Saturday, February 25, 2017

Coloring Is Magic, or How I Get From Point A To Point B with Travel Anxiety

by Michelle M. Johnson

I don't like to travel.

Wait, that isn't a detailed enough sentence.

Traveling makes me feel like I am going to die for hours and hours and hours.

That isn't to say I don't adore being in new places, seeing new things (I draw the line at having new experiences - not all of those are good, so I always prefer to do my research on those.), especially museums, architecture, vistas, libraries, mountains, rivers, oceans, parks, breweries, vineyards, zoos (Have I mentioned the depth of my nerdom?). But, I do not take any pleasure in getting there. In fact, just thinking about traveling makes my heart rate pick up speed and pressure.

Why on Earth would I be writing about travel then? To write about something is definitely to think about it. I'm writing about it because it is all I can think about since the opportunity to visit New York City and to see my son perform at Carnegie Hall (yes, THAT Carnegie Hall) presented itself, and my knee jerk reaction to all that was "hell, no!" But, that response wasn't acceptable to me (This is my son's dream come true; I gotta see this in person!), to my nerd core (Omigawd - I'm gonna get to visit M.O.M.A., the New York Library, The Met, The American Museum of Natural History, and stroll through Central Park, the setting of like every movie I've ever loved - Piggy gave Gregory Hines the huggies in Central Park!) or my vision of what it means to age (I'm 43 - too young to have such limitations.).

I didn't always used to be this way. I have never been a traveler (and, yes, I know planes are safer than automobiles, mass transit better than having your own car, yada, yada, yada. I am devastatingly claustrophobic - to catch up on that read this post, please), but I used to be able to get from point A to point B, even if I didn't like it very much. When I was younger I had to have to travel frequently as I attended college out of state; I flew no fewer than 4-6 times a year (I count EVERY departure/arrival as a flight - going up and coming down affect me the most dramatically, so I count every one of those as flying.). But, once I graduated, got married and life happened, travel became less frequent. I have a very vivid imagination and I love cinema, so I have never been one of those folks who've had "bucket lists" full of destinations they need to mark off to feel that their life has been well lived. In many ways, I envy those folks a bit - I'd like to be able to say that I dream of going on safari, swimming in crystal clear Caribbean waters, climbing tall peaks, or shopping in colorful bazaars, but I don't. I don't plan vacations or surf tourism websites. I am very satisfied having a well-prepared picnic in a local park, and if I read about a momentous Indian summer in a far off locale or watch about it on the big screen, I feel like I've been there if the writing and cinematography is good.

This trip to NYC has been looming over me for months, silently taunting me "You can't do this; what the hell were you thinking?," but now that it is just around the corner, I have noticed my stress and anxiety levels about the travel increasing, a solid night's sleep getting harder to find, my brain buzzing off task more and more frequently, and my patience for anyone or anything deteriorating at an alarming rate (I've been apologizing...a lot.). This has to stop. I'm going to New York City. On a plane. And, there's probably going to be some subways thrown into the mix (who's big idea was it to make travel go under ground!?!). Oh, and snow, there might be snow.

How the hell did I used to travel?!?!

That's what I asked myself recently, out loud, in front of my partner, Steve. "You colored," he rudely replied (I was obviously having a private conversation with myself.).

Whaat?! I was dumbfounded that my brain had forgotten this about myself - I colored in order to travel (Thank the Maker, I don't get airsick!)! I used to have a travel box of crayons, a special book and everything (a book that is STILL on my bedroom bookshelf, thank heavens!)! Beginning in the fall of 1992, I would color in Sark's Inspiration Sandwich, a book that had been given to me by a kindred spirit, every time I had to board a plane.
It saddens me that this book is
no longer in print:(
And while I don't think the book was created with the intention of being colored, it sure as hell lent itself to being decorated by my crayons. I honestly can't even remember much about what is written in the book because I only cracked it open on airplanes for fear that its travel magic would run out, and I only paid attention to the lines I was trying to fill in with the colors from my 24 pack of Crayolas. If I did this, I could pretend that I wasn't trapped inside a metal box that I wasn't allowed, under any circumstances, to escape from (I do not ask to be seated by the emergency exit, and this is for the safety of all on board the flight.). The drawings are very free form, almost inviting you to color outside the lines, which is perfect as turbulence is a royal pain in the ass for creating coloring masterpieces.
Based on my caption on this
page, I imagine some crazy
bumping and boiling took
place on this flight.
The book also has this great little section for scrap-booking bits of your life that make you feel happy and centered:) How this book did not end up with the title READ THIS IN ORDER TO NOT TO LOSE YOUR SHIT WHILE SUFFERING TRAVEL ANXIETY I will never know.

