share their stories. The one that struck me in the heart was a story about Jessica Peña, a young girl with a chronic illness who found freedom and a way of life living in an RV.
I identified with her story of fighting a chronic illness and the desire to live life to its fullest, and to make sure someone remembers that you were here on earth. But her unusual life of living in an RV struck a deeper desire inside me. I missed the mountains of Montana and the hippie commune I was raised where I felt safe and loved.
This yearning led to research. I love researching for my books or for anything, really. I came across #vanlife on Instagram. I became obsessed! Within a week I was telling my friends, my family, and even my mentors that I was going to do #vanlife and travel the nation. I think this was in July. Our state was still pretty much on lockdown and I really hadn’t been out of the house except for walks around the neighborhood. It was a crazy idea. But an idea that wouldn’t let go of me. I was determined that somehow I was going to buy a cargo van and build it out into a camper and travel.
This was the pivot my business, as well as my mindset needed.
I could safely travel in my van and have a safe place to live all in one! When conferences and bookstores opened up again, I could travel and still maintain some distance. Since no one knows when the pandemic will ease up, this was my way to at least do some traveling. If it takes years for full-time travel and large gatherings to happen again, I can still find waterfalls and mountains to climb.
I was about to turn fifty – on August 10th. Unable to have any kind of party or travel to spend it with family, I got it in my mind I would have my cargo van before my birthday. Fifty is, after all, a pretty big milestone birthday. So, I researched what kind of van I wanted, and spent every day look for vans online and locally.
Perseverance is a gift I got from my mother.
When I was little I was labeled a “bully” and “obstinant,” which as an adult translated into determination and tenacity. My mother knew this and nurtured my tenacious side. This trait has kept me going through a lot of hell and high water in my life.
I brought my van home on August 4, 2020. Six days before I turned fifty!
I am determined to build it out (mostly) by myself. I’m enjoying the build process immensely. When it’s done it will take me to places, communities, and people that will fill my creative tank and allow me to find myself again.
Although I’ll be a wanderer soon, I’m still a responsible member of society, working (remotely), volunteering, and trying to help others when I can. But I’m letting go of the idea that I can be everything to everyone. No one can be that. I’ve got to stop trying.