Thursday, September 30, 2010

So Your Kid is a Traveling Kid – What is a Traveling Kid? Part I

The series that I am about to write is about a new, fast growing, subculture of kids in our society – our offspring – who ‘by choice’ are basically off the radar. They are kids who may or may not have grown up in decent homes; some have a college education; many are college drop outs or never went to college at all; they may or may not have been from broken homes and may or may not be substance abusers. Like any culture, there is a cross section of society representing a vast array of our youth who have chosen a lifestyle that many are not aware of or even know exists. They are easily recognized with their huge frame backpacks, multi-patched clothing, the look of needing a good hot shower and a meal.

The following is an article that I recently wrote in Wikipedia Notes regarding Traveling Kids. I was prompted to write this in response to another article/thesis written by a graduate student at Florida State; a sociology student who portrayed Traveling Kids as deviant and criminal. I have the inside scoop and have been studying them for the past year.

It is vital that I comment on this very subjective and inaccurate article. I know many young people who are part of this rapidly growing sub culture known as "Traveling Kids." They are not deviant. They are not criminal. They are not drug users. Of course, like any sub culture, you will find a cross section of many behavioral types. This includes the GOOD as well as the bad. This article/thesis is grossly one sided, not based on factual information and misrepresents the movement.

Because these kids do NOT want recognition and have gone off the radar, it is more difficult to get an accurate description of their actions, philosophies and motives. They "like" it that way. It is not sinister and they are not an underground "mob". In addition, since this is a relatively new movement, there are fewer people who have retired from that lifestyle who are available to comment and shed light on the movement.

It is understandable to me as to why these kids have chosen this path. First of all, with the downturn (crash) of the economy, going to college and staying in college is more challenging and literally impossible for those without parents who foot the bill. This is because student loans are capped well before the necessary expenses are met. Also, Pell Grants are fewer and of lesser amounts and work-study programs parcel out the work to many, making the amount earned peanuts. I know of many young people, including two of my own offspring, who have faced this unimaginable situation. The older one had an easier time obtaining funding for the first two years of music conservatory, and then halfway through his undergraduate work, funding was obsolete and cut off from him (and many others across the country). The financial aid advisor simply stated that he had "maxed out his student loans." What? He was only halfway through the program and he had a few scholarships. I discovered that this was a national crisis that affected a majority of students. He was a Dean's List student, and with his scholarships, and the meager amount of money that he had to work with (student loan)...there was not enough money for living expenses or books and few options for employment. He literally blazed his way through it and did not leave his path, but he suffered greatly. He experienced poverty in every sense of the word. So, he can be categorized as someone who refused to give up, he was driven and actually one-step away from eating from the dumpster.

How fair is that? (Sociology Student). Is the possibility of obtaining higher education in the United States is now tailored ONLY for the rich? Yes. Many students couch surf and DUMPSTER DIVE and share books in order to continue attending college alongside of their WEALTHY COUNTERPARTS. Are they getting a fair crack at their education? No. The deck is stacked. Under these circumstances, the constant worry about paying rent, getting food and EVEN BUYING TEXTBOOKS claims their energy and focus, leading to dropping out or getting lower grades.

Another of my children started college a few years later, and was faced with these impossible financial barriers from the first day. She did not have one or two years of college under her belt to lean on or as a foundation when the lack of funding became in issue. It was nearly impossible from the start.

I know of another young man who recently completed his second year as a very successful student at Berklee School of Music, and he is now working every angle to find a way to continue to get student loans. His resources have been "capped." I told him of some of the private loans available so that he does not have to quit. These private/personal loans have a much higher interest rate than student loans, government loans and Pell Grants! When these students finally graduate with an undergrad degree, they will owe enough money for a small house in today's market. If they go to graduate school, they will have borrowed enough money (with interest) for a bigger house.

I see this all of the time. KIDS WITHOUT OPTIONS.

And then there is the JOB MARKET! Do I have to go there? I will try to make it short. Zero jobs. The jobs available are chopped up into part time jobs so that the employer will not have to provide benefits. Everyone from the student, the young non-student, the older population of unemployed and underemployed, college grads unable to find jobs in their fields....ALL COMPETING FOR THE FEW JOBS OUT THERE. This environment enables employers to under pay employees and abuse their power of authority because if "you don't like it, there are 100 people who are willing to do it for less...whatever "it" is."

