In 2014, Rebecca and her partner John left her lifelong home of Oakland, California in search of a better life. Their journey will take them to the Catskills in New York State, and eventually onto a converted school bus in which they will travel America.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Not The Adventure I Expected

When I started this journey to the East Coast I had high hopes for what would end up happening. We were supposed to end up in an RV-converted bus with which we and our two cats and my online business ventures would travel the US. The idea was that by this time this year we would be heading down the coast just in time for winter.

That did not end up being the direction life took us. Instead we ended up with a lot of bizarre roadblocks, problems and tests, which took various forms. My partner ended up indefinitely delayed in getting his license, which meant getting his license for driving a bus would end up even further off. Meanwhile, on top of my adjustment reaction I was diagnosed with a severe vitamin deficiency. I worked to correct that, while meanwhile keeping up a regimen of walking and writing and trying to improve my relationship with my partner.

I could say a lot of negative things about my experiences in the intervening months, but that is not productive. In the end, what is more important is what I did manage to accomplish while battering my head against the various roadblocks in front of us. I am now making a small but steady living ghostwriting and editing through a website that connects freelancers and clients. I have one co-written novel submitted and two others published. My physical and mental health have both improved, with a lot of work, and my housing situation is very likely to be changing for the better soon.

It was never my intention to settle in New York State. It isn't actually my intention to settle here forever now. But the opportunities that have come up here for me give me reasons to stay for at least a few years. And by then, who knows? Perhaps the licensing issue will be overcome. Perhaps the bus will be in mid-build. Perhaps we will have decided on another way to travel.

The adventure hasn't ended. It has just changed a little.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Summer Search

My Unemployment came through after months of fighting. As spring became summer, I paid off the debts from struggling along on no income, kept searching for a job or freelance work, and did my best to regroup with my therapist's help.

I also wrote, and wrote, and wrote: thousands of words every day, which I then spent hours every day dutifully polishing. I finished my novel. Then a joint novel with my housemate. I started working on edits and preparing for submission. Then I started gathering a collection of my previously published writing in the hopes of marketing it online. I hung up my shingle online as a ghost writer to try and start making money. I started slowly getting clients. I tried to focus on that, and not on the setbacks that were pushing the bus plan further and further out of reach.

The first problem came when we discovered that our housemates did not support the bus plan. They expressed little faith in my partner's ability to build or drive a skoolie after watching him struggle with depression over the winter. In addition they were wrapped up in their own projects, and had neither time nor room on their land for another. I had been waiting for my partner to get his license as the first step in the process, but with that happening so slowly I didn't have a leg to stand on when it came to changing anyone's mind.

The second came as we realized that wintering with them in that isolated place, which averages fifteen degrees colder than the nearest city and has no services, was not going to work. I started looking in Kingston in earnest, while my partner worked on getting his driver's license.  We soon discovered that Kingston has almost no rental market. The only feasible alternative was to use some of my savings as a down payment to buy a small home, with payments far cheaper than local rents.  But when I started working on this, I ran into a problem.

My partner wanted to leave the state again. He had no plan as to where, how we would live or what we would do. He simply kept working on me, over and over, to abandon my cats and most of our belongings and wander the country, on my money. The bus had been his idea: he would build and drive it, and I would be able to accompany him because it would be a roof over our heads and I wouldn't have to give up my cats. But now, with no ability to build the bus, he just wanted to go wandering anyway.

I put my foot down. I had already given up everything I knew and risked a great deal to satisfy his wanderlust, and in return he had not even learned to drive yet. I told him that if he wanted to drop everything and drift around, he would be doing it on his own and on his own money.  Meanwhile, I would be staying in Kingston a few years to regroup, build my writing career and try to overcome my driving phobia.

The choice strengthened me. I still couldn't sleep a lot of the time, but I no longer cried for hours on waking. My partner complained that I never agreed with him on anything any more, ignoring that he was making poor decisions that disregarded my needs. I stood my ground, frustrating him endlessly, as he had no sense of compromise and seemed to believe that I would cave in eventually.

I enrolled in a first time home buyer course. I started looking at houses. My partner sulked, regularly taking the opportunity to remind me that he did not support me in my decision. I informed him again that if he didn't like it, he could leave. He stayed.

There are plenty of ways to travel the country without sacrificing stability. One such way is to move from home to home every few years or so. It's not exactly what he wants. It's not exactly what I want. But as I recover from a months-long breakdown caused by my last leap of faith falling flat, time to regroup in a stable place is exactly what I need.

...And no. I'm not giving up my cats.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Turning Point

The therapist I am seeing calls it an adjustment disorder. It's dead common, she reassures. Moving across country takes its toll, sometimes for half a year or more. My bickering with my partner? Also common when things get shaken up. Housemate issues? The same. I'm just being hit especially hard because I have anxiety. The doubts and fears have extra teeth--not extra credibility.

