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Freelancing and Reading on the Road

My impromptu standing desk costs a fraction of those expensive fancy things, and takes up hardly any space. Folding table: $40. Folding sitting table: $30? Briefcase: Free.

As Turtle (my van) and I bumble south from Colorado to New Mexico, and west from New Mexico into Arizona, I find my brain getting bored with not working. I’m so obsessed with maps, and poring over brochures and cactus guides, and finding a place to sleep at night, and filling water tanks, and emptying dirty water and toilets, that I haven’t spent enough time on my business, which I really want to work on.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico. This is where I started listening to Deliberate Freelancer's episode about ADHD.

What got me back into the zone? The Deliberate Freelancer podcast. Melanie of MelEdits is a brilliant podcaster, and she interviews equally brilliant freelancers. While walking through White Sands National Park, (just south of the missile range in New Mexico), I became transfixed on the ADHD episode where she interviews a woman who was diagnosed with ADHD and how she made it work for her business. I was stunned as the interviewee listed every single habit I’ve ever had and wondered about. I don’t think I need a real diagnosis, but just knowing that it’s likely I have the same issue makes me feel a little better.  I dove into other episodes too, like how to say no to business we don’t really want, and choosing one’s clients.

My van at the visitor's center of Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico. The land of little rain.

All along my adventure I’ve been reading Carl Hiassan’s Basket Case (which I really should have saved for Florida, since that’s where all his stories are based), and Edward Abbey’s The Journey Home, and on audio I’m listening to Mary Austin’s, The Land of Little Rain, which was published sometime in the 1920s. I’m glad my mom encouraged me to subscribe and keep subscribing to Scribd, because I’ve listened to many, many excellent audiobooks this way. 

Follow my van life adventures here in the “travel” section of my blog, or on Instagram @artemissavory. 

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Van Life: Affordable Rent and Amazing Places Worth Visiting

My van at the very beginning: March, 2021. I had help getting my van for a good deal. I also had lots of help with getting her road- and life-ready.

I started living van life for a number of reasons, of which saving money is near the top. When I was renting rooms in my twenties, I started out paying around $5,000/year plus utilities, which rounded out to roughly $6,000 a year. I got good at finding individual owners to rent from so I could continue on this track for awhile. I found places equally cheap in western Massachusetts, then in Colorado.  In my late twenties I moved back to Massachusetts and I found “cheap” apartments at $900/month. That meant I was spending $10,800 a year—or roughly $13,000 a year, including utilities—just on living in a place. That didn’t include car expenses, gas for the car, food, groceries, or anything else.

My dad let me stay in his empty apartment for a few months, while I readied my van. This place was a cute studio apartment where the damn kitchen pipes got clogged, but everything else worked well.

I got a lot of help on the road to van life. My dad is a used car dealer and was able to get me a low-cost van at auction available to dealers only. He let me stay in a couple of apartments that were empty at the time. I slept on my air mattress for a few days, until my sister gave me her old foam mattress and bed frame. I cooked and ate food with a fry pan, a pot, two plates and two bowls, and one set of silverware.

Van life is a hugely different experience than apartment living. I will say that ever since setting off, I’ve relied a lot on friends: I stayed in friends’ driveways in my home state of Massachusetts, as well as in northern Ohio and Colorado. I cheated and stayed in a friend’s guest room for a few days in western Ohio. For this reason, I haven’t had to pay for many campgrounds, showers, or laundry. I’ve spent very few nights nervous that the cops will knock on my window at 6 a.m. and tell me to move along.

Saving money is a good reason to van life. Another is to see beautiful places all around the country. This picture is of the Bridge of Flowers, taken in Shelburne Falls, Ma.

Follow my van life adventures here in the “travel” section of my blog, or on Instagram @artemissavory

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Post-Teenage Renaissance In Western Massachusetts

Art in Turner’s Falls

I lived in three towns in western Massachusetts during undergrad. This is where I fell in love with solitude and hiking. It’s where I met people doing things that no one in my community had ever done—poly, art as a lifestyle, goth dancing, and daily Paganism. I discovered the Durfee Conservatory, a greenhouse filled with plants from different climates: a hot humid room, a cold humid room, a dry cool room, a dry hot room.

Hike up Mount Holyoke to Skinner State Park

Free from social constraints and obligations, I hiked up to Skinner State Park, participated in a free tour, and took notes. Then I drove to a farm stand that still exists and got a cupcake and tried to figure out what a story is, brainstorming on paper. At the Montague Book Mill I found a book called Tramping,” and a couple books about nature. The tramping book worked itself into a writing exercise, where I started to write about my tramping lifestyle as I begin van life.

