Flashback to October 2020 (standout year, I really miss it): I’m in Jacksonville, Florida, bound for New England. My goal is to drive all the way up the East Coast and dance on the Canadian border (#TwoPlacesatOnce). Unfortunately, I only get as far as Philly before a new wave of pandemic lockdowns spoils my fun. Screw you, COVID.
I make it back to California two days before Thanksgiving, almost a month to the day that I left. I rent a U-Haul and singlehandedly moved most of my stuff to storage. I want to cut my losses by moving out at the end of the month, but I end up staying through January 8th to get organized. I have some savings and a vague idea of moving to Texas.
Texas has other plans and unleashes the Winter Outbreak, an unprecedented cold spell contrived to close roads, cut power, ruin Valentine’s Day, and discourage one more Californian from infiltrating the Lone Star State. Please. I’ve just been forced to call the police on my ballistic aunt. I’ll see your little Outbreak and raise you the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
After a brief stint at a hotel, I volunteer with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Founded in 1971 by Brit Sue Coppard, WWOOFing is a form of agritourism that promotes organic/ecological/sustainable farming by connecting hosts with part-time volunteers, or WWOOFers, who lend a helping hand in exchange for free room and board. I heard about the program from three guys I met in D.C. and thought that it sounded like the perfect way to combine my love of travel and writing with my interest in agriculture and viticulture. I told the guys that I wanted to work on a farm—with goats!—and that’s exactly what I’ve been up to since March 2021.
Overall, it’s been a great experience. The Golden State is stereotypically known for its sun-soaked beaches, but it’s actually home to a variety of weather and some of America’s most iconic Parks. These include Yellowstone National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and Redwoods National & State Parks, the first and last of which are also UNESCO World Heritage sites.
My host’s property is located in the Bay Area, near the coastline between Salinas (of Steinbeck fame) and the winemaking region of Sonoma. Here, majestic redwoods skirt the boutique beach resorts of Santa Cruz and Capitola and steam engines whistle through the ravine at Roaring Camp Railroads.
When I’m not caring for my host’s herd of Saanen goats, I like to play with her cat, Jacki(e)/Jacky, and explore the trails at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. My only complaint is that my host misrepresented certain facts, which put me in an unwarranted situation with her overbearing son, whose domineering behavior has limited the knowledge and experience that I hoped to gain, despite my being overqualified for anything that they could’ve taught me.
When it became clear that the goats’ AM/PM feedings would also prevent me from going out much in the evenings or getting more involved in the local community, I decided to apply to grad school, starting with my top two universities and working my way down. I didn’t really expect to get into Cambridge, given that I’m not as brilliant as the applicants who are only rejected because there aren’t enough spots for them, but it was good practice and helped me tick something off my bucket list. The experience also reminded me what I liked about school . . . and what I disliked about school. I missed out on a lot while I was responsibly working my way through college, and while I’m proud of my degree, I still regret the time and opportunities that I sacrificed for it. Do I really want to put myself through that again?
Grad school kept me busy for six months. By mid-March 2022—before I’d even submitted my last application—I was an official Oxbridge Reject®. Yes, that’s right: the next best thing to getting into Oxbridge is not getting into Oxbridge. There are two kinds of Rejects: (a) the ones who could’ve gotten in if there’d been enough spots for them and (b) everybody else. No one needs to know which category you fall into, unless you’re foolish enough to tell them or you don’t care enough to lie. T-shirts, anyone?
At this point, I had a choice: go back to work and start saving for a new car or finish my U.S. roadtrip while I still could. I knew that finishing my roadtrip would be risky (what if Adrienne broke down or I ran out of money?), but I also knew that there’d never be a better time to carpe diem. Once I went back to work, I wouldn’t be able to take more than a few days off at a time—possibly for the rest of my life—especially if I liked the job and didn’t want to lose it. It was a tough call, but ultimately, I told my WWOOF host that I’d be leaving at the end of April and spent the rest of that month preparing to explore the northern U.S.
What an adventure! I left on May 2nd and returned on June 3rd. I’ve now visited all forty-eight contiguous states and finally know which ones I’d be willing to live in. To no one’s surprise, California is still near the top of my list, but I’m open to going anywhere in the world for the right opportunities.
As of writing (not publishing) this, I plan to stay in the Bay Area and look for work as a writer/editor, book/script reader, studio assistant, animal care technician, etc. Ideally, I’ll have one full-time job or a remote job with one or more side gigs (writing and petsitting, for example). I might also follow up with my petsitting boss about expanding the business outside L.A. and see if my WWOOF host is interested in keeping me on a more official/permanent basis.
In five years—regardless of any on-site jobs—I hope to be a freelance writer. In ten, I hope to be a novelist. Someday, I’d love to own a home large enough to host free summer retreats for writers and other creatives, complete with domestic livestock and a trusty overseer to manage the property if I didn’t actually live there. Can’t you just picture the soft winter snow frosting the broad, welcoming veranda of my nineteenth-century farmhouse?
So far, I’ve had three remote interviews with an on-site interview scheduled for next week. This is much better than the last time I looked for a job. I know that the pandemic has been hard, but in some respects—with less tourism and more job openings—there’s never been a better time to travel or change careers. For the first time in a long time, real people (with actual contact info!) are reviewing my applications. For the first time in a long time, I have a shot at jobs that I’ve been qualified for all along.
As stressful as my current financial situation is, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Life isn’t an adventure if you have nothing to lose and nothing belongs to us anyway. We’re not guaranteed a specific outcome, nor are we entitled to one. Rather than accumulating things that I can’t take with me, I prefer to live as if I’m passing through life on my way to something better (#Sojourner #StrangerinaStrangeLand #IntheWorldbutNotofIt).
As for what other people think about this peripatetic lifestyle, most of what we call “society” is a manmade construct. We’re expected to have and do certain things because we’ve made it difficult, if not impossible, to live without them. But there’s no moral law that says we have to modernize or “progress” in any given direction. There’s no legal barrier to prevent us from creating a different kind of culture or from reverting to our relatively carefree days as hunter-gatherers, which is how some people still live in remote parts of the world.
Moreover, no one has ever “arrived.” None of us has life figured out. We all project confidence that we don’t feel and criticize others to mask our own self-doubts. We act like we’re the only ones with imposter syndrome and truly believe we’re being humble, when the reality of individualizing the human experience serves no one but ourselves. Why let the people who lack the courage to be open about our collective experiences define what reality should look like for the rest of us?
Too often, we listen to the loudest people—the ones least qualified to speak—instead of being led by the small, still voice of wisdom. One of the problems with pretending that we have everything figured out is that it makes us contemptuous of people who don’t “fake it till they make it,” even if they’ve made a conscious decision not to live that way.
If maturity comes through taking responsibility for our personal development, compassion comes through accepting that we’re all imperfect and always will be. We need both acceptance and improvement to live fully, but it’s one of life’s most difficult balancing acts. We always seem to be falling off one side of the tightrope or the other and wondering who signed us up for this circus.
Don’t look down. Keep your chin up. Stay the course. Walk the line.