Being alone, not lonely

Spiral Jetty
Spiral Jetty

In July, I took a trip to Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s monumental earthwork on the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  On my way there, I ran into a group of three people at a rest stop.  They (a woman and two men, all probably in their 30s or 40s) asked me for directions, which I couldn’t really give, as this was my first time there.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not totally sure where I’m going, either,” I said.

“Oh, you don’t live here?”

“Nope, just passing through. Traveling.”

“By yourself?!” the woman asked, looking truly shocked.  She then peered over at my car, as if to make sure there really was no husband or brother behind the wheel.

“Well, I have my dog with me.”

I encounter this attitude a lot when I’m traveling by myself.  It bothers me, and my instinct is always to react defensively. “Why is this something I shouldn’t be able to do on my own? Is this seriously still a thing?!”  I know better than to take it personally.  I know it’s not about me but, rather, an archaic attitude about women and independence.  But it confounds me.  Why does the idea of a woman traveling alone scare people?

Getting defensive never helps, of course, so the best I can do is to just keep on going as a lady traveler, and to talk about it and try to set some sort of example.  Maybe that’s too arrogant – I don’t actually think of myself in those terms, as “setting an example” for anyone.  I do the things I do because I want to do them – it’s what makes sense to me.  But I do think it’s important to try to talk to people who seem afraid of the world around them, or of taking risks or, especially, of being alone.

Of course, there’s the safety issue.  Personal safety should always be a concern, whether you’re a woman or not.  I enjoy camping alone in a tent in the wilderness.  I’ve lived in a truck, often parking for the night on quiet side streets in random towns.  And sure, sometimes I’ll get scared – sometimes I’ll hear a bump in the night that makes me sit up straight for half an hour, eyes wide open, as if that will help me see better in the dark, to find the source of that sound.  I am not fearless.  But I also don’t live in fear.  I’ve never owned a weapon of self defense – no gun, no knife, not even a can of mace.  It has honestly never even occurred to me to carry any of these things on me while traveling, or in my bag on a daily basis.  Yes, shit happens.  Sometimes horrible, senseless shit happens to women (and men) who travel alone, or just dare to walk home by themselves late at night.  Sometimes just having street smarts isn’t enough.  But I refuse to live my life imagining the worst case scenarios at the expense of missing out on all the good stuff.

the Type Truck at the Salt Flats, UT - 2012
the Type Truck at the Salt Flats, UT - 2012

And then there’s the issue of just being alone.  For some people, this is even scarier than things that go bump in the night.  But for me, my favorite person to hang out with is myself.  And that’s not because I think I’m perfect, or even always awesome.  I’ve had my periods of darkness and insecurity (basically all of my mid-20s). But I’ve worked through a lot of that stuff, and now I really do think I’m at least mostly awesome.  I like seeing how I’ve grown up.  Of course, I can still be an asshole to myself sometimes – beating myself up for no good reason.  But I always make up with myself, because I know how special my relationship with myself is.  All my other relationships will suffer if I don’t first get right with myself.  And so I relish the long stretches of silence when I travel alone, those hours and days when I just get really into my own thoughts and then, sometimes, even get past my own thoughts to where I’m not even having any thoughts.  It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to meditation.

traveling partners
traveling partners
I’ve been lucky enough to have found a supportive partner who, for the past ten years, has not only encouraged my independence, but made his own independence a priority.  This was something we talked about from the very beginning – how important it was for each of us to have our own lives, while still sharing parts of those lives together.  Our time spent apart is one of the defining characteristics of our relationship.  It’s not uncommon, when asked of his whereabouts, to say, “oh, he’s in Oregon right now.  I think.  Maybe Idaho?”  We do check in with one another when we’re traveling, but not every day.  Sometimes not even every week.  Because we’re having our own experiences, we’re taking the time to be ourselves, independent of one another.  It makes us stronger as individuals, and it makes our relationship stronger when we come back together again.  I know our relationship doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.  “Don’t you miss each other, though?” friends ask.  Well, of course.  Sometimes we do miss each other.  But that feeling of longing makes our time together feel precious, even after ten years.  He gets home this weekend, after being on the road for most of the past three months.  And I can’t wait to see him, and drink whiskey together, and watch movies, and hang out with our dog in the hammock.  All simple things.  But I don’t take any of them for granted.
amazing pin by Weird Empire
amazing pin by Weird Empire
I think there’s a huge difference between being “alone” and being “lonely”.  Being lonely is the worst.  When you want desperately to be around people, to really know someone, to be known by someone else… but, for whatever reason, you just can’t.  I’ve been there, and it was the darkest chapter of my life.  It took a lot of work and self-care to get out of that hole, and I learned that “not being lonely anymore” actually had nothing to do with other people.  It was about finding the value within myself, and letting that shine through.  When you become friends with yourself, you gain confidence and energy, and you start to realize all that you are capable of.  And that’s a lot.


