Friday, May 23, 2008

Confessions of a Pack-Rat

I spent the entire day yesterday in my attic. That alone is a bad sign. I don't think I should be allowed to have an attic... or a basement, or a garage, or any other large, empty space that encourages me to hold onto accumulated "stuff" simply because I have room for it. Some of it I can argue is legitimate - photo albums, craft materials that I actually use - but most of it is just "stuff." I knew I had a lot of stuff, but I was still rather appalled at some of the things I've held onto. My list of discoveries includes:

~ Crab molts. Yes, crab molts. Plural. Please don't ask me how long I've had these. A chipped sand dollar. Numerous other stones and shells, very few of them whole anymore. I stopped unwrapping them from their protective tissues and deposited the whole bundle in the trash.

~ An inch and a half of old bank statements, from the day I opened my account. Somebody's paper shredder is going to be put through its paces....

~ Every single pay stub from every single pay stub job I've ever held, including temp jobs. Truly unnecessary (but are you really surprised?).

~ Binders full of "Writer's Workshop" projects and other creative writing endeavors from about 6th grade onward. Don't get me wrong - I'm keeping these (somewhere) - but some of them are truly cringe-worthy. Take, for instance, the haiku entitled "Baby Earwig":
Oh, baby earwig,
hiding among the green leaves.
Inside a glass jar.
You get the point.

~ Boxes of correspondence. These are definitely not getting chucked either; they are far too precious. I have almost a pound and a half of letters from Quena alone, stuffed carefully into a burgeoning half-size manila envelope, which by this time (10 years!) is about as solid as a brick.

~ An entire bag of zipperfeet for a Singer sewing machine. I haven't had a Singer for 5 years, and never used the zipperfeet when I did have one.

~ Far more and far larger tablecloths than a person with one small 39" round dining table could possibly use.

~ A massive copy of Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, bearing the inscription: "To Patti Boone from Mother & Dad, Christmas 1969." It has been in the same box through at least my last six moves.

~ A pepper spray keychain that some well-meaning relative gifted me when I reached the age they thought it might be necessary. I don't think I ever even opened the package to inspect it.

~ Jim's old Killer Beez softball jersey, from a team that disintegrated a decade ago - before I ever got the chance to demonstrate that, desperate as I was to prove myself, I couldn't play softball to save my life because I was afraid of the ball.

~ The compact magnifying lens that I bought for my geology class sophomore year and have been looking for almost ever since.

Despite all of these discoveries, there are a few things I have not come across, that I was hoping against hope I had not let go, but realize now it's time to accept that they are gone. My old baseball cap, worth nothing but the memories it held, words written on the brim, washed away in the rain but still remembered. A ring from a dear friend, which I know I lost, but have always hoped would magically turn up. A packet of letters I can't imagine getting rid of but still can't find.

My landing is now strewn with boxes and bags to take to the Goodwill, my 75-liter backpack is once again filled with books to take to Powells (if I can lift it), and the boxes that remain in my attic are now organized by recipient, to be delivered at the end of June. Today I tackle my filing cabinet....

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Everybody Wants to Know

What is my next adventure going to be? Rumors are flying, most of them true*, though the truth changes moment to moment, day to day. But now that my dreaming is finally transitioning to planning, and planning to preparing, it's probably time to share what I've been up to and where I'm headed. So, the truth as it is in this moment....

I'm buying a one-way ticket to Central America, and not coming back until I'm bilingual.

That's me with a great big grin on my face, because this is about the most exciting thing I can think of at the moment. :D

In all seriousness, I really am buying a one-way ticket to Guatemala, for July 23 or 24. From there I plan to travel around Central America over land, until I buy another one-way ticket out of Panama... on to South America! :) As I've written in emails to a few people, I've come to realize that it's high time in my life for me to do a few things, namely: a) become bilingual, b) travel, and c) contribute to the global community by becoming directly involved with local communities in need. With this in mind, my trip will include some Spanish school, some touristing, some volunteering, possibly some teaching, and, I'm sure, plenty of adventures.

Okay, I will admit I'm being vague on the details. But that's on purpose. I don't really want to have a lot of details before I go, but rather to work them out as I go along (apart from the important stuff like vaccinations, visas, etc., which I am of course figuring out as best I can in advance). I have a rough idea of "the plan" and a general pattern of travel, but beyond that I'm going to stay open to letting things develop organically, so that I can be free to accept and pursue opportunities as they arise.

I am fortunate and absolutely thrilled that I will be sharing my first few weeks in Guatemala with my cousin Cristie, who is flying down with me to celebrate her birthday and play tourist with me. (Can you picture me jumping up and down, clapping my hands, and saying "Wheeeeeee!" ? You get the idea.) I'm looking forward to traveling with her, and it should be a perfect way to ease into my solo travels once she leaves. We're not sure where we're going or what we're doing just yet, but there's time to figure that out. :)

After Cristie leaves, I intend to settle down to a month or so of intensive Spanish lessons, most likely staying with a host family in Quetzaltenango (in the Western highlands of Guatemala) and attending one (or more) of the excellent (and cheap!) Spanish schools there. I'm hoping that some formal instruction will help solidify the grammatical concepts I'm still shaky on and jump-start my immersion learning, so that I can then continue to improve my Spanish at a more rapid pace throughout my travels than I could if I were continually struggling to communicate (which is where I am now - I can speak well enough to get by, but can't really have a meaningful conversation, which is extremely frustrating!).

Once I decide I've had enough of Spanish school, my thought is to travel through Central America (and then on down to South America), finding one or two places in each country to stay put for a few weeks (or more) of volunteering and getting to know the culture a bit deeper than I would be able to if I were flitting about between tourist destinations all the time. I do intend to travel and visit tourist sites, but I also want to do it in a more conscious, informed, and connected way. I'll feel a lot better about traveling if I also feel I'm contributing something to the places I'm visiting.

All of this means that I've been very busy with planning, research, and preparations -- I'm so grateful I'm unemployed, because this is a full-time job in itself! :) I've started "the great giveaway" of all of my belongings, which I'm finding easier than expected and very freeing. Some things (sewing machine, favorite books) are going to be "babysat" by people who can use them while I'm gone, others (photo albums, sentimental items) I will probably try to store with a few super-nice folks who have space and are willing to let my things take it up for an indefinite period of time, but most of it I'm just giving away. It's a wonderful feeling, and I'm really looking forward to being able to carry everything I need on my back. Of course, in the midst of giving away everything I own, I'm also in the process of buying a whole bunch of stuff for the traveling lifestyle, which is a little bizarre and somewhat frustrating (can't I just wave a magic wand and have my bath towel transform into a travel towel, my flannel sleeping bag into a silk sleep sheet, and my unnecessary toiletries into a first aid kit?).

So, there you have it. More than just a rumor, my daydreamed adventures are becoming reality at last. Hooray!

*don't believe anything John tells you...