Saturday, January 28, 2012

How I Went From Teaching High School To Traveling Around North America To Returning Home To Work In An Autoshop

... or Why Leaving Everything to Travel Around the United States On My Own Has Been Worth It Beyond My Wildest Dreams

It's been a year and seven months since I took to the road

Ye old childhood chair
I’m sitting at home, in the same chair that has been in my bedroom since I was born. It’s been reupholstered a few times, but really it’s still the same chair. The same shape, the same type of fabric, although it isn’t the same color; the material is brand new. I’ve been crying. One of those cries where you just let it rip and sob your heart out. I had put on my headphones and started listening to one of my favorite pieces by 1 Giant Leap, and just let myself collapse. And with the music holding me, I was just there with myself. I didn’t need to call my friend Amy to bawl on her shoulder, although I knew she would have let me, anytime, anywhere. I didn’t start texting Karin with messages about how I’ll never be good enough, because yes, I’ve just been ditched again by a guy that I really really really like(d). I don’t even go grab the parrot. I’m OK being alone with myself, and the music, and my feelings. I’m OK waking up every morning with my chest tight, barely able to breathe from loneliness and anxiety, and doing whatever I need to do anyways.  I couldn’t do this a year ago.

A year ago I also couldn’t have written the letter to Adi (the guy I really really really like(d)) saying that the he was not responsible for my hurt, nor could I help him with his, given the choice he had made to break up with me, and the best thing that he could possibly do is leave me be to heal on my own. (We had been going together for a number of months, when he called me from his parents’ house over x-mas break to say that he had recently met another girl and was already engaged to her.  We met a few days later at his bequest. The guilt about it was literally coming out of his pours, and he wanted to remain friends, checking in on me, to see how I was ‘recovering’ every few days. But to let him do that would not have been good for me, so I said so.)

Banjo the Mustang 
and I overcame our fears together
In writing that letter, I have taken another risk, I have stood up for myself, just like I did a year and a half ago when I sold most of my things, gave up my home, my well-paid job teaching Russian to high school students, and took the road to work with complete strangers on ranches with horses, because it's what I wanted to do.

I was on the road for a little over 9 months actually. I spent time in Saskatchewan on a horse breeding ranch, and then down in Colorado working as a drywall installer, riding the neighbors horses in the cow pastures in my spare time. I went to New Mexico to gentle and train wild caught Mustang horses on a Bureau of Land Management contract. I was planning to go to Tennessee to work another horse ranch, but my car broke down midway in Coleman, Texas, and I ended up going from church to church looking for someone who would take me in. The car would take over a month to repair. I got to know Coleman fairly well by then, and some awfully kind people too.  

My car had been my life blood on the road, taking me from place to place, through the most gorgeous of landscapes, and away from bat-shit-crazy-insane ranch bosses at a moment’s notice. She (yes, my car is female) has also been the source of some awesome music jamming and great conversations with myself about myself and what I’m experiencing. And it was at this point (after $3000 of repairs!!) that I realized, I cannot keep doing this without knowing what is going on under that hood. When I returned to Chicago, I took her to a local mechanic for something minor, and was also advised that my front brake pads were low.

Screw this, I thought. I know someone who knows how to work on cars. I’ll contact them and see if they can help me. My brake pads will be the first part of my education.

My awesome and trusty Subaru WRX
And so I found myself in the garage of the son of one of my father’s graduate school friends. And that’s how it all started. I’ve spent more of my summer and fall than I’d like to admit tinkering around with my car and fixing all the things that so-called  ‘professional’ mechanics messed up. And there was a lot! (I ended up having to redo a shoddy clutch job that my local garage had done right before I first set off. The repair that ended up being done in Texas also should never have had to happen. It was the timing belt that broke and destroyed everything in its wake. I had had the preventive maintenance done just 10 months earlier in Chicago… badly as it turned out. I’m not going to list the rest of it, but if you can believe it, there’s more!).

That’s how I ended up working in an auto shop.
And I really love it.


My name is lust, I’m not a thing, more like a quality, I attach myself behind your eyes temporarily and blind you everything you think you might want to be, make you promise me everything for fame, for idolatry, and when I leave you cannot ever follow me, find yourself confined in solitary[1].