Montague Book Mill in Montague, Ma.

I was a little panicked about camping, because the campgrounds out here suck (KOA charges $50/night PLUS taxes for a tent site, the small places don’t answer the phone, and there are no Hipcamps or campendiums or national forest land out here). I tried thinking outside the box. Maybe I could sleep in the Mount Skinner parking lot, as long as I got there after 10, and left before 6 am. And then I remembered Yankee Candle. I gave them a call and they said if course I could camp in their lot! So here I am, set up in my rig, nighttime falling, listening to cicadas and crickets and traffic on the not-so-distant highway.

I can’t wait to get back to my virtual assistant business tomorrow. I can go to the library, or Yankee candle, or just sit in my car and use my hotspot for internet and house batteries for power. I can turn off the volume on my phone and focus on what needs doing.

Finally, I have my own space. I don’t feel trapped anymore.

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How NOT to Write a Memoir

We all have goals that we want to reach in our writing, especially memoirists. There have been times when I want to write about ex-boyfriends because they treated me awful, or because they were so perfect, and always—always!—my writing group would ask me, “But what’s beneath this? What is this really about?” And I would whine and say they didn’t understand, but at the same time I would write into it until I figured it out. It was always about me and how I work, or it was about the relationship I have with my parents or siblings or friends; or it was about how easy it is for me to have a short, passionate, surface-level relationship than it ever has been to sustain a deep and long-term one.

Image result for the feminist and the cowboyThere are ways to guide your memoir, to nurture it, and there are also some things you should avoid. I recently read the memoir The Feminist and the Cowboy, by Alisa Valdes, because I loved the title and the contradictions and it also sounded like it could be an interesting story. Parts of it were great and eye opening, but other parts annoyed me (as my boyfriend can attest to, since I told him about it every night). So here are some ways not to write a memoir, as learned from this text.

  1. Labels. Examples: My parents are narcissists. All liberals think this, and all conservatives think that. Feminism stole my womanhood.

When you start out a memoir with labels, you probably have an agenda. I don’t think it’s bad for a writer to have an agenda, but if you start out with one, then how can you expect to reach the truth? I thought my stories were about boys, when really they were about family. If I had followed my gut, my stories would have fallen flat because they had yet to reach their full potential. For most of us, an essay is about meandering through our experiences in order to find what feels most right. Slapping a label on a feeling you have will never allow it to reach absolute truth.

  1. Rose-colored glasses. Example: My boyfriend is perfect and I wrote this while we were dating.

If you think your boyfriend is perfect and you only met him a few months ago, it probably isn’t the best time to start a memoir about your relationship with him. As a journalist, I can attest that people put on smiles and tell you all about how great they are when you first start talking to them. It can take dozens of interviews before you get to hear about their truest feelings, jealousies and desires, the stuff they don’t want to tell everyone. The same thing happens in a romantic relationship, which is why it’s best to give it some time; a few years, maybe.

  1. Let just one person read it. Example: My boyfriend read over this memoir before publication.

In her memoir, Valdes tells us more than once that the Cowboy leaned over her shoulder while she was writing, but she never mentioned showing it to anyone else in her life. (This memoir is probably more about seclusion and abuse than it is about romance, but we’re going to stick to how not to write a memoir for now.) It is a great idea to let those you’re writing about read your work. You want to gauge their reactions and maybe get permission before the lawsuits come pouring in. You also want to get their side of things, unless it’s a really horrific incident that you just can’t even talk to them about. But I’m not sure the author showed this book to anyone other than the cowboy, which makes a lot of sense because the other people in her life (including herself) sound selfish and annoying, whereas the Cowboy is the only person with any logic and humanity whatsoever.

In the end, here’s my advice if you want to write a memoir, whether it’s essay-length or book-length: Move past labels to get to a deeper and sometimes more complex truth; give the situation some time to breathe so you don’t dive in when everything is perfect and beautiful, because this is a dangerous time to be writing; and if you’re going to let anyone read your memoir before publication, make sure you bring in more than just the one person you’re in love with.

Image result for compassionFurther words of wisdom: I’ve been told many times that the writer should be the only person to look like an asshole. This means that you should make your very best effort to identify the good qualities of your nemesis, or family members who make you angry; don’t just identify their faults as you see them, but seek out their strengths as well. A compassionate writer will get closer to the truth and is less likely to be sued.

If you have anything to add, please do so below. I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences!

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