Upwardly Mobile: Upended
July 9, 2013
Somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Tama, IA
Mobility. We are marked (or scarred) by it. The sexual revolution of the sixties catapulted us into an era marked by fast cars, fast money, fast food, fast sex. Getting the next thing as quickly as possible, through whatever means it takes.
Yet in spite of the motion, we are marked by stasis: same job for 15-20 years, same house, same gym. Hell, most of us don’t even actually move as we exercise, running or walking a treadmill or elliptical, pedaling stationary bikes, rowing machines rather than a boat, lifting dead weight while at the same time scorning manual labor.
My introductory art history class begins with art of Prehistory, rudimentary pieces that are most frequently small enough to fit in the palm of a hunter’s hand—about the size of a key chain or small cell phone. Or they are remarkable examples of cross-generational, communal efforts, spanning generations of culture. I explain to my students that when one is busy pursuing food for survival, one has little time for the luxury of pursuing the arts.
Two weeks into my journey, after being up-ended in an Iowa cornfield, spying only 8 cemeteries in what has so far been the longest 50-mile stretch and following a freak early-morning thunderstorm, I decided it was time to rearrange my luggage.
Initially, when I packed, I had a large rolling duffle that has been to Europe more times than I have been, a paint canvas bag and a computer case.
The duffle was dedicated to clothing, two pairs of shoes and food. My sleeping bag, pajamas and pillow fit perfectly in the paint canvas bag (which stowed perfectly under the luggage rack attached to the trailer), and the computer case was reserved for my computer, photography/video equipment, and my art supplies—pencils, pastels, two sketch books, card stock, paint and brushes, and two sizes of portable canvases.
Within hours, I had bagged one of the bags, stuffing and cramming its contents into the other two bags, reducing a few pounds from my heavy load. Additionally, the long sought after tarp and extra bungee cords seemed optional, especially since I had everything secured and adequately covered in plastic bags.
After bottoming out on the handicap sidewalk entry and exit ramps several times as I wound my way through Chicagoland, the tubes of paint I was less likely to use were left behind, as well as the empty sketchbook, the boots (“Why would I need them in July,” I reasoned to myself?), and the sandals.
After bottoming out again on a bump on the Great Western Rail Trail, I chose to toss my dirty jeans (I had worn them for a few days, and because of the weight loss, they were quite baggy anyway), the card stock, a few more tubes of paint (I had the same colors awaiting me in Colorado), and the larger portable canvases.
By this point, since I had eaten a number of items from the bag, it weighed less, and I chose specifically not to replenish the food. After all, convenience store food is as nutritious as nuts, dried fish and veggies, right?
The storm made me reassess my priorities. Sleeping and rain gear must be more accessible than canvases or paintbrushes which were intended to capture the wildflowers I encountered along the way—the “rosebuds” I had hoped to gather.
When I set out, I had reasoned that if the art supplies were convenient, I would be more likely to use them. As it turns out, they were always in the way of whatever else I dug to find—a book of matches to coax the tick out of my calf, the insect repellent, the lip balm and lotion I needed to sooth my sunburnt skin, the lightweight, inexpensive disposable plastic rain slicker.
Consequently, the art supplies and my pillow are now firmly tucked away in the canvas bag, secured under the luggage rack, which I no longer have to remove each night to access my sleeping gear.
All the changes have been done in the pursuit of simplicity in mobility, faster access to the essentials.
In the meantime, I am still trying to quiet the still, small voice in the back of my head that is telling me I won’t unpack the art supplies until I reach my destination…