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El Camino as vessel

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BEHOLD! The power of creative visualization.

BEHOLD! The power of creative visualization!

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Time Out: balancing work, travel, and being a human

Salton Sea, California
Salton Sea, California

Hello, friends!  I’ve recently returned home from three weeks on the road, and I’ve been re-inspired to fire up this blog again – for something other than letting you know about bi-annual sales… I’ll still have those sales – and I’ll continue to tell you about them – but those posts were feeling incredibly stale and, if you ever went to my website, just made it seem like there’s really nothing going here at Power and Light Press.  But there is so much going on here!

I was thinking back to when I was on the road with my Moveable Type Truck (I’d link to the website, but it’s down for renovations – you can probably Google it to find out more, if you’re interested).  Basically, I spent the better part of two years driving around the country in a delivery truck that I had converted into a mobile letterpress studio and RV, teaching workshops and hosting demos and throwing printing parties along the way.  It was, as you might imagine, a crazy adventure – thrilling and exhausting in equal measures. At a time when my “home” was parked in a different town nearly every night, one of the things that kept me grounded and balanced was writing.  It started as just a personal exercise, to process all the experiences I was having, but then I started sharing some of my writing on the Type Truck website.  It took me a while to admit I was actually “blogging”, but I got over that.  It turned out to be such an important practice for me during that time, and allowed me to share all the crazy stories and the weird feelings and the fascinating people and places I was getting to know along the way.  And people seemed to respond to what I was putting out there.

And so, I’m thinking I might try it out again.  Of course, I’m not in the midst of a two-year adventure on the road, but I still get out there a lot, and travel is incredibly important to me and how I define my work and life.  This blog isn’t going to just be about road trips and adventures, though.  I’m not totally sure what, exactly, it’s going to be about – we’ll have to see how it unfolds.  I suspect I might want to talk about running a business sometimes. Maybe a lot of the time?  Also printing.  And dogs.  This inaugural post might be a long one, but I’m sure some others will be short and sweet.  I’ll try to mix it up for you.

travel hound
travel hound

So, as I was saying, I just got back home from a three-week getaway – part work, part play, all awesome.  I often get asked about my adventures on the road, how I’m able to take so much time away from work, and so I thought I’d write a bit about the choices I make when it comes to running a business while still keeping myself whole.  Because, believe it or not, even though I love the work I do in ways there are not words for, it’s not the only thing that defines me.

Ok, so, in mid July, I packed up my sensible Scion hatchback and hit the road.  My route included Yuma, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Big Sur, CA, Pescadero, CA, San Mateo, CA, San Francisco, Point Blanco, OR, Portland, OR, Baker City, OR, the Great Salt Lake, Green River, UT, Moab, UT, and Cortez, CO.  A nice big loop up the coast and back down through the mountains.  There was time with friends and family, swimming in as many different bodies of water as possible, hiking, food and drink, camping with dogs, sunsets galore, a couple sunrises, some work, and a whole lot of quiet time.

My first stop was in LA, where I spent the weekend catching up with some friends before attending the first ever Biz Camp – a gathering of 100 creative entrepreneurs for a full day of workshops, speakers, and general shooting the shit about running a small creative business.  It was such a jam-packed day, full of information and inspiration about how to set goals, work smarter and stay on track, and “keep the needle moving forward” in your business – a metaphor I totally loved from boss lady Jen Gotch.  The line up of speakers was great, but one of the best parts of it all was just being able to get together with so many of my peers and peeps and just talk shop.  I feel so lucky to be a part of such a supportive industry, and really cherish the friendships and relationships I’ve made with other printers, stationers, retailers, and creative business folks.  It’s taken me the past few weeks to really process all the information from that one day but, lucky for me, I’ve been traveling alone in a car most of this time and have had plenty of opportunities to sort through it.

Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge

It’s weird to be driving through the high desert of eastern Oregon, thinking about productivity and business strategy and all the “action steps” I want to take with Power and Light Press when I get home.  This is the meaty, big picture stuff – the stuff I don’t often have time to think about back home.  I get so caught up in the minutiae and daily task work, that I rarely have the perspective to think about these things – and this is the stuff that’s really going to drive my business forward.  Back home, it’s more about “did I answer all the emails today?  Did I get those orders out the door?  Did I finish reprinting that card?” – that’s the stuff that fills up my days.  But when I have a chance to step away, that’s when I get the bigger, abstract, and more important work done.

But it’s also not like I’m only thinking about business when I’m on the road.  I think a lot of things – my relationships, my own well being, things I want in life, things I want for lunch.  And sometimes I don’t think about anything at all.  I just look around, and take it all in, and breathe. And it re-sets me.

For me, travel isn’t about luxury, at least not in the sense of poolside massages and cocktails on the beach (though I would be totally down with all those things, given the opportunity).  For me, travel is more about getting reacquainted with the luxury of time, because that is probably the first thing to go out the window when you decide to start your own business.  I’m six years into Power and Light Press and, while I’m hardly ready or able to rest on my laurels, I’m also no longer interested in the whole “sleep when yer dead” mentality of starting a new business.  I’d rather get my eight hours now, do a bunch of work, take a little vacation, and then do a whole bunch of spreadsheets and invoicing when I’m dead.

One of the things about traveling for me personally is settling into the mental and emotional space that I don’t always get (allow) in my daily work life.  In many ways, I find being on the road, away from work, to be a really useful productivity tool.  And I’m not just making excuses for taking a vacation.  There are certainly times when I feel guilty and irresponsible for being away from the business (and so here’s where I give a HUGE shout out to my assistant Stacey, who keeps the ship afloat while I’m out of town – you’re getting a raise).  And there are times that I’ve really messed things up by being away, by hoisting too much on Stacey’s shoulders, by not returning a voicemail for a few days because I was out of range in Utah or whatever.  And I invariably come home to an enormous pile that needs catching up on, because I wasn’t there doing the work each and every day.  But still, it’s worth it to me to take that time away.

Great Salt Lake - Utah
Great Salt Lake - Utah

Being on the road brings me balance.  And balance is a power that I cannot underestimate.  Balance can come in so many different forms for different people.  For me, it’s the rhythm of driving, the open space, the views, the silence, and all that TIME spent alone.  Of course, I love traveling with friends, too (my partner Dustin and our tiny dog Frankie are two of my favorite traveling companions).  But traveling solo is where I feel the most like me. When you travel alone, you can feel very, very alone.  I like to really get into it, to really feel those long silences.  Because those are the times when I learn so, so much about myself – what I want, what I’m afraid of, and – most of all – what I’m capable of.

I work hard.  I want to be a good business owner, and I want my business to grow and be successful.  But I don’t want to burn myself out or pretend that my whole existence revolves around my business.  It’s important to me – it’s honestly the only job I can imagine having – but it’s not all of me.  Because besides my roles of printer, artist, designer, accountant, shipping manager, website tolerator, boss lady, neighbor, and tenant, I also play the roles of human being, partner, friend.  And I strongly believe that those last three roles are never improved upon by working an 80-hour week.  So I take time for myself, so I can try to be better at being a person.

Ok, so maybe taking a three-week road trip when you have a bunch of deadlines on the horizon isn’t your idea of a good idea.  I totally get that.  But why not take a walk around the block, turn off your phone for a few hours, take a coffee break or close up shop early on a summer afternoon and go swimming?  It can be a small thing, but I truly believe that getting some distance from and perspective on our work will make us better people – both at work and, you know, in all those other parts of our lives that we sometimes forget about.

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Morning Ritual

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My Biggest Fan

my biggest fan(s) #frankiebundles

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Ragtime Morgans

Towaoc, CO

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PENCIL PARTY #leaddite

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Renegade Craft Fair

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