I love the colors of these dead flowers

I love the colors of these dead flowers

Many of the Bliss Tours I've read (often with the words happy or happiness in the titles) start out as new year's resolutions. Their journey, literal or figurative, begins on the first day of the year. I don't make new year's resolutions anymore because...

January 1st is an insane time to start new year’s resolutions.

Seriously, we’re all bloated from the manic high that is the National Orgy of the Holiday Season (NOHS). The American NOHS now lasts a quarter of the year from Halloween-prep mid-October to MLK Day in mid-January. 

NOHS creates expectations and disappointments, pressures and stress. This is the absolute worst time for the quiet reflection and contemplation required for taking an honest look at your life and making decisions about what you may, or may not, want.

When is a good time? Now. Spring. With Easter, Passover, Holi, and every other holy day, the land in the Northern Hemisphere is waking up. Flowers blossom, trees that looked dead a week ago sprout fresh green. This is the time of year to begin again.

Renew, rebirth, resurrection, restart, restore, reboot. That’s what survival is, coming back.

Bliss Pics 2015

Here are some of my favorite photos from 2015. The photos were taken in Marfa, TX, Panama City, FL, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Plan*

What’s The Plan?

Ha! Ok, you can start laughing now. “The Plan” has changed three times. Four times, if you count The Plan before I started the blog. The Plan this year is a work in progress.

Initially, I planned to do an Eat Pray Love: sell everything and go live in different places for 3-4 months each. Paris was always at the top of the list. Then it because an epic road trip on the west coast, then a short story road trip, but I cancelled that. Or maybe it’s just postponed?

Now I might road trip to my family reunion in Panama City, Florida. Stop in New Orleans, where I’d sworn never to visit in the summer again. Or I may fly to Panama City. I don’t know.

Ahhh... Paris. I don't think I'm going there.

Ahhh... Paris. I don't think I'm going there.

My lease it up August 20, and now The Plan is back to: sell everything and move some place for 3-4 months. Move where you ask? Move to… wait for it… Scotland!

No, I don’t know where that came from either. What happened to Paris? I’ve been dreaming of living in Paris for months! But now? Not so much.

I could give you logical reasons why I’m now looking at Scotland: it’s a smaller city (I don’t love huge cities; that’s why I came to Austin from Brooklyn); it’s cheaper than Paris, and definitely cheaper than London; Scotland is English-speaking, although I’ve heard from some that this point may be debatable.

All of these things are true (apparently, I haven’t made any actual plans yet), but the real reason is that Scotland popped into my head and I’m just going to go with it. Notice I keep saying Scotland. Scotland isn’t a city, like Paris or London. It’s a whole country. So like, Edinborgh? Edinburg? Edinburough? Ok. I’ll have to learn to spell it.

Know anyone in Scotland?

*subject to change

Marfa - Day 3 and Roadtripping

Somewhere in west Texas

Somewhere in west Texas

I left Marfa about 1:00pm. It’s a 6 ½ hour drive across west Texas back to Austin, and not a Starbucks to be seen. I was not looking forward to the drive. The landscapes were beautiful, if desolate, I drove 100mph in some spots, and I hit an exploding swarm of bees. But that’s not enough.

I hadn’t recovered from the drive to Marfa and I was driving back. I was exhausted and this was not fun. Sometimes the journey can overwhelm the destination.

During the drive I had time to think about my priorities for this sabbatical. Is it to travel? Write? Is this year only a temporary escape from cube life? Or can I use it to launch a work life outside the cube?

I remember telling a friend about my sabbatical, and saying explicitly, “I want to travel, but I don’t want to go from location to location, trying to see as many places as I can. I’d be exhausted.” True.

Initially, I'd thought about living in different places for 3-4 months each. It was more Eat, Pray, Love than the Bliss Tour. Writing in Paris would be awesome, right? And writing on the beach? Maybe I could write in Australia, or one of those mountainous states in the US?

Notice something about these? I’m writing. I always saw myself writing no matter where I was. After countless mornings of getting up at 5:30am to write before work, and getting that first draft ready a few weeks ago, I want writing to be my top priority. I want to finish this novel by the end of the month. Then start another one. And throw in some short stories too.