I think I’m going to look back at this essay and kick myself for using Adi so much in my explanation of things, but events with him are present, and they explain what I want to say pretty well. Hopefully by the time I reread this, I’ll be over him. Actually I know I will be, because I am learning how to look see reality versus the lust and dream world that I have created since my childhood.

In my eyes, Adi was near perfect. He was passionate about life in a way that I rarely see in anyone these days, yet not a work-a-holic or social climber. He knew how to relax. Even in the relatively short time that we knew each other, I felt really comfortable around him, and he would allow me the space to grow and be myself without being too judgmental. We had a load of stuff in common and could just converse on nearly any topic. Our values were similar, and oh my gosh was he cute!  But then in the middle of all of this wonderfulness and hope, he meets someone new, and within a week is engaged to her.

I cried so hard. Felt so hurt, angry, frustrated, sad, lost…all sorts of intense feelings that were bouncing around my head and driving me insane. We were so great together! He has everything I’ve ever dreamed of, and is such a nice person as well. But wait…. Stop a moment Alyssa and look, listen. Do you really think that even if he decided to come back to you that you could trust him after he changed his mind about who he wanted to be with so quickly? Would you want to be in a relationship with someone you could not trust?  I shake my head, no. This is the reality of the situation, and I have chosen to stop and listen and hear it. I am very glad I did.

This ability to do a reality check has also been helping me in one of my most self destructive and life destroying habits; When something difficult happens, I tend to turn all my anger in on myself in the form of physical pain and mental self deprecation. Recently though, I’ve been catching myself when my mind starts to say all those horrible assumptions about me. Are those thoughts really true? Or is it just my delusions of habit playing tricks on me? Once that is done, I know I can stop those extremely destructive thoughts.  I’m getting better at it.

We make and choose our own happiness.

This is a great quote. It also comes in forms like ‘The power of positive thinking…’ and ‘Smile and the world will smile back!’ I have spent years upon years trying to make this work for me. Literally trying to squeeze a positive thought out of a misfortune to the point of probably looking constipated, or get involved with something new when I’m feeling down, except that when I’m feeling down everything seems absolutely hopeless beyond repair so what’s the point?!

On the roof - I really enjoy
 doing physical work
What was I missing? Why couldn’t I do this like everyone else seems to?  As it turns out, I just needed time and the right circumstances to figure it out. There are a lot of wonderful quotes out there, but to really understand them, I believe I need to have lived them myself. You can’t just choose to be happy one day. It must be cultivated. It must be cultivated through valuing yourself enough to treat yourself kindly and know how to meet your basic needs of respect and peace in your life, even if that means you must make compromises. It must be cultivated through doing things that truly make your heart soar, and by building a foundation of love (love for things that you do, and love for yourself among other things), so that when things do get tough, you have these habits solidly within yourself to call on.

This brings me to another quote that I love dearly and that I have misinterpreted until very recently. ‘Let the beauty of what you love be what you do’.  My dear friends, this has next to NOTHING to do with the work you do to put food on your table and a roof over your head (although if you are in a situation where it does, that is absolutely wonderful too!).

My name is pain I attach myself to your life temporarily, and nearly everybody in the world is afraid of me, but in reality there would be no self discovery and why would you need to have mercy without me, for all that you curse me you should never forget …
I’ve been away for a long time see… waiting for someone to rescue me… one woman came with a gift for me… go find yourself then come for me… but I’ve been away for too long you see… I’ve been away from the hurt in me… 

I have been learning that pain is a part of life. It cannot be avoided, and should definitely not be ignored. If you ignore it, it will just find its way back through a different route. It’s what makes us recognize the beautiful things as beautiful. Working through it and with it, and then knowing that I have the choice to let it go once I’ve visited with it is something very important. I think it will save me from much more pain in the long run. I don’t know or recall how I realized this, it just happened.

Afterall, it was through my pain in telling Adi goodbye that I got the inspiration to write this piece. And this is something I’ve wanted to bang out for a long time. It’s pretty meaningful to me. I don’t think I could have done it without the tears that gave me focus.