The other option is THE MILITARY. How convenient. With recruiters hanging around, dangling debit cards and promised bank accounts and free education, who wouldn't jump on it? War is the alternative. Really? Not everyone is a warmonger, but sometimes-desperate measures call for desperate actions. The Traveling Kids choose not to participate in the "Military Industrial Complex." I have a son currently in the military; I support our troops; it is the integrity of the leaders, the corporations and war itself that is in question.

With little or no options for youth in today's society; horrific corruption, loss of fragile eco systems, extinctions resulting in local and global devastation amidst the longest war in our country's history, why would anyone question the emergence of a growing sub culture of kids (young adults) who opt to remove themselves from the madness, travel and enjoy their lives without the twisted rules of a rapidly crumbling society slapping them around?

There is a code amongst these kids. (Most of them are educated with some college; some actually graduated). They DO NOT STEAL OR PANHANDLE. They do something for their money, such as busk (play music), sell handmade jewelry, knit hats, and juggle. Many follow the harvests and planting seasons as migrant workers. They stick together and are not much different from those (hobos) who travelled during the challenging eras of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. These are tough times.

There are many cities, counties and states on board – aware of this growing sub culture – that offer resources. The "kids" know of these centers, which have become hubs around the country offering showers, food and a place to stay the night. Many "kids" have friends across the country and open their homes to people passing through. Traveling kids are easy to spot by their oversized framed backpacks.

I was appalled when I read this article. In order to understand the true nature of this sub culture, you must be part of it. To somewhat understand it, you must have contacts, family, friends – someone who you know well and who will take the time out to explain it in detail. These kids are not slouches, nor do they expect to get something for nothing. They do not consider themselves "homeless"; they refer to themselves as "houseless". They choose NOT TO BE A PART of this warped out society at this time, since many of them have run out of options.

There are a few different types of "Traveling Kids" that I know of.

Old Timey kids who are modeled after Woody Guthrie, many play the banjo, accordion, spoons, etc.

Crunchy Hippie Types, the ones you will see with dreds carrying guitars or ukuleles and selling their beadwork.

Bicyclers; they ride their bikes all over the country.

Of course, there are many other "types" if we were to categorize them. They are a microcosm of their generation on foot or bicycling around the country. Are they better or worse than the "kid" who sits around mooching off Mom and Dad? I find the fact that they are NOT freeloading, a higher form of character.

I needed to write this, because I do not want the general population to get the wrong idea when they see these kids en route to their next organic farm harvest or music festival. They are not homeless beggars; they are not criminals; they are not druggies. No more than anyone else. Most of them are gutsy, resourceful and open to change and evolving.

With such sparse information available, I was quite troubled that this is what people get when they Google "Traveling Kids".

I am betting that you received an "A" on your thesis, because there is no point of reference. I hope that more people respond to this one sided article.[[Link title]]

[[Editing Talk: Principles of Sociology / Traveling Kids]]~~~~

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brown Eyes to Brown Eyes : Letting Go

Beware of falling into the trap of thinking that these days will last forever, or even longer than you know that they will. We get caught up in the excitement of daily activities and often cannot imagine a very different life.

Let me be more specific. I remember the transitioning of my being and thoughts as they occurred at the moment of the birth of my first child. In many ways, I too was born on that same day. I looked at my beautiful newborn son and thought; I will protect him with my life and make sure that he is happy, healthy and unharmed. It was a time of truly putting someone else before me in a way that I had never experienced. It was the miracle of life.

I looked at him when he slept, when I nursed him and held him close to my heart. He was unmarked, innocent; a new life starting out as a fresh, unmolded piece of clay. I wondered what shape he would take. Being a potter had taken on a clear new meaning.

Sometimes, in the wee morning hours, I would think that we were the only two people on earth who were awake. Being a first time mother, I had not figured out that it was okay if he was awake, that he didn’t necessarily need anything. He wasn’t fussy, just wakeful. Exhausted and hormonally stirred, I mentioned the lack of sleep to my father. He smiled and told me that we were getting to know each other.

I never expected that kind of maternal wisdom from my father, but I got it; a gift that I continue to cherish. From that day on, whenever anyone complains about lack of sleep because of a newborn, I smile and tell them that they are getting to know each other. This way of thinking took away the edge when I sat up at night with my other two newborns. Celebrate.