So, I’m changing again. It’s my prerogative. This is all trial and error. I’m pushing my traveling back to at least the fall, except for my family reunion. I want, need to get more writing under my belt before I hit the trail. Those locations will be there even if I go back to cube life. But this time I have to write won’t last forever.

Marfa - Day 2

A note about Marfa: Monday and Tuesday are slow days for Marfa. These two days are the town’s rest period, their time to recover after the rush of tourists on the weekend. 

I did not know this. I thought I was rather clever coming Monday through Wednesday to avoid the crowds and the prices of peak times.

Many of the restaurants and museums are closed or on reduced schedules/menus. The Chianti Foundation is closed Monday and Tuesday. Some restaurants are only open on the weekend.

I ate lunch at Capri, the restaurant at the Thunderbird Hotel, but they had a limited menu, so I’m going back today. When I was there yesterday they’d started smoking some kind of animal – I’m thinking it’s beef or pork – in preparation for today’s full menu.

Then I drove to Prada Marfa. A note about Prada Marfa: It is not in Marfa. It’s in Valentine, TX, a 30-minute drive west of Marfa. I went anyway. It was… interesting.

Me, a random car, and U.S. Border Patrol in front of Prada Marfa

Me, a random car, and U.S. Border Patrol in front of Prada Marfa

The most interesting thing about it is that when I drove up there were two U.S. Border Patrol vehicles sitting across from it. Like the first thing people sneaking over the border would do is go to Prada. Welcome to America!

On the way to and from Prada Marfa (Why not Prada Valentine? That has a nice ring to it), I passed the Tethered Aerostat Radar System. Coming and going, when I drove by, little tornadoes started up and blew tumbleweed in front of my car. Nowhere else did this happen. Interesting, right?

Because of the restaurant situation, I ate dinner at the Hotel Paisano again, and it was good again. I chatted with someone who'd lived in California, had a big corporate career, big corporate life, keeping up with the Jones', then she came to Marfa and started a completely different life. Hope to interview her soon for The Bliss Tour.

I had ice cream at Frama/Tumbleweed Laundry, a combination coffee shop, ice cream parlor, and laundromat. Obviously.

Marfa has a newish Marfa Lights Viewing Center. Last night after the sun set, finally, I stood outside in the nicely chilly air for two hours waiting to be dazzled. I was not. Maybe the lights were taking a day like the rest of Marfa after a weekend of working hard?

Still it was fun. There were people from all over asking each other “Is that it? What’s that? Look! A jackrabbit! Are there snakes out here? Where you from?”

I stayed in one of the hip trailers at El Cosmico last night. With my own toilet and sink! Ahhh... But I have to admit, even with all the modern plumbing, I preferred sleeping in the safari tent. There was something restful about the sparseness of it and the heavy white canvas billowing.

The trailer has an outdoor tub. I'm not sure why I reserved this instead of one with a shower. Availability? It was too cold and late last night, but this morning I had a little adventure taking a bath for the first time in... I have no idea. 

The outdoor tub for the Branstrator trailer at El Cosmico.

The outdoor tub for the Branstrator trailer at El Cosmico.

It wasn't bad. Technically, this is Day 3 in Marfa, but I'm leaving the trailer and the desert and headed back on Austin in a couple of hours.

I'll let you know what happens. Spoiler Alert: a lot of driving.

Marfa - Day 1

I’m here in Marfa, TX. To get here you drive to the middle of nowhere then hang a left. Also, it’s hot. Then cold, and then hot again.

Yesterday, I got up at 5:30am, intending to take off at 7:00am. I didn’t leave until almost 8:00am, which put me in the middle of Austin rush hour traffic. I decided not to stress so I told myself “It’s the journey not the destination.”

I usually hate this saying because when you’ve payed for a plane ticket to and lodging in a specific place, it kind of is about the destination. But I made an exception and I kept that attitude for the first three hours of the journey. Then I was over it.

When I saw the windmill giants on top of what-I’m-going-to-call mountains, I thought about stopping and taking photos. Then I passed them going 90, listening to Fool Moon to keep me awake. I’d have a twinge of regret as I passed a photogenic rest stop or “picnic area” (Define “picnic”?), then the twinge was gone as I sped toward my destination.

The bar at Hotel Paisano - Maybe james dean drank here