How did I forget this vital piece of information about myself?! I colored in order to travel. My blog is called HAVE COLOR, WILL TRAVEL, for crying out loud. But, in my defense, I really have only traveled by car for the last 10 years, packing along with me what I call my "fun bag" full of coloring books, coloring tools, reading material and drawing/writing supplies, all meant to be used upon arrival, not during transit (I do get carsick); the bag settles my nerves about being somewhere out of my control, but does nothing for my nerves about traveling to get there (It's all about the verbs, folks!). I had forgotten how effective coloring was at helping me get from place to place! I have been encouraging folks to use coloring to focus their minds and express their creativity, but the history of my use of coloring is completely different. I've used coloring to distract myself, to divert my attention, to shut down my overactive imagination.

But, my "fun bag" is not TSA friendly or easy to lug around NYC, so I have permitted myself a couple of "Treat Yo'self" purchases recently, all with the thought that it is money well spent if it gets me where I need to be in one piece. First up, this totally awesome, waaay not for my age demographic, backpack:
Look at all these cool stickers!
There's even a pineapple!!
I'm calling it my "Super Fun, I Can Travel" bag:)
I love it!!!
It is the perfect size to hold just enough anti-anxiety stuff and not make me feel like my spine is going to collapse. The second thing I indulged in (but I really don't see as an indulgence, it's more of a necessity...but I can't eat it, might be perceived as indulgent by some) is Jenny Lawson's newest book You Are Here: An Owner's Manual For Dangerous Minds, which I have been excited about for about a year, and just so happens to be...wait for it...A Coloring Book!! Inspiration Sandwich is definitely coming with me to the Big Apple (now that I've dusted it off!), but how I've been feeling lately means that this journey is going to require the big guns. I need more than one book to keep me from hurting others or myself, to keep me having color, having travel, and having a safe time.

All this is to say that when I started this blog and named it HAVE COLOR WILL TRAVEL I promised to reveal why I chose the name that I did, and here you have it - coloring is magic. 

It isn't really, I know that, but anything that helps you get from point A to point B, helps you live the life you want to live AND not hurt yourself or those around you, is pretty damn epic. That my little flying feather is cheap and legal is all the better (Yes, that was a Dumbo reference. 10 points if you got it right away.).

I still can't believe that I had forgotten how I used to manage to get myself on planes (Brains really are devilish little boogers, more interested in our pain than our perseverance.), but I am really glad that I had someone around me that remembered how my 19 year old self problem solved. Because this person in the picture below in my copy of Inspiration Sandwich, THAT is the real me, not the me who has been waking up in the middle of the night, brain on fire, heart rate thundering, thinking "I can't do this, I can't do this" over and over. True, that gal in the photo is barely 20 years old, but she colored to travel, and so do I:)
In case you're wondering, this amazing place pictured
is Sedona, Arizona, the most beautiful place on Earth, IMHO.
 I didn't have to fly to get there, but I did have
to drive in a van loaded with 10 people for a really long time,
 and that's pretty much the same thing;)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Politics Creating Family Tension? I Suggest Forming a Book Club

by Michelle M. Johnson

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a long-distance book club I was forming with my mother in hopes of healing the emotional distance that had come between us in the aftermath of the 2016 United States Presidential election (click here to read the original post). Because of the response that I received to that post in the comments section of my blog, online in social media and in private messages, I felt like a follow-up on how the club was progressing was in order. Here goes:)

To begin with, I don't know that there could have been a better book for me to have chosen for this project than Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also A Star.

I just love this cover:)
This book eloquently takes a close look at race, racism, immigration, family, personal history's effects on personal choice, what it means to be an American, and where love and personal responsibility fit into all of these areas, and it does this all through the lens of a single day in the life of two very disparate teenagers who live in New York City. I'm not a fan of giving away too much plot detail in book reviews, so that synopsis is all you're going to get from me. Given how our current administration has begun their four years in the White House, I feel strongly that this book should be required reading for, well, everybody.