The shame of being a blubbering mess for weeks fades a little--and with it, bit by bit, my tendency to be one.

Meanwhile, the landscape around me was turning into this. Yet until this week I wasn't really able to enjoy it.

My therapist is a free spirit. An ex squatter and single mom of a disabled son, wrestling with her own life crap visibly but with grace. She knows everything about living flexibly and by her wits. I have money, she points out. I have options. There are good social services in New York for my partner, and myself if I need it. No, things aren't going to plan, but that's ok. I can reassess and make a new one less likely to be stopped in its tracks by one setback.

Slowly I start to lift my head. There is hope. I just can't see it through the miasma of what I'm going through.

I start wrestling with New York bureaucracy while waiting for my appeal hearing for unemployment. It's saner than California's but I end up needing to know the outcome of my hearing before I ask for aid.

After multiple phone calls Unemployment agrees to let me attend the Southern California hearing by phone.  I gather witnesses. I get help sorting out what to say. Everything is in the works or in the mail. I wait, filling my time writing and looking for freelance work.

My partner and I make an agreement to take three months sorting ourselves and each other out before deciding where we will live come winter. That gives us time: counseling, driver training, job hunting, waiting on this or that bit of bureaucracy to come through. The rooms we are in, the house crammed together with three other people, won't work once the cold sets in. A trailer on the land might work. The bus might be delayed too long to get set up before the weather changes, though we haven't given the idea up.

We might move to Kingston--but that presents its own challenges. Kingston is warmer and closer to services. Kingston has jobs and more public transit. We walk the Stockade District over tilted slate sidewalks and I fall in love a little. Then I tally the potential costs of rent, utilities, car, food and other things we need, and fret. Even if I get Unemployment, moving will be a calculated risk.

Turn a corner in Kingston and you might walk by a building that's older than this country.

But then again, so is life.

A week later I agree to go with the whole household to a comic book convention in Long Island. I know it will be a test of my energy and ability to deal with crowds. I choose to go through with it, risk of a public meltdown or not.

Three hours on New York highways to drink in the scenery and think about my new life. My partner and I figure we might spend up to three years in New York. We're just not sure where yet. Every village and town and then small city between Woodstock and New York City gets considered as we drive by. The hills lower, the buildings grow, and eventually I see the New York harbor. The Atlantic. The Five Boroughs vast at our flank as we cross through onto Long Island.

So much green space even in the city. The buildings are huge, even some of the very old ones. I see my first brick skyscrapers. No fears of earthquake here. No haze of pollution either. I stare at the Bronx's Co-Op City and remember East Oakland's yellowed concrete Hell, and the bricks and industry and cavernous, greenery and graffiti-filled alleys of the place shine by comparison. And it hits me.

I have suffered, sacrificed and risked everything, dealt with setbacks and breakdowns. I have been kept up nights terrified and woke sobbing with depression countless times. I nearly left for home twice. Yet if I had, or had not come at all....

I would never have seen New York City, the Atlantic, Long Island or the Catskills. I would never have walked Kingston's slate sidewalks. Or woken to birds instead of vomiting drunks and loud music for two months straight. I would simply have crawled back into the too-tight shell of my old life and stayed until it suffocated me.

Suddenly I find myself looking forward to the Con instead of dreading potential problems at it. For the first time in a long time, driving down that highway, there is nowhere else I would rather be than where I am.

I have fun at the convention. I go home tired but without breakdowns. The next morning, I wake without tears.

Friday, May 8, 2015


I waited for six weeks for a check from California's unemployment office. After paperwork, a phone interview, multiple mailings and a lot of waiting, I received a letter saying that I would get a certain amount per week starting ten days after I mailed their form back. I did so. Yesterday, knowing I was broke and nervous and had waited too long, my partner's mom handed me a fat envelope from Unemployment with a smile.

It was a refusal letter.

I went over it three times, stunned, disbelieving, reading words that by Unemployment's own rules made no sense. I was refused because I voluntarily left my job. The fact that I moved out of state was completely ignored. The fact that I was joining my partner, completely ignored. They were getting legal evidence that I had moved every time I sent correspondence, but none of that mattered.

In short, they had played mind games with me, making me jump through hoops and then claiming I would get the support I needed while looking for work, and then refused me against their own rules.

I have severe anxiety disorder. This situation had already caused multiple attacks as the last of my money from work slowly went away, I was cheated by a freelance client, and interviews led nowhere. The award letter was the first hint of stability and hope I had gotten. It let me relax. Just in time for them to drop me without reason.

