The train ride out wasn't so bad, despite the fact that I was planted in coach for thirty plus hours. Thirty-four, to be exact. Which would prove nothing compared to the trip home, but that was only a whisper in my mind at the time.
I arrived in Whitefish, Montana after midnight, and secured my rental car key from the little honor-system lock box inside the early twentieth century, sturdy and somehow familiar brick of the train station. I hit the unlock button on the keyfob, the lock button, and caught sight of lights waiting for me less than half a block away. I slogged, slipped and slid my way through the alleyway. The task was complicated by my heavy laptop backpack/purse and the tether of large suitcase and smaller matching carryon my seasoned business traveling husband had rigged up for me.
I am not seasoned for business travel in the least, though here I was doing it. I was sweating beneath my layers, at the same time each intake of breath felt like menthol against my teeth as I hauled too much gear, alone, in the dark, in a strange town, to a waiting rental car, to drive myself about twenty minutes to a Super 8 in Kalispell that I prayed would be clean and ready for my arrival. And it was, despite Laura's disappointment at my interim location. "You're here to experience Whitefish," a town she promotes and features with tangible and deserving pride in her book, "This Is Not the Story You Think It Is."
After the tires of my nearly new and nicely appointed Dollar Rent-a-Car Toyota Carolla crunched out of the snow-covered library parking lot, I met the mostly clear, open pavement of highway.
I'd reassured Laura, amid her prolific and welcomed Facebook messages that kept me company throughout the lurching train ride--they contined when she busted me on Facebook with a, "Get thee to Glacier National Park, this sunshine doesn't welcome just anyone,"--that this southwest Michigander was a highly competent winter driver. As I suspected, dry Montana mountain snow has nothing on our heaviest Great Lakes effect. The post-midnight drive to Kalispell was peaceful and beautiful. Grateful to once again be in control of my own destiny, I calmed under the rhythm of street lights that, with Siri's familiar help, guided me.
I've been a mother my entire adult life. It's my job, my joy, my lifeblood. The only things I've been longer than I've been a mother, are a daughter, a sister, a singer, and a sometimes writer. I haven't even been a wife longer than I've been a mother, because my husband and I met when our girls were five and three. And I didn't figure out the writer piece of my puzzling ADD brain until I was forty-five years old. When, as our oldest two embarked on their individual tentative forays into adulthood, taking one to New York and the other to Florida, for the first time, what was a necessary choice (a move across country, briefly to California) for our youngest didn't feel like a good choice for the older two.
Once again, here I was torn. This trip and the two weeks leading up to it felt like I was conjoined twins trying to keep one foot in what's always been--motherhood, wife, safe, control, not claiming my soul as a writer and not holding myself accountable to finish a book--and the other foot reaching forward to Destiny, to what has niggled, and at times shouted at me ever since my fifth grade teacher encouraged my writing. Occasionally it was loud enough to actually get me to sit down at a keyboard and do the work; to write the vortex of words and stories that swirled within me. For a time the ADD would be quelled, my sometimes quiet, sometimes feverish release finally giving up it's hold on my mind. But doubt and self-criticism and responsibility and disdain for the preposity, the frivolity of the idea of my non-collegeate self being a *Writer*, would inevitably return to reign once again.
And the fear: the thought of writing about what's kept my story locked within me has seized me with steel-tipped talons. I know it's precisely what I must do to release the power it's had over me since I was five years old. Five is also when I sang my first solo in church. I was a very small singer with a big voice who couldn't form the words to tell my parents of the sadness that singed my memories of an otherwise happy childhood, that tinted them with the lens of shame and knowing too much. I can't see my story through, and therefore move forward without doing something big, something uncomfortable and unfamiliar, something that makes my skin prickle and my hackles raise at the financial nonsense of it, even as the other part of me plants its feet, crosses its arms and says through gritted teeth, "You must." Another moment she’s gentle; she places her hands over mine, looks into my eyes in the mirror and says, "You know what you must do, you just don't want to face it." Words I've said to a friend before. I had to be my own friend, when as usual I didn't fully express to anyone the conflict that plagued me about taking this trip.
The Friday before the Sunday I was to leave, I placed my first real paycheck in eleven years, for a new part-time endeavor as director, communications and media for Upright Farms, an exciting startup, on my husband's desk. I hadn't told him it was coming. He got choked up. I did, too. We embraced. With my family's intervention and unyielding support, pride and encouragement at the front end, I paid for my own travel expenses along the way. It felt a little Thelma & Louise. Like having choices. Like driving off a cliff but having one of those giant cushions meeting me at the bottom. I know that more will come. I know that I have the skills, the talent, and that I can deliver.
And after this retreat that is Haven, that was a haven for my writer's soul, after placing myself in Laura Munson's, her business manager, David's, the other brilliant, open, talented attendees', our very capable and supremely talented vegan chef, Emma Love's, and Walking Lightly Ranch's grower, Wes's, warm embrace--after challenging myself with stepping away from what's comfortable and pressing through what's scary as hell, after learning about silence (a condition I always feel compelled to fill with too many words), and brevity (something I may never conquer, but awareness is the first step), I know that I can deliver on this memoir, on the many books that, when I grant myself permission to write, can't spring from my fingertips to meet ruffled and bound pages fast enough.