The book is barely 300 pages, so my mother and I agreed to split the reading up into 100 pages a week for three weeks. We settled in for our book club meetings on Sunday afternoons, and these took place via phone, usually lasting close to 2 hours, much longer than our typical phone conversations. After our very first meeting, I knew that I had struck upon an idea we both were going to enjoy and learn from. My mother, who typically reads genre fiction and, more often than not, mysteries, seemed to have her imagination turned on by the structure of this book, which bounces between the two main characters, Daniel and Natasha, but also dabbles for brief moments into the consciousnesses of peripheral characters that just happen to be in the right (or wrong) place at the wrong (or right) time in these teenagers' lives. I was worried that the structure would seem odd and confusing to my mom, but instead it brought up all these memories my mother had of her childhood growing up in a mining town, a town that was incredibly racially and socially segregated. And, she shared these memories with me freely for most of our first meeting. I listened with an open and eager heart about her life and the lives of my grandparents in this town, how they moved through this society, how it affected them. When she started to draw parallels between her life and the book we were reading, well, I can't tell you how happy this made me. I love to talk about books and how they apply or don't apply to our lives; that I got to do this with my mother was a dream come true.

As our reading went along, I think we both began to look forward to our Sunday afternoon book club chats (and as a person who LOATHES being on that phone, that is saying a lot about how much this project meant to me). During our second club meeting my mom revealed to me that she had shared with her friends our little experiment, and she asked "Michelle, is this a children's book?" This question gave me a lovely opportunity to explain to my mom about the Young Adult phenomenon in publishing, which then led us to chat about authors, genres, taboo topics, and the misconceptions of many adults about the publishing industry and the place of libraries in contemporary society. Needless to say, it was an awesome conversation. At the end of our second club meeting, we made our predictions about how the book was going to end. I do not want to share those sentiments with readers here as they reveal too much about the book. But, what I will say is that my mother was very adamant that she new exactly how the book had to end. I, on the other hand, had no idea where the author was going to lead us (a place I like being in when I am 100 pages out from the end, a place that makes me feel like an author is worth the pages their words are written on). I found that extreme difference in our readings truly fascinating and wondered if it would have an impact on how we read the last 100 pages of the book.

Our third and final club meeting on The Sun Is Also A Star probably yielded our most tense and honest conversations of the entire process. And, I think that had more to do with the events that transpired in our country during that week than it had to do with us as readers. This book isn't ONLY about immigration in the United States, but you take out the subject of immigration in the U.S. and what you're left with is no story; NOT talking about the stance of our new administration on immigration just wasn't an option for our club meeting IF we were to actually continue engaging with the book as we had done the previous two meetings. And, this was the moment when I decided that books are magic as I know truly that there is no way I would have brought up the topic of immigration to my mother on purpose post election 2016 were it not for the fact that we were reading this book together, and I know for a fact that my mother would not have engaged with me as deeply as she did on this issue were it not for the fact that we both had decided that we wanted to be in a book club together. That is all I am going to say about the end of this beautiful book because I want as many people as possible to read this novel and experience it fresh for themselves - spoilers are evil.

When I decided to send my mother a book that I knew next to nothing about a month ago for her birthday, I had zero expectations that the flow of communication and ideas between the two of us would improve. In fact, if I'm honest, I anticipated that maybe things might get even worse between us, as I knew our current administration intended to lead our country down a dark path, one that was going dig an even greater divide between "conservatives" and "liberals", whatever those two words even mean because, as Inigo Montoya said to Vizzini:

I couldn't resist a meme of The Princess Bride.
So, I am incredibly pleased to report that giving my mother and I something to talk about other than politics did in fact lead us to have better, healthier, and more productive conversations about politics, conversations where we were actually communicating, actually listening to each other. Are we saving the world by being a part of a book club for two? Of course not. But, are we making our own worlds a little better by being a little better to each other during this time in our lives? Most definitely, and I think that will make us both better citizens of our unique and beautiful county. I was especially glad to hear that there was a quite a long list of her friends waiting to borrow her copy of The Sun Is Also A Star. Maybe our ability to engage in intelligent and mature conversation about the tough issues our country is facing will spread. I'm an idealist, so I need to believe that it will.

I asked my mom if she wanted to continue our long distance book club now that we had finished reading Nicola Yoon's book. She didn't even hesitate for a moment to answer, "yes." I have been wanting to read When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi ever since I read a moving review of the book when it was first published, so I think this will be our next selection for our long-distance book club. I have been afraid to read this book up to this point as I thought it would be too emotionally difficult to undertake alone; thanks to my mom, I don't have to.

I come by my bookworm-i-ness naturally:)