It was like hitting a wall at a hundred miles an hour. Everything stopped. My dreams, my plans, all of it was suddenly imperiled by this nonsensical decision. I forced myself, with the last of my composure, to put in an appeal. Then I went upstairs and broke for a while.

I spent the day sorting myself out and trying to determine my next moves. I got a sunburn photographing amber necklaces to put up for sale online. I started exploring more freelance opportunities. I did chores. I did the best I could.

But what weighed on me most was the fact that my retirement money, which was supposed to go to the bus and our dream, was now at risk for being frittered away slowly by daily expenses. My partner and his family did a lot to reassure me. But a worst case scenario is never easy.

I am trying to keep optimistic and focused, and look for more income streams while waiting on the appeal. But some moments I break down a little. Like when I see a school bus drive by.

Then I get back up and start trying again.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Adjustment Period

Early Spring in Pine Hill.

I have been here almost three weeks, and a lot of what I have done in that time besides handling the practical matters of settling in is simply...adjusting. Every few days since I arrived, I felt as if a part of myself that I had left behind in Oakland finally caught up and reintegrated with the rest of me. Like some sort of travel-based temporary soul loss. The sense of unreality, disorientation, dysphoria and creeping fear gradually eased off until I felt, if not fully myself yet, much more like it.

Now and again, the fear still hits. I can be walking through the meat section of a New York grocery and suddenly I remember that I'll never see Oakland again. That I am uprooted. That my steady job is gone and I have to make it as a freelancer and crafter, and hope for the best. In those moments, I feel terrified, exposed, like a snail out of its shell. I feel frustration and anger that I had to leave my home in the first place, all over again. Then I breathe deep, focus on what's going on in that particular moment, and push through until the feeling goes away.

There have been anxiety attacks. Especially around my cats' tendency to slip their harnesses (or leak out the front door after an unsuspecting person) and go hide somewhere on the unfamiliar property. Not everyone around seems to fully understand what "emotional support animals for extreme anxiety" actually means. They are my source of unconditional, non-judgemental affection. We cuddle, they purr, I feel better, every time. When their stubborn young-cat stupidity gets them in trouble, I get upset. When people judge me for getting upset, I don't feel bad about myself for what I can't fully control. I wonder instead why they are so insensitive and ignorant. Anxiety is a disease, not some drama I kick up to inconvenience people. But anyway, the attacks have petered out except in cases of extreme stress and drama, proving again that my work to prepare for this trip mentally paid off.

Velcro is in fact a licensed professional. Of course, it's hanging from his collar....

My main focus now is getting an income that is not dependent on place--or at least not entirely dependent on place, since we will be staying here some months. Besides online freelance work, I will be opening an online shop for our crafts, and also publishing some of my fiction in electronic format. I also have some job applications in for local work; I just can't have that be my only angle. They will naturally prefer locals in a place like this, and besides, mobility is pretty key to my being able to keep money coming in.

Meanwhile, I'm taking advantage of the clean air and safe streets by taking long walks every day. I'm up to three miles a day on average, which is twice what I could do in the city without having an asthma attack. I hope to be making five miles daily regularly by the time we move on.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Two Cats, An Airplane, and the TSA

I've landed in New York State and am reunited with John for the first time in four months. The cats and I are recovering. Only now that I have gotten some distance on the flight can I really talk about it.

Lake Michigan's ice floes, outside my plane window.

Above is the one beautiful thing about my flight. The rest was even more of a trial than I thought it would be. Looking back on it now, three things stood out most of all. The constant, exhausting roaring of the plane, the chaos and filth of Chicago airport, and the fact that the TSA almost caused me and countless others to miss our flights altogether.

I left Oakland in the dark. It was before five in the morning. I hadn't slept. I remember being halfway to an anxiety attack before I even reached the airport. I felt terrible guilt over shoving the cats in those carriers, I was scared of what was going to happen on the plane, and of course, I was wrestling with the much bigger question of "will I be able to make it out East?"

I soon discovered however that my ability to make my flight at all was in jeopardy. The airport was very crowded, and despite the number of flights scheduled the TSA had only put one inspector on duty. The woman in question was slow, incompetent and unsympathetic. At one point I remember sobbing in the middle of an anxiety attack with a squirming cat tucked under each arm while she scanned my carriers and then demanded I give up their leashes for scanning as well. They almost got loose in the airport, and by then I was completely falling apart. I stumbled for my plane with all of five minutes to spare, scared cats, chest pains and no idea if my luggage would even make it.