Patience is key for me. Knowing and plodding and doing it despite what does or doesn't make sense is essential. Between writing, work compiling my first GANE Possible Publication which I hope to release late spring, blessed work, an audition and BEING CAST in Listen to Your Mother (our performance is this Thursday in Valparaiso, Indiana), it's taken me all this time to fully process my reentry into reality--to process what this chapter really meant to my life, to my future, to my family. It felt like I was away for a month. It's crazy that after two welcomed spring-like days, Michigan pines drooping with a March snow weeks later, these words finally began to release about a journey that took me to where conifers climb the sky. I found myself at home as I wandered the Flathead Valley of northwestern Montana. A wrong turn in the glorious sunshine took me around glistening Flathead Lake, her gentle ripples revealing pebbles beneath a bit of lapping shoreline particularly close to the road. My heart sighed. Lake is so comforting to this Midwest girl. Much like Michigan, the entire Flathead Valley around Whitefish, Montana, is full of them.
Safely behind the wheel again, I drove to Whitefish, and enjoyed a delectable sushi dinner at Wasabi, where a beautifully framed review Laura wrote, watches over their entrance like a proud momma. She should be proud. Whitefish is a wonderful, throwback little town. It’s people are warm, Huckleberries are everything they’re preported to be, and it’s home to warm gluten-free buckwheat crepes, at the crêperies, where I enjoyed them stuffed with smoked salmon and dill havarti, not once, but twice. The second time a deserved bonus and a hearty, protein rich meal when my train was delayed from its morning departure. I wouldn’t know until much later how fortunate I was to have enjoyed it.
Despite the delay, which was ruled by a less than perfect $#!+storm of Montana's version of "blizzard,” 40-car freighter derailment and an avalanche in Glacier National Park all of which botched up all manner of travel from points west to Seattle, I made it home. Despite feeling more like livestock than passenger on an Empire Builder that had already traversed the frozen miles of tundra between Chicago and Shelby, Montana, where laden buses met from all points west to finally board--meaning things like the barely tolerable hygiene (sorta like camping clean, only worse) of a train on the way out crumbled to filth, empty soap dispensers, and insufficient food stores--I crept closer to Chicago, where my bleary-eyed son and coffee-fueled husband would collect me at 4:30 am, instead of 4 pm the day before, I am here.
There were moments of brilliance aboard the Empire Builder, both on the trip out and back. Almost all the good memories are about the people and faces that peppered my journey, which were beautifully described by poor Jen Fitzgerald of VIDA, whose travels home by train and other modes from AWFP in Seattle, all the way to New York, were far more painful. Whether or not you're in a sleeper, I recommend time in the observation car, where sunrise (so that’s what that looks like) brushed the snow of Somewhere, North Dakota, with a pink glow to match the open sky above. I also recommend taking at least one meal in the dining car. It is perhaps the one place my train experience felt timeless.
Even so, because of every bit of it, I am perhaps more here than I've ever been in my life. I couldn't wait to sleep in my own bed. I couldn't wait to make love to my husband. I couldn't wait to hug my son again and again, to talk to my daughters on the phone.
My husband's prolific home cooking greeted me, leftover and spilling from the fridge. He made crock-pot(?!) chicken into soup, pork BBQ, another grilled chicken and then turkey meatloaf upon my return. Although I'm sure they didn't eat as many vegetables as I did, thanks to Emma Love, and as suspected they both had mild colds when I got home, they too survived and grew even closer. And I am reassured that one thing they wouldn’t do if left to their own devices for too long again (like when I'm on a book tour someday) is starve. It all tasted so much better than cardboard gluten-free crackers and tinned emergency meat made into chicken salad from mayonnaise, mustard and relish packets on a grimy, insufficiently stocked train. But even that tasted good at the time.
The sun, when it manages to shine this spring, is brighter. The day is new.
Thank you, Amtrak, for bringing me home. I am better for having made this trek. Though if I am brave enough to revisit your mode in the future, or brave enough to apply for a do-over via #AmtrakResidency (they would’t be interested in my small potatoes—they’re looking for much bigger fish), which I still believe has legs, a sleeper car will be involved. I will not miss not sleeping among the roughnecks. Nor will I miss trying to find a non-existent soft spot for my hips, over a bar my coat can't possibly cushion between two coach seats. This warrior MommaWriter is too damn seasoned, now too worldly a "business traveler" for that nonsense, ever again.
What about you? Always dreamed of writing on a train? Did you? Would you apply for an #AmtrakResidency?? Do tell me about it in the comments!
Yours in Wellness Always,
--Kim Jorgensen Gane, (c) 2014, all rights reserved
I'm participating in a Blog Hop with Laura next week with a new post, but couldn't let another moment pass without acknowledging everything the experience with her in Montana has meant to me. So many brave, beautiful hearts!