Tennyson’s greatest work, IMHO, is “Ulysses.” In it, he portrays an older man looking back at a life of adventure and challenge. He is unwilling to go softly into that night of age and diminished capacity. Instead, he looks for new adventures, even as he admits his body is weaker and his time is short.
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Dame Judy Dench gives the poem her own inimitable spin to the poem in the James Bond classic, Skyfall. One may note that Bond, in this flick, feels betrayed and is out of practice, aging, and injured. Even as she is literally speaking of the decline in the power of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, she is also implicitly referring to Bond who is officially unfit for service but whom she still believes in.
But this isn’t a blog about heroes, mythological or cinematic. It doesn’t even need to be a blog about age, although that is a common issue. It is a blog about taking new directions after the world has written you off. It is a blog about not surrendering when the way is impossibly blocked. About rethinking what is means to have purpose and meaning in life when the world tells you you’re done.
I met one of my sisters last weekend. She’s the only one of my close biological relatives who is older than me. (I have posted about the discovery of my biological family previously.) She has a condition that the doctors indicate is incurable and they only gave her 5-10 years at the most. She is long-term unattached. By the age of 33, she had married and divorced 4 different men at which she decided no more.
The similarities between us are uncanny. Of course, I see a strong facial resemblance. This is what I’d look like as a woman. A real cutie, back in the day.
Like me, she was put up for adoption. Like me, she grew up fascinated by science and exhibited many of the traits of Asperger’s. Unlike me, she had the good fortune of growing up in an affluent, supportive and loving family. Like me, she is full of wanderlust, the urge to explore the unknown. Like me, she dropped out of college early and ended up carrying a gun for a living, working for the Nevada prison system. I ended up working a while for private security. We are both very good with a pistol, as are both my children. Must run in the family.
She is today what would be considered a nomad. The modern nomad typically lives out of a car, van, or small trailer. They travel the country seeking out low-cost are free locations to park and camp. Your expenses include gasoline, insurance, car repair, food, and occasional park fees. It does not include rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners insurance, or utilities. Because of this, a person can live well on limited funds.
I went to the desert in a car with no name.
I did a bit of nomading when I was young. Lived in my car and drove from one park to another, just enjoying the scenery. No place to return to and nobody to hold me down. At one time it was a gold 1965 Mercury Comet station wagon with manual steering and manual brake. Another time it was a light brown 1970 Volkswagon Squareback with manual everything. And yet again in a blue rusted-out 1985 Chevy van with a 350 4 bbl. carb. that I installed myself. It really flew.
Camping alone is pretty cool. Just ask Rin from Yuru Camp. Though you don’t always get a campground all to yourself.
I suppose some would have called me a homeless person living out of my car. They would have bemoaned the social deprivation of my life. Fine, they can keep their prejudices. I wasn’t homeless, I had changed my definition of what “home” had to be. I wasn’t lonely. You always meet people along the way, many of whom have had a rough time of it too. Undemanding in affection and understanding of emotional trauma. The road is a place of healing.
I didn’t feel the need to be permanently attached to another person. That was only a problem when I had to live with people who insisted that was the only way to live. For a person who felt alien and found it difficult to belong to polite society, perhaps I belonged on the road.
Dirt baggers, ski bums, and surf bums have known this for a long time. If you don’t tie yourself down to real estate, life is much more affordable and you can chase your interests. Now retirees and other low-income people have discovered it as well. Facebook allows such people to meet and organize. There is even an award-winning movie out about it, Nomadland.
My sister knows many of the people in the film and portrayed by the film.
We should not be surprised that so many nomads are single women. Not only are women more likely to lose their home due to economics or fleeing abuse than men, past retirement age women start to significantly outnumber men. Our shorter life expectancy really starts to show.
There are many who consider this a sad movie. There are sad situations in the movie. I consider it to be an affirmation of life. Finding a way to live and enjoy existence when the standard avenue of the “American Dream” is unavailable. Nomads need not be victims. They don’t just survive. They find a way forward when tradition tells them to quit.
Like my sister, these folks could have thrown themselves on the mercy of the state and lived in a homeless shelter, stayed in a bad situation in their current home, tried to get into subsidized pubic housing, or signed their social security and public assistance checks over to live in a geriatric home.
She did none of those, though they would have been options. Instead, in her limited time left she decided to sail beyond the sunset. She may have been made weak by time and fate, but she is strong in will. Along the way she found a community where she felt she belonged. She has seen more of America’s natural beauty than 99% of the rest of us, including me.
A nomad must be a person who values their freedom.
These days I have a permanent home with a mortgage and endless bills and upkeep. It is tough to raise a family as a nomad, though I know it has been done, so it is an intentional sacrifice I made. But the kids are grown and when I see a long stretch of lonely blacktop, I still get the longing.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.