When I discovered that I was pregnant again, I panicked a bit because I thought it impossible to love another like I did my son. Sixteen months later, I learned another valuable lesson in motherhood; yes, your heart can handle loving another child as you do the first. That was undeniably remarkable to me then. I loved my two sons unconditionally and knew that when my daughter was born two years later that I had the capacity to love yet another child.

I continued to think that I somehow could keep all three of them safe, loved, nurtured and happy. I have no regrets regarding my love for them then and now. Many of our experiences could be taken from the pages of “Little House on the Prairie.” We played music together, had a farm on a pristine mountaintop and I home educated them for many years. I must add that we were not religious fundamentalists hunkered down waiting for the feds with our guns cocked. We were involved in what I term a “Classical Education.”

The days were filled with laughter, learning, music and discovery. I remember thinking that this was my life and I couldn’t picture it any other way. I was too deliriously busy to entertain the thought of an end. There was always tomorrow.

Of course we had some serious obstacles to face together. Our life was far from perfect and we endured certain traumas that many people would not have escaped unharmed. The hardships themselves were not the issue. How we navigated them was what mattered. They were seeds waiting to be found, gathered and planted for a defining and bountiful future. I am pleased with how we conducted ourselves and the bond that we forged between us; a mother and her three children.

Today they are grown. My eldest is in the Navy and will be married within a year, my second son is in the beginning phases of a solid career violinist and my daughter is a Bohemian gypsy whose choices keep me awake every night. All have chosen a very different path in life that suits them. Like all of us, they are the result of their choices and actions.

I was proud of myself when my first son left for college, I told myself (and others) that I did not suffer from the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ because I was careful to nurture and cultivate my own interests and passions. Now I see that it was simply untrue. I did not feel the actual impact of loss because the other two were still at home. The nest was not empty.

I thought that there was something wrong with me because I was handling it so well. Of course I felt a sense of loss when he went away, but it wasn’t as intense as I have seen it in other mothers.

Then a few years later my second son went off to music conservatory. At that point I had sold everything that wasn’t nailed down to afford his music training, so I was relieved that he finally made it. We struggled financially right up until the day before he left.

I wasn’t sure how I felt. The empty nest syndrome was starting to peck lightly into my psyche but it was faint and I could ignore it. I thought that it was the perfect time to really focus on my daughter, who was like that person on the end of the ‘crack the whip’ game that we played on the skating rink of my childhood.

She was sixteen-years-old, had her first boyfriend and went to an alternative private day school. I worked four days a week and attended a low residency graduate school. As much as I wanted to have that special mother – daughter time that seemed to fit so perfectly, it simply didn’t happen.

We enjoyed each other when we had the opportunity, but she was entrenched in the teenage social scene and was anything but typical. Being blessed with an extraordinary amount of creativity that oozes out of each pore can often equal being misunderstood.

As appropriate for a natural, healthy teenager, she needed to separate from me to establish her identity and independence. We are so much alike that it is scary to me in a way and then it was frustrating for her. My mother was not an artist; I grew up as the artsy one in an athletic family. I knew what it was like to be misunderstood. But I get my daughter all too well. It was this almost oneness that drove a sort of wedge between us.

Both of us are cellists, writers, painters, melancholics, naturalists and activists. She published her first book when she was seventeen. When reading it, I was stunned when I read a section of poetry that was unmistakably familiar, yet I had not seen these particular poems before that moment. It was then that I discovered that we used to sit by our windows looking out at the same night sky writing poetry. She was in her room upstairs while I sat in my room below hers. We looked at the same moon, the same apple trees, and the same mountains and wrote very different poetry. Unlike the years of playing cello duets and being in orchestra, we did this alone together.

She went to college for two years and quit so that she could travel around the country playing music with kindred spirits. Her heroes are Jack Kerouac, Woody Guthrie and a host of others who travelled this vast country of ours.

Now I must take time to learn the language of letting go. Last winter she was in New Orleans. When she was there, she lost her cell phone and did not contact me for months. For the first time since she left the safety of our home, I was consumed with fear. It is the unknowing that is too difficult for me to accept. The pecking of the empty nest syndrome shattered me at that point.

She returned to her home base in Vermont last summer and spent time with me. Then she traveled to Chicago for a while and returned again to visit me. When we were together, I asked her to help me understand. We both did our best. She is a ‘traveling kid’, which is part of a rapidly growing subculture of youth who have pretty much given up on our society and lack of options. They travel around the country playing music and doing migrant work. It’s very exciting for them. They are resourceful and have a code amongst themselves. They do not panhandle; however, they earn their money unconventionally. This has been a way of life in this country throughout history.

