Checking Out

I sit on a picnic table near a river. I am surrounded by geese and bumblebees feeding in a field of clover.

Twenty yards away, a homeless man sleeps on a table. Another 20 yards away, a homeless woman sleeps on a bench. In the parking lot, an 80s minivan covered almost entirely in duct tape captures my attention. The vehicle is covered with Christian slogans. I see an elderly couple inside with a Chihuahua. The man emerges with a guitar slung over his shoulder. He’s shouting at the woman.

It is early morning and the residents of the RV park are starting to stir, get about, tidy up. I hear conversations.

I think about this RV park and other RV parks and the interesting stories of dissipation and diaspora they contain. These stories intrigue me as a writer. I’m fascinated by their various “checking out” qualities and scenarios.

What makes an increasing number of Americans “check out” from society, on foot or in vehicles, and take to the roads, rivers, woods, willows, streets and beaches? Stateless, quiet, removed, marooned, some obviously ill, some obviously addled, mapless, meandering, with dogs and cats. Some have gone off the grid, but the vast majority remain firmly linked to the hive for banking, entertainment and communication. It’s still somewhat bracing to see a solar panel on a tent under a bridge or homeless woman with a smartphone streaming a show.

The next phase of my life will involve some “checking out,” for a spell, to assess and navigate my massive marginalization, but I plan to remain engaged with teaching workshops, writing, and going even deeper into my creative mind. I also want to continue helping others in subtle, decent ways without fanfare, recognition or recompense.

This is what I am thinking this morning on the river. The geese have stopped feeding and now are waddling straight for me.

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