I also know that is isn’t Adi, who gave this to me. This is me who recognized and gave this opportunity to me. I am the one doing the work here. He was only a catalyst for the circumstances that brought me to this work.

Adi isn’t the only person I’ve lost recently. In the beginning of 2011, my heart and love of over four years decided to ‘take some time to himself’ and break off our plans to be married, to have a family, a home, support each other in our lives and ambitions. Truthfully I’m still reeling from it, though we are still in touch somewhat. I haven’t the strength yet to write the proverbial ‘letter’ and take care of my own needs above my desire to be with him and my love for him, like I know I will need to do eventually. But I think I’m on the way now.

No one else can hold onto my pain for me. No amount of crying to anyone else or anything someone else can do for me will heal me completely. I have to do most of this hard work on my own. And with this realization of having to do emotional work on my own, I have also taken to heart how important it is that I work for anything that I want, and take the consequences for my actions. I’m choosing not to go into detail on this topic, but as of late, I have an ever deepening sense that I can do this on my own. It doesn’t mean I will never accept or ask for help. The human race wouldn’t exist if we didn’t help and care for and support each other at times. But I know I can stand stronger now.

I suppose what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t ever dare discount the type of work that I’ve been doing these days from actual work. No amount of career ladder climbing, investing for retirement (which goes hand in hand with that nice career salary), or whatever else it was that I am “supposed to be doing at this age” could have taught me what I’m coming away with now. I believe had I paid attention to all those “should haves” I would not have been able to take the time to listen to my own self; the only teacher that is capable of understanding all these lessons for me.

 I’m the same girl, I look the same, I’m (pretty much) the same shape and the same color, but it’s my heart and my mind that I feel are starting to become a new fabric. If I keep going in the direction that I am headed now, no ‘career’ that I want to pursue will be too difficult to tackle (There will be times of extreme difficulty though I am sure of it). Over the past year and a half, I have given up and/or lost many things which were dear to me, I have lived on next to nothing and survived. I’ve failed miserably at relationships and jobs. I’ve had the time to stop and listen and learn more than I can even count about what is important to me and what I stand for.  I’ve learned to see what is real around me and act on it, and not my own delusions and fantasies. The majority of it has been incredibly painful.

But as these things I’m learning solidify,  so much more of the world is in my reach. Right now I have a sound mind, a healthy body, and a way to earn the roof over my head and the food that I eat. It’s not what I used to earn, and certainly doesn’t come with a retirement fund, but I will not be a burden.  I have my music and at least half the days of the year will not be gray and cloudy. 

Inspiration does exist; it just needs to find you working.

This is not the first time I've mentioned this quote … but this time, I ask you: What does ‘work’ mean to you? And who the hell are you, if nothing you think you ‘own’ is truly yours?

[1] Quotes are roughly transcribed from the Jaimie Catto music project called ‘1 Giant Leap’ and ‘What about Me?’


  1. I really enjoyed this the first time I read it, but it's even better with pictures. (So THAT'S what the chair looks like...) And I LOVE that Picasso quote. Did you ever see the poster I made of it? I made it a long time ago so it's not that flashy, but it's here: Picasso Quote Poster

    Looking forward to more things to read from you!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. I have so many from my travels, it just seemed natural to add them.

    I have not seen your poster until now, but it is DEFINITELY worthy of having a poster made. This quote sums up a huge part of my personal philosophy and morals.

  3. I randomly clicked on your blog from the "40 Photo-Illustrated Questions to Refocus Your Mind" page. I am glad that I did. You write beautifully and I admire your independence/courage. I am going through a lot in life right now and instead of using my usual defense mechanisms, I am trying deal with it all head on. As human beings, we all go through "stuff" but is comforting to know I am not alone.

  4. Hi there, and thank you for visiting! While taking risks like quitting my job in order to follow an interest and dream can definitely be seen as courageous, I think it's being able to face yourself, be with yourself and work on yourself that can sometimes be the most daunting and difficult task. Through whatever difficult times you have, just keep going, keep working (It is work!!!), be gentle with yourself; growth is not at all a linear process.
    It's also nice for me to know that I am also not alone. Thank you for your comment, it is very heartening to read what you had to say :)