If she was someone else’s daughter, I would be excited and climb on my soapbox talking about her courage and determination to stay out of a broken system that has let them down in unimaginable ways.

However, she is my daughter. She is traveling as the wind takes her with her backpack and whatever instrument she is taking on that particular leg of her journey. (She started with her cello, and is down to a ukulele). She earns her living by busking.

For the sake of my well being, I am teaching myself to let go of the fear that has gripped me. It is a process, a time to comprehend that our children are not ours at all. We love them, teach them and give them the best guidance that we know how. When they mature and spread their wings to fly, we cannot fly for them. We can let them know that we are here to catch them, hopefully, if they fly close enough and if you know where to find them if and when they fall. It is the most frightening time that I have experienced.

I became a slave to my cell phone, taking it with me into the bathroom, afraid that I might miss her call. This fear has come to own me. But I decided that it cannot, because it was taking a toll on my health. I cannot control another person, even my daughter. It is a waste of energy. I try to erase the constant images that emerge; images of her as a sweet and innocent child who had tea parties with her dolls and the cat. I try to stay in the present and maintain a sense of balance instead of feeling hopeless, afraid and lost.

She will come to visit me again before she heads west. I will not plead with her to stay, as I did before. I will not offer her the moon and stars. I will not pretend that I do not care. I will appreciate the time that we have together and we will sit outside and look at the moon together. She will promise to call me and I will try not to cry.

I am here. It is now. I cannot sell myself to fear. I can, however, pass this message along to you. If you are a parent of young children now, please cherish and savor every moment, because it will not last forever. They grow up and go away. Trust, love and patience is what will bring them back but never as yours, rather as the free spirited individual who they have become. The umbilical cord is not severed; it continues to grow.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Death of Technology Awakens Life

A few days ago, my much-loved computer died. Well...maybe it isn't completely dead, but so called reliable sources from the Geek Squad and local computer shop prepared me for the reality of the situation. The hard drive is history. This is the first time since 1998 that I have been without computer access.

I detest "woe is me" stories. I will try to make this brief. I am currently unemployed, so dashing out and replacing my computer is not an option. The crash of my computer was completely unexpected, so I was faced with a certain feeling of disempowerment, or more appropriate; hopelessness.

As a writer, I know the significance of backing everything up, which I do on an external hard drive and I have a few flash drives kicking around. The good news is that I did not lose my novel, memoir and many photos. Although the latest drafts of the novel are not there, fortunately they are not major and I guess I was meant to revisit those areas.

I must admit, I was spiraling into a deep, dark pit. I hadn’t felt like this for a long time. This came on the heels of releasing my two younger (grown) children back into the wild, after a good solid month of being together. It’s a healthy thing, a part of life that surely every mother must face and sometimes that means more than once. It had been a long time since I was blessed with the sounds of Mozart and Bach and the others being played brilliantly on the violin at all hours. No matter how logical and balanced I am, I knew that the nest would be empty once again, and that is the way it’s supposed to be. I expected the separation anxiety and know that to be a mother (for me) means that I will experience the maternal joys and disappointments associated with the process. Like all of life, it ebbs and flows.

So, how did I deal with a seemingly dead computer? I allowed the whole thought of being cut off from the internet and Microsoft word to sink in. I went to the “Potholes” up the road and dove into the ice cold water. Sure it was breathtaking, but somehow I thought that by immersing myself without inching my way in safely, that the shock would miraculously wash away the impending doom. Maybe it was a dive into a fresh approach to everything in my life. My inner world had been rocked; nothing like a plunge into a pristine river to gain clarity.

When I went under, I opened my eyes. The rocks were vibrant; some were huge and smooth. I started to dive down and pick up the ones that caught my eye. Then my son went over to an area that appeared to be a simple rock in the middle of the current. It was about a foot high and water gently cascaded over it and meandered into the deep pool where I swam. He called for me to watch as he disappeared under the water. It was like watching a magician. He came up laughing. In front of that rock, is a somewhat narrow hidden pool. He is about 6’3” and the water was about to his chest.

