Road Trip and Writing Class

I returned from a great road trip with my dear friend who moved from Seattle to Arizona. After the Eagles concert Brad wrote about last week, I hunkered down to write my first writing assignment for my first writing class that took place yesterday. I chose to write about the road trip. There were six students in the class and I was the only new person. Everyone was very gracious with me and gave me a lot of lovely feedback. I was informed by the teacher that what I wrote was a “rehearsal stage draft.” There’s a lot of new lingo to learn but, essentially, I think that meant that I wrote about a lot of topics and gave a big sweep of time. I think to write an essay or a chapter for a memoir I need to glisten from one of the themes I wrote about and narrow in more on that. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, I’m not sure I totally get it either. While the teacher gave a lot of feedback, she was encouraging and supportive and didn’t want me to get bogged down by all the new ideas and writing techniques and said the craft of writing is acquirable, little by little. “Have fun!”


“You say you wouldn’t ever skydive, but you’ve been skydiving your entire life,” Susan announced matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean by that?” I responded rather defensively.

“Well, when you come to a crossroads, you just seem to jump and trust that a parachute will be there.”

Interesting. This was a conversation that arose on a recent road trip with one of my dearest friends. We met in Seattle 12 years ago when we were out walking our poodles one afternoon. She had two standard poodles, Lou who was black and named after the Mariners’ beloved baseball coach in the 1990’s, Lou Piniella, and Rosie who was white and whose name origin I don’t remember. Even in their advancing years, Lou and Rosie looked like royalty walking down the street. I had a black miniature poodle who by that time was more of a charcoal-gray color. Her name was Claire or Claire Bear. Susan came to refer to her as “little Jesus” because of how much she loved everyone. She was my heart and we both fell in love with this warm and friendly pack the first time we met them in the Spring of 2011.

Susan and I very quickly became good friends and still sometimes laugh when we reminisce about how quickly we gave our spare keys to each other and provided pet care back-up. (In addition to the poodles, she had three cats named Vernon, Birdy and Licorice, and I had one cat named Lulu. Lulu was the name already given to her when I got her at 12 weeks, (“we named her Lulu because, well, she’s such a Lulu” is what her owners said. I wasn’t quite sure what they meant by that, but I quickly assumed that it meant that she didn’t like to listen to anyone and would challenge anyone at any time if it suited her fancy. She had more confidence than any living creature I’ve ever known.) Shortly after I got Lulu, I christened her with the middle name Piniella. A lot of animals in Seattle in those days were named after the Mariners of the mid-90’s. Between several of my friends, we had animals named Ichiro, Joey (Cora), two Edgars (Martinez), Short Stop, Lou, Piniella, Emma (M’s), Buhner (Jay), and Nelly (Jeff Nelson.) Our meeting that spring afternoon was one of those chance encounters in life when you just know someone is going to be in your life.

Too numerous to count were the many walks we took together in our West Seattle neighborhood. A beautiful friendship blossomed. Six years after meeting, when I made the difficult decision to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to my mother whose health was failing, Susan agreed to drive across the country with me. By that time Lulu was no longer alive. Susan had lost both Lou and Rosie in those six years, too. She still had her three cats, and she adopted a 4-year-old Rottweiler, Ella, with whom we all fell in love. Claire and Ella looked like Mutt and Jeff together, but they were very compatible. Susan and I lived in apartment buildings next to each other. When we’d decide to take a walk together, we’d come downstairs and stand out in front of our buildings facing each other, and if the coast was clear, we’d let Claire and Ella off their leashes, and they would race full speed towards one another completely bypassing each other to get to Susan or me. We would howl with laughter. They liked each other but preferred people. Ella nor the cats went along on our cross-country trip from Seattle to Pennsylvania. It was just Susan, Claire and I, and all my earthly possessions I could fit into my little Jeep Patriot.

Over the next six years we did a good job of staying closely connected even with the distance. She came to visit me once and I went back out to Seattle twice. During that first year it wasn’t unusual for us to be on the phone with each other for two hours on the weekend.

