Today I officially “look homeless”.
I spent all day today busking with my banjo in Missoula, hoping to make enough to get something to eat. All day, no one gave me a cent. Discouraged, I took a break and sat down on a bench to talk with a friend on the phone. In the middle of our conversation someone came up and handed me a dollar.
Whatever, the pastry it bought me was so good, I’m rocking it.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means to be a traveler. What it means to me and what it conveys to other people.
Before I left I was reading a book called “Caliban and the Witch” by Silvia Federici, which I would highly highly recommend to anyone interested in just how seriously capitalism has waged war on our bodies and on our liberty. One thing it discussed was the transition from feudal society, in which peasants often could rely on the commons for sustenance, autonomy, and community, to capitalist society. As capitalism was introduced, the commons were “enclosed”, fenced off to those who had previously used them to survive, and people began to have to sell their bodies and labor for money in order to meet the needs they now couldn’t meet themselves.
One alternative to this coercive wage labor system was to fuck off and be a vagabond, wandering from town to town and living off the excesses of society and the kindness of strangers. As more and more people chose this way of life, governments started criminalizing vagabondage, with some even implementing a death penalty for wanderers. This was one piece of a larger campaign against all those living in ways that undermined the profit motive (the main thrust of the book is a discussion of the witch hunts, in which hundreds of thousands of women were legally murdered for practicing medicine).
Fast forward to today, not too much has changed. There are so many people, young and old, who have fled the oppression of employers in favor of train-hopping, couchsurfing, spanging, busking, hitchhiking, dumpstering. Today it’s even easier, for better or for worse, because capitalism has grown to the point where half the food we grow ends up in the dumpster, there are lots of giant cars on the highways with many empty seats, and there are lots of lonely people in big houses looking for company. And, you’re not terribly likely to get killed by the government, although many travelers certainly face varying degrees of police repression.
I’m really excited to be part of this rebel tradition, and also trying to be super conscious of the privileges that enable me to take this kind of time away from a place and still feel like I have a home. I have a loving family that (while they may be furious about my choices right now) will welcome me back when I decide to go home, health insurance, and enough money in the bank to cover me in emergency situations*. Not to mention being white and thus more likely to benefit from the goodwill of strangers and less likely to suffer police repression. I also don’t have debt and don’t have anyone depending on me financially. Which puts me in a minority of people who can choose this lifestyle and live relatively freely.
My experience as a female-bodied traveler, on the other hand, has been complicated. Again and again I have encountered goodwill in the form of protectiveness and worry. Drivers will pick me up because I’m female and they worry about me, people ask if my parents know where I am. It’s easier to travel because of this for sure, but it also means grinning and bearing the patronizing attitudes people have towards women, which is forever frustrating. And of course there are the very real heightened dangers of traveling as a female, which often aren’t acknowledged by other travelers.
My mom’s feelings about my trip have been a central part of this experience. We haven’t been able to speak for several weeks because she is too upset, and I have fought back a lot of immediate feelings of guilt. But something that I’ve been learning, through polyamory and other things, is to look at my feelings as things I have power over and not to let them depend too heavily on others. Obviously that only works to a point, but I’ve found that a lot of my negative emotions exist to hide my own insecurities or fears. And while I want my mom to feel better, I also know that I am an independent person doing what I have to do to be myself.
I’m embracing lunacy. And so far it’s been liberating.
PS I know my stories about dumpstering are captivating 😉 but if you have any money to throw down: http://www.gofundme.com/7x0egg
*I also want to be clear that I do have money to fund this adventure. I have a fund of money from being hit by a car in high school that I plan to use on grad school/future permanent project that I have decided not to spend on this. Crowdfunding is important to me because when it stops being important to other people, it stops being important, but don’t feel like if you don’t donate to me I’ll go hungry. I’m doing well 🙂 Love!