A soundtrack for breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno

I listened to Son Volt's Trace  constantly on that trip from Chicago to Sacramento.

I played that CD--on a portable CD player that I hooked up to my car stereo's tape deck--at least a dozen times on that journey. I kept one song in particular, "Creosote," on repeat. One memory remains crystalline to this day: Listening to it on the highway that travels south from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Wichita Falls, Texas.

It was storming and the sky was gunmetal gray and windy and all of this reflected my state of mind. Not only was I still going through a divorce, but I'd also broken up with my boyfriend of two months thanks to something Jill told me between Graeagle and Reno. 

Actually, I don't think he knew I'd broken up with him yet because I handled this via a postcard mailed from a gas station outside of Reno, NV. This was pre-Facebook and texting and I didn't have a laptop so you got by in other, more primitive ways.

I bought the postcard from a thin, blotchy skinned station clerk--she couldn't have been older than 21. I can't remember what the postcard showed, but I do remember scratching out this rambling note about trust and honesty and respect and love and god I don't even know if he even read the whole thing or just got it all after the first line because, truthfully, it's exhausting me now to even think about it.

Anyway, this guy--the Poet as I called him back then. I was 27, these things happen-- loved Son Volt as much as I did. We'd played this record together several times in the car. He even he quoted lyrics from this particular song in a letter he wrote me once (a real letter--on paper, mailed in an envelope).

That Son Volt record never actually got played in the car with Jill. It was Liz Phair that blasted through the speaker as we peeled out of that gas station parking lot. There was, too, a lot of  Hole and Sleater-Kinney (and Wilco and Bonnie Raitt, too, but you get the general theme here).

When I left Chicago however, the soundtrack changed, at least partly. I still played the Liz Phair and the Sleater-Kinney and the Hole but I added, too, albums that are, by their nature, more solitary. Jeff Buckley. Jim White. The Dirty Three. That damn Whiskeytown record. Son Volt.

There were, of course, stretches of radio. Garth Brooks during yet another apocalyptic thunderstorm, this one in Arkansas. Mexican pop songs outside of El Paso. Fleetwood Mac, fading in and out of frequency, somewhere near Phoenix.

But mostly, it was these records, over and over as I snaked my way back home. When we left Reno I had been furious--Liz Phair-, Sleater-Kinney-, Hole-furious--but now here, alone on a highway in Oklahoma, Son Volt's "Creosote" struck me for how it fit our relationship.


Passing under barren skies
Waiting for our worlds to collide
And there you are
All alone feeling bad

Interstate movin' again
Barrel through thick and thin
Side by side
To survive like creosote

Born under a widespread changes
The search for higher reason
Learning the ropes okay
But fate just runs you around


I was still angry with him. But also not angry with him. Angrier with myself, I guess. Angry for choices I'd made--choices that really had nothing to do with him but led me there all the same. As it turned out,  despite the truth I'd learned, despite the hurt and the small betrayal,  I wasn't really that mad after all.

Because despite a few little relationship glitches--including the one that led to that decision outside of Reno--this guy was great. Kind. Insightful. As I sped down the Interstate, I hoped we'd stay in each other's lives. I didn't want to be his girlfriend anymore (or whatever it was that I was to him at that point; it was rather murky. Like I said, glitches), I did, however, want to be his friend.

That was 17 years ago and he lives in another state now and we don't talk much but we are, very much, still friends. And for that I'm pretty damn grateful.

A soundtrack to breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno:

Fear and happiness on the road

Today's prompt had something to do with traveling alone--as in, have you ever done it?

The short answer is 'yes, but not nearly enough.'

I've traveled a bit by myself and if I had more time and money I'd do it more often.

As it is, however, when I do have time to travel I usually want to (and can only afford to) do so with Cory.

Still, if the time and money were of little or no consideration ...

Travel, of course, is an amazing way to see the world in a different way. Or yourself.

In summer 1997 I was still struggling through a separation from my then-husband. We'd been together seven-and-a-half years so even though I think the relationship had burned out long before I actually moved out, there was still plenty of emotional turmoil.

Those first few months in my tiny Midtown apartment were challenging. I learned to live by myself again; to trust myself (long story), to like just being by myself. I loved, loved, loved that apartment. It was a studio but it was huge and sunny and overlooked a courtyard with a bubbling fountain. There, I slept with the windows open, listened to music, read, wrote and spent time with my new cat Sophie. Some of my closest friends lived nearby--Rachel and Tom down the street, Laura just a few apartments over.

I dated, I even had a boyfriend of sorts,  but mostly I hibernated.

Then, Jill asked if I wanted to drive with her to Chicago to visit her family. The plan was to go out together and I'd stay for a few days and see Chicago with her and then drive back alone as Jill wanted to spend several weeks there and was at a point in her life where she could just quit her part-time job between semesters and then pick up again in the fall.

The trip there was amazing; we drove from Northern California through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and then cut up north to South Dakota so we could visit Mt. Rushmore. Jill took the picture at left somewhere outside of the Mt. Rushmore park. I apologize for the very '90s-ness of it. I am probably wearing Doc Martens and I'm OK with that but wish I could take the overalls and weird haircut back.

Throughout the trip Jill and I bonded like crazy (our friendship was only a few months old at that time). We shared deep, intense stories. We laughed a lot. We cried. We listened to music loudly and sat in the passenger seat with our toes waving out the window. It was perfect trip.

In Chicago the intense fun continued. We went to shows and parties and thrifted. We hung out with her family and stalked ex-boyfriends (hers, obviously).

And then suddenly it was time for me to go home. Alone.

Jill's parents lived in the tiny town of Crete, just south of Chicago. It's a rural/suburban enclave with cornfields and tractors and lots of hoopla about stoplights.