So much happens in life without our having any control or say over it. We both experienced many losses during those years. My mother died two years after I returned to Pennsylvania and then three months later Covid-19 hit. Claire died two years after that. Around that same time, Susan’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer (she’s one mammogram away from being considered in remission now) and then her brother died a year later. As Susan neared retirement, she started making plans to move to Arizona where her mother and sister lived so they could all be closer to each other and support one another. Another road trip was on the horizon.

This time I offered to take the road trip, from Seattle to Arizona, with her. Exactly six years from the day we left the Northwest to head to Pennsylvania, we left the Northwest again, this time with our destination being Arizona. Vernon, Birdy, and darling Ella had all died so it was just Susan, Licorice and me on this road trip and all the earthly possessions Susan could fit into her Pilot Element.

This trip wasn’t the 3,000 miles it took to go cross-country, but it was about 1,800 miles. We took the more scenic Route 101 rather than I-5. Much of the trip was along the coastal routes of Oregon and California. In Oregon, we saw the wild Pacific Ocean on one side and tall, gorgeous evergreens on the other. In northern California, we drove through forests of redwoods, fields of yellow flowers, rows of vineyards, and even saw some magnificent elk. One day we spent the morning driving through some of the most beautiful offerings mother nature can bestow, and later that day, we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and inching through the congested hilly streets of San Francisco. An hour or so after that, we took a “shortcut” to get out onto Route 1, which is right along the coast. The vistas were breathtaking. We were expecting to spend that night in the charming coastal town of Cambria. Turns out our hotel was in Cayucos, a town or so below Cambria, which was adorable too! Our only regret was not being able to spend more time there to explore.

These kinds of road trips are great for clearing your mind and talking about topics which have long been lying dormant. I read a study once where they said that people opened up more when driving with someone. It had something to do with not making eye contact and letting go of social norms and etiquette. While Susan was obviously starting a new chapter in her life, for a while I’ve been wondering what my next move will be. On that particular day, I was lamenting my lack of direction and sharing some fears around starting anew when she made the skydiving comment.

I think she’s right. I am someone willing to take risks. I often over plan things but then at some point, I just jump and trust that my parachute will be there. I suppose it always has been, too. It doesn’t always look the way I think it will, but it is a parachute of sorts.

But this time I’m not sure where and when to jump. I thought the next move after my mother died would be to move to Italy but for many reasons, – a pandemic, language, visa options, income – that hasn’t panned out…yet. It has meant a couple of lengthy trips there and hopefully more to come. Until I know what my next step is for moving ahead with living in Italy, I am working on learning the language and reading books and watching movies about the country and its culture and continuing to be open to connections and possibilities. Today is my 100th consecutive day of learning the Italian language on my Duolingo app.

All of this leads to my decision to sign up for this writing class. Taking a writing class isn’t something I ever thought I would do. I always said I didn’t like to write. In graduate school I learned to whip out papers and I did ok, but I still have the images of “awkward” written in red on many of my high school papers (I was usually on the honor roll, so I suppose my writing wasn’t too awkward.) I’ve always been an avid reader. After reading countless memoirs and tales recounted by others, it has sparked a desire in me to share some of my own interesting life experiences. I lived in Central America in the early 80’s, three years after the Sandinista Revolution; that led me to earning an undergrad degree in Political Science, landing at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. During those years I worked with local, national and international public servants and thought leaders. Despite the amazing opportunities I was experiencing there, a mentor of mine encouraged me to further my formal education and I went back to Simmons University to get my MSW and become a psychotherapist. That led me to moving to Seattle where I opened my own psychotherapy practice. Not too bad for a little Lancaster County Mennonite girl.

So today, on this beautiful spring morning, with all the windows open, the birds singing, our dog Moose lying beside me in the sunshine, I am writing for my first writing class. I am a bit apprehensive as it is new territory for me. Nevertheless, I have a lot to say, and I want to improve my writing skills so that I can better communicate my thoughts and ideas. I am hopeful that this writing class will help me do just that. I am getting ready to jump once again … and trusting… that a parachute will be there.

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