Others have driven farther, faster and longer, but I was tired enough after driving 840 miles in 15 hours last Saturday. It was a family thing, you know? My dad was a trucker and a sailor. Make me a millionaire and I’ll travel. Whether by car, plane (float planes are the best), bicycle (my ride across America), walking (my walk across Scotland), or boat (someday) travel challenges habitual thinking and comforts by reinforcing commonality. When I think I know too much or too little, it is time to travel, and sometimes that travel is merely to find a new perspective.
My dad turned 85 last month. Happy Birthday again. He and Doris, his wife that he married after my mom passed away, are a sweet couple, walking hand-in-hand. Seeing that was worth the trip. They live in a different world from where he was born and from where I live. Central California, or however you want to describe the bit of California ranch land that is 840 miles away from Whidbey Island, is certainly not like living within a few miles of a couple of mills back in Pittsburgh, and is certainly not like living under the grey skies of Western Washington. The geography, the culture, and the people are different. In many ways, they were also the same.
Seen from Pittsburgh and Whidbey, much of California is dry, flat, and open. I started Saturday’s drive in a forecast for the mid-80s with a low that was near the high for Whidbey. By the time I got home the temperature had dropped 30 degrees and I had changed windshield wipers. They were covered with California tree sap that streaked across my view. The closer I got to Whidbey, the more people dressed for machine washable instead of dry clean only. Of course, when I was growing up outside of Pittsburgh my mom was the tie patrol. We weren’t allowed to go downtown without a tie, or at least that’s how she tried to get us to dress. As I drove north, my radio scans went from picking up Christian, country, and Spanish, to NPR, country, and jazz. Okay, so the country music was the same.
But as with most travel, I looked for the similarities. Standing beside a pond, amongst some trees, as the sun comes through early clouds is peaceful and beautiful. Television doesn’t change much. The internet largely ignores location; though it was unnerving to see Google News automatically switch to Fresno info instead of my Salish Sea feed. Chain stores vary little, and while that may culturally dull, it also points out that what most folks want in one area is the same thing that folks from another area are going to want. A lack of cultural diversity is also a sign of commonality and community. Especially along the west coast, most people have in common the fact that they aren’t from there. The majority started somewhere else, either east or south. A common question is, “So, how long have you been here?”.
My mind is kept busy with many issues, some personal, some global. Read my posts. Most of them are in here somewhere. I live within a community of active minds, open hearts, and engaged souls. It is easy within such a community to think that anyone with an active mind, an open heart, and an engaged soul, will have the same attitudes and draw the same conclusions no matter where they are. Making grand and general assumptions can generate great communication efficiencies between like minded people, but it also quickly leads to grand and general misunderstanding amongst others.
Want to make a conversation really short, or really long? Start with understanding each other’s assumptions. Most folks take them for granted. Finding what they are is either so scary that the topic gets switched quickly, or so engrossing that the conversation can last decades.
I’ve been checking my assumptions about balancing life and money, partly because I wrote the book based on that premise, but mostly because since I wrote that book I’ve witnessed financial extremes that have influenced my lifestyle. Fundamentally, I like most of the companies I am invested in, the projects I am involved in, the people I know and am working with, and the artwork I’ve created and am creating. Logically things should be going well. Currently, I realize a challenge is being made to the assumption that those fundamentals will sustain my lifestyle for a long time. The money to pay the bills is coming from a much smaller pile than a year ago. Emotionally I am reacting to that disconnect; but rather than doing the same old thing (living the life of a writer/photographer and a semi-retired engineer) and rather than abandoning that for the old older lifestyle of full time professional employment, tie included, I am checking my own assumptions. Stay tuned for results. It is a long internal conversation.
I didn’t travel to California to reassess my life’s goals, mission and strategies. I went to visit my dad because there was a hole in my schedule and because I’d missed his birthday. The trip made me think about assumptions though because this time the entire expense went onto my credit card. For a frugal guy, that’s very noticeable.
What I got from the trip, besides a family visit where I helped my 85 year old dad help a neighbor whose tractor was trying to slide into a pond, were reminders of what I’ve learned from other trips. Every place has people that think that it’s the best place to live. There is beauty everywhere. Most people are trying to do the same thing, take care of themselves, their family and friends, and their house. Our society does revolve around money, and money’s tie to true value may be skewed, but money is necessary to pay the bills; and that necessity initiates actions that can easily distract people from their values. The various assumptions along the way are highlighted by frustrations where the world doesn’t seem to match expectations. A lot of the frustration I saw between people was basically, “How can you possibly think differently? Why don’t you understand?” It wasn’t a failure of logic but a different set of assumptions, a different perspective.
But at the core of the experience was a perspective I acquired in Scotland. Every moment has beauty. Every moment contains every emotion. If I assume I want to be happy, it’s a much shorter trip to enjoy this moment. Having enough money to pay the bills and to have fun is a large part of participating in this society, and eventually it can lead to fewer distractions within every moment, but the happiness is free. Now, pardon me as I travel inside to find out why that perspective is so hard to maintain. Stay tuned.