Her family was kind and the house was pretty and quiet but eventulally it was time to leave. Sometime after noon on a hot July afternoon, I hugged Jill goodbye and set out on my own.

I traveled south to Tennessee and stayed the night in Nashville in a crappy motel outside Music Row. The drive down had been beautiful--as I drove into Memphis it was raining but also sunny and I pulled the car over to the side of the road to join other travelers in the chance to snap a picture of a rainbow.

That night, however, I felt very very lonely. I may have cried. I definitely called my mother, seeking a reassuring voice. I heard people outside the door arguing. I felt scared and pushed a chair up against the thin motel door. And then I felt silly and just turned the TV up louder to drown out the noise.

The next morning I got up and had breakfast at a diner near the then-Country Music Hall of Fame. I can't remember if I visited it or not (I've been there since but the memories are blurring); I walked around some of the stores and took photos. Finally, I got back in my car and continued driving.

I stayed in Tulsa with my cousin for a few days and then made my way to Wichita Falls to viist my biological mother, and then Dallas to stay with my grandparents for a day or two. Eventually I continued on to Austin and stayed for a night at a hostel located near the river. There, I talked to a nice guy who saw my California plates and wanted to talk because someone he knew was from Southern California. The next day I went record shopping by myself near the university.

Eventually I got in the car and drove west to El Paso. Somewhere between Austin and El Paso I stopped for gas off of Highway 10. The station was the only point on the Interstate for miles and there a kind, older man warned me to be careful--a young girl out there by myself all alone. I thanked him, truly gratified by his sense of caring, and then jumped back in the car and probably blasted that damn Whiskeytown record for the millionth time. I'm pretty sure I lit up another cigarette; I'm pretty sure that, at least for a few hours, I felt amazingly carefree--all alone in the world but happy for it.

I rolled into El Paso sometime shortly before midnight. I still remember the sense of relief I had pulling off the highway--I still see the glittering city lights. There was, too, a little fear as I tried to navigate my way through El Paso's downtown in the dark, searching for the hostel. Once again I felt all alone in the world, but more afraid than carefree. By the time the sun rose the next morning and I ate my free Continental breakfast and coffee on the patio of this hostel--which was housed in a gorgeous old building--I once again felt alive, happy, happy to be alone.

I think that's the point. There was a lot of fear, but also a lot of happiness. A lot of singing in the car, a lot of where-the-hell-am-I? moments. The time I thought my car might wash away in a flash flood s I tried to make my way to Flagstaff--several hikers had died that way the week before--I felt oddly at once terrified but also at peace.

After Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon and then a 12-hour-drive home to Sacramento, I arrived home sometime after midnight on a Saturday.

The next morning Laura called me. "I saw your car, you're home!"

She sounded happy about this. I felt incredibly happy that she knew I was home. That she cared.

That trip changed me in ways I can't describe (I've tried; someday I'll archive that attempt here) and it also gave me the desire to travel again by myself. I've done it a few more time since then, most recently on a train trip to Fort Worth and back. The train's not quite the same experience as hitting the road by yourself but even surrounded by people, you find yourself very alone. Often in the best way possible.


Quality hobbit time (alone but not lonely)

Oh good, today's writing prompt doesn't make me want to punch writing prompts in the face.

Do you enjoy being alone? What do you do when you're by yourself?

I'm an introvert and I love being alone. To a fault, perhaps.

I know that extroverts find "recharge" in being social--talking and being around other people.

Introverts, however, get that same recharge by spending time alone. Because being alone is not about being lonely. It's just the opposite actually. For me anyway. Being around other people, in certain situations, can make me feel more alone than ever.

It's an interesting dichotomy because if you are one side of this coin then it's really difficult to grasp the other side of the coin. As in, why on earth would anyone want to be around people that goddamned much?

Or, if you're an extrovert it's something more like this: Jesus, why are you such a hermit? (Or as my friend K. once called me, a "hobbit'. She meant 'hermit' and we all laughed because somehow hobbit seemed appropriate too and now in my head I think of myself as more of hobbit than a hermit--but I digress).

I am not a complete hobbit, however. I do get some charge/recharge from being around others. I hate small talk but thrive on good conversation. I love going to live shows or sporting events and feeling the energy of a crowd. As a teacher I get energized from teaching a class.

But all of this also mentally exhausts me, and so I retreat.

Mostly, my alone time comes in small chunks. An hour in the morning drinking coffee before I have to face the world. Some quiet time on the weekend mornings with a book and nothing else. A few hours at night or on the weekend if Cory's gone. But even just a few people-free hours can make a world of difference. It gives me time--not so much to think but to let my mind unfold and decompress. When I don't get this, I get tense, anxious, grumpy.

Being alone doesn't have to be something profound or special or meditative.

Some of the most mundane hours spent alone are also the best: Doing laundry, washing dishes, reading, watching trashy TV, spontaneous dance party for one, music blaring.

I love longer stretches of alone time, too--though I don't get them nearly enough. I used to work from home more often and even though I do get a lot out of being with co-workers I love working alone--padding around in pajamas, cats on lap, stopping to make a healthy, tasty lunch in my own kitchen and, as always, music playing.

Once when Cory went on tour I scheduled a week off to coincide with his being gone. I spent that week goofing off around the house (cleaning, going through things, etc), writing, cooking, reading and, even, hanging out with friends.

I've made solo cross-country trips by car and by train and have been trying to figure out the logistics of doing another such trip this summer or next. I need a good stretch of quality hobbit time.

But even more short blocks of time would help. I'm not quite sure how to make this happen--short of conjuring up more hours in the day--because I've also resolved to consciously spend more time with friends. To reach out, to plan things, to be spontaneous. I need that too.