I’ve just returned from a lovely road trip: me, two dogs, one van, and the open road. No official campsites, as much coastline as we could manage, and, as we were Up Norf, no plans beyond chasing the sunshine. To me that’s the height of luxury. I’ve got shelter and I’ve got (relative) safety and I’ve got freedom and I’ve got all the time in the world and I’ve got my pack about me. What more could I wish for? How could life be better?
Things were much harder in the good/bad old days. Travelling the open road on foot, or by public transport, is infinitely more dicey. Unless you pack up with somebody who can be relied upon to watch your back, you can never truly rest. Frankly, vanning it is so comfortable that it seems like cheating. At the same time, I remain aware of the fact that there are a number of charities working hard to ensure that nobody has to live like that. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It would also not be my cup of tea in the middle of winter (though surely that’s why they made roads that point south) or if I was sick or injured. Nonetheless, I love it so much that I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not precisely the norm. More than that, I have to remind myself that normal people think it’s odd and scary. “You’re doing what? On your own?!”
Thing is, for me that kind of situation is comfortable (and comforting, too) because I’ve done it so much that I know how to do it. Even though the opportunities these days are sorely infrequent, every time I hit the road I find myself slipping into my road mode. I look at places, people, and situations in a completely different way. My focus is different, because my priorities are different. I catch myself dressing and behaving differently, aiming for a greater level of insignificancy (it’s as good as invisibility for making people ignore you, and it doesn’t interfere with crossing the road). I don’t have to think about shifting gears; I’ve operate in this mode so often and for so long that the switch happens automatically. Really, it feels like going home.
I find that hard to explain to people because for me it’s all just there, and for them it’s completely foreign. If I put it into words, it either comes out sounding ridiculously obvious or woo-woo esoteric. Either way, I worry I’m not presenting a detailed enough picture. How do I know what they don’t know? What if I miss out something important, and get them hurt?
I took Vikings: a History by Neil Oliver to read on my trip. It was a good little read, and very appropriate given the places I was visiting. One point in the book, though, gave me a wtf moment. Oliver is tripping out over the fact that he got to spend a night in a reconstruction building. He had only a fire for heating! He had to go to sleep in his clothes! Without a mattress! And he found out that although the night was cosysnug, the morning was sharp and uncomfortable!
And I’m like, DUH. So much duh.
How does anyone get to adult age without knowing that? I mean, I understand most people don’t spend any time sleeping on the streets (though it still seems kinda odd), or live in houses without automated heating, but surely at least they go camping? How can anyone end up thinking that it’s a big deal to spend a single night unplugged from the grid?
I have to remember that, although I absolutely do not feel that my life has been extraordinary, I have done and still do things that are out of the ordinary. I have to remind myself that, although I’m absolutely not extraordinary, I’m definitely not normal. I have to remind myself that there will always be a communication barrier between me and normal people.
I’m as blind to their experiences and point of view as they are to mine. They haven’t done some of the things I have done, so they look at the world in a certain way. I have done those things, so I look at the world in a my own way. If I don’t keep that difference in mind, I can completely fail to communicate with them. I can end up missing things out, assuming that they’re givens. We can end up talking apples and oranges. And that’s even if they care to listen.
I have the same problem talking to people who’ve never been poor, or totally alone, or so injured or ill that they were incapacitated. “No, you can’t just get that, because there is no money.” “No, you can’t get help, because there is no help to be gotten.” “No, you can’t just do that, because your body won’t let you.” “No, you can’t just try harder or wish more – that thing you want or need is just NOT THERE as an option.” Half the time, even if they grasp it conceptually, I just can’t make it real for them. I don’t know how to break through the barrier.
(NOTICE: The Bastard has moved. Old blogs can still be found at http://godsbastard.blogspot.co.uk/ – different platform, same stupid name.)