I finally got to the Chicago airport, desperate to get my cats and me some water and time out. Only to discover that the airport pet relief area was outside the TSA security zone. This left me with the choice of leaving my cats in their carriers for the entire damned journey, or go through the line again and risk them getting loose. I had to choose the first. I cried over it. I sat in the waiting area for my next flight and tried to keep myself and the cats together. Meanwhile, raging morons from the ground crew kept going in a nearby restricted access door, setting off the screeching alarms, and leaving us to hold our hands over our ears until a security person got around to turning it off. On average, ten minutes later another group of morons would pop in, hear the alarm go off and walk away without doing anything about it. I waited for an hour and a half that way.

When you have anxiety disorder, the last thing you want to do is have an attack in public. You're scared, you're in pain, you need help, but it's pretty much guaranteed that any stranger you run into is going to treat you like a nuisance, a drama queen and/or a crazy person. Thus making things worse and making it even harder for you to pull out of the attack. So you do your best to hide the hell you are going through. And so I did, and tried to focus my mind anywhere but on what the cats and I were experiencing.

Later, I would pay for it. Later, I would have a day where I had three anxiety attacks in the space of twelve hours, and spend the rest of the day completely exhausted, drained and depressed. But on that day, touching down in New York and carting all my stuff out to meet John and his family, I made it.

Pine Hill's library, the day after my arrival.

Everything since then has been a quiet mix of recovering and slowly pulling together for my next moves. This includes fixing up the room John and I share, getting an income together and handling things like State ID and insurance. I have about a month to get the official stuff done, but I would rather do it sooner rather than later.

Last night John took me to the local pub for their Saturday night buffet. He threw darts while we talked and listened to Bob Seger on the jukebox. We said hello to some of the locals, and I admired the old rifles and cool old ads on the walls. When I woke up this morning, I finally started feeling focused enough to do more than just recover.

But I'm never going on a plane again if I can possibly help it....

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Introduction: Leaving Everything I Know

View from my parents' porch in Oakland, CA

My name is Rebecca Lloyd, and this is the story of how I left my 9-5 life in the San Francisco Bay Area and ran off to the woods of New York State. Eventually, it will be the story of how I then left New York State to travel the country in a converted school bus with my partner.

I am a published writer in my forties, and have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my whole life. The last thirteen years of that life were spent with my partner, John. I supported us with a mid-range office position that would have done the job in a sane economy. Unfortunately, the region no longer has a sane economy. Gentrification and local landlord corruption has sent rents skyrocketing. My salary, meanwhile, remained the same, and our health issues prevented us from seeking other income. We were debating what to do about a year ago when a series of violent crimes in our already unsafe neighborhood pushed the issue in the worst way possible.

I could go on for pages about what it was like to live in a place that had not only the typical problems of a slum apartment, but three break-ins, two police lockdowns, street fights and screaming domestics multiple times a week and by the end, an average of two shootings a month. But for now, let's just say that I didn't sleep much, my anxiety disorder was constantly being triggered, and all I could think of was getting out. When my partner came home and told me that he had had to seek shelter from a drive-by in progress just walking to the transit station, I knew that we were done with Oakland.

Friday I had my last day of work with Alameda County, where I had done every type of clerical and office support work possible for over thirteen years. It was a job I was happy to have, and I regretted having to leave despite its lack of ability to support us long term. I left friends, co-workers, and the illusion of financial security behind. As I walked out the door to go have a good-bye dinner with a work friend, I felt dizzy, tired, relieved, and terrified all at once.

Lucky doesn't care where we go as long as there's food and a couch.

In three days, I take my two Emotional Support Animals (aka Lucky and Velcro, the Thundercats, and/or the Flying Derp Brothers), present all relevant paperwork, and go flying across country. I'm going to join my partner of fourteen years and his parents in the Catskills, in Ulster County, New York. There, I plan to seek both part-time work and freelance assignments, and save money while we train in some skills, help my in-laws on various projects, and prepare for mid-May, when the funding comes in for the next big project in my life.

The idea to convert a school bus and live in it has been in our heads for over a year. When my in-laws offered us sanctuary at their place while we built the thing, we jumped at the chance. Our budget for the build is pretty tight, meaning that we will need to find creative ways to raise money before, during and after the build. Meanwhile, I will be chronicling the entire experience on this blog.

I'm pretty apprehensive right now, simply because I haven't been on a plane in twenty years and it's all the way across country. I have all my papers in order, I have a plan, and I still know that it's going to be hard. Pet relief areas exist on every leg of the flight, and I will need to use them a lot. I'm fending off attacks of the "what-if"s on almost an hourly basis, answering them with logic or dismissing them with the knowledge that I'm smart, resourceful and have help in my journey. I'm bracing myself to be a bit of a wreck when I get there, and for the cats to be pretty damned stressed as well. But it's crunch time. The only way out is through. We'll manage. And once the trip's behind me, the real work can begin.