I could not believe it. I have been swimming in some of the most amazing rivers, lakes and oceans my whole life, but never seen this. He climbed out so that I could give it a shot. I slid into the hole and pushed myself down with my hands. It was an entirely new world. Before going into the hole, I noticed that there was a deeper voice in the river chorus. Being an artist over a scientist, I chose to marvel at the various pitches in the water flow rather than dissect the cause. However, descending into the underwater hole explained it. While I was under water, I looked up at the water pouring over the surface of the small pool. It was deafening. The sky and trees wavered through the lens of the untamed rush of water. It made me laugh and I swallowed a bunch of water. I came up choking and giggling madly. God, I needed that. I went down again. This unusual hiding place in the river was a miracle; a miracle that I needed that day.

Refreshed and relieved, I went home to realize that in order to capture that moment, I had to resort to a pen and paper. I was edgy. This sucked. I needed to fire up my computer and start wailing on the keyboard as fast as I could. But hold on. Was this really so bad? Was my dependency on modern technology so intense? Yes. It was. I faced the hard truth; I was addicted to the ease of writing on my computer.

This was something to ponder. What about all of those who came before me? Am I that removed from them?

I needed to check my email. Because I am a perennial hermitess, it is a requirement for me to live in the woods; therefore, I was suddenly at the mercy of the local libraries and their random hours. I opted to drive forty minutes one way in the morning so that I could combine my computer time with going to the grocery store.

I sat on the porch and looked at the stars. Can I go to the library and write my blogs and queries and op eds and letters and all of that stuff that consumes me? Even chocolate wouldn’t help with this one.

I lay awake and thought, this was meant to happen, I have to spend more time making jewelry and candles to sell. I have to catch up on my reading. I need to play my cello.

When I woke up in the morning I walked into my office and stared at the carcass of my computer. It was time to put it in the case. The shock of the sudden death was starting to transform into anger and betrayal. I always did updates and virus checks. I never took chances of it being zapped by power surges. I kept my drinks far away. I pampered it like a baby and this is what I get?

It was a sweltering 97 degrees. I had to go into that secret hole in the river. I needed a head change.

I practically ran over the rocks to plunge into that magical hole when I hit a wall of pungent smoke. A rather self important, white haired man sat right next to the magic rock reading the newspaper and toking on a fat cigar. Sigh.

I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and certainly was not ready to divulge my secret. I would return to the hole another time.

I spent the evening detaching from my son who was leaving for Boston in the morning. My daughter left a few days before. I have to scream at myself not to be overly doting. I asked him to please, please, please pick up the “bunk room” so that I did not have to go through it. If I go through it, I will be sad. Plus, I have other things to do than pick up after people.

I did well; I gave him some of my homemade blackberry jam and fresh herbs and refrained from exposing my true feelings. My eyes filled with tears and I hugged him hard. He was sweet; he knows how much I appreciated our time together.

He left. I sat on the porch and had a huge meltdown. It was cleansing. I wanted to make sure that whatever feelings were raging around were able to be. I acknowledged them. They are a healthy part of who I am. Now that I was sitting there alone with no link to the outside world, it was time to simply be in the moment, ickiness and all.

I walked over to the vibrant pink phlox and inhaled. What joy! I kicked off my well worn flip flops and walked on the wet grass. Walking barefoot was always a requirement for me; lately I had forgotten and needed that connection with Our Mother. The dragonflies were thick. I noticed a large green one hovering nearby and a small bright red one on a goldenrod. I attached myself to the moment. The clouds were moving fast; it was muggy and the air was heavy with the scent of pine.

I emptied the well inside of me so that I could take in what was around me in that moment. It was liberating. I would not allow a computer to have power over me. The world around me is life waiting.

I went into the bunk room without sadness or a feeling of abandonment. I was grateful for the meaningful experiences that I shared with Shelby and Anna. What a gift. As I was about to turn around and leave the room, I noticed the old laptop that Shelby had left. I worked on it about a month ago; cleaning it up and restoring it. He wasn’t interested in it. Wow. I went into my office and set it up. At this point it is fine. It will work until I am able to replace mine.

I am not certain of what is really lost as far as documents, but I know that the critical documents are intact on the external drive. It doesn’t matter. A piece of equipment makes life easier and is necessary to navigate my world in many ways, however, nothing replaces life; breathing, living, all encompassing life.

It isn’t the experiences that we go through that matters, it is how we react and turn these experiences into opportunities. Missing possibilities is not an option.

I will catch up on my blogs soon.

Have a safe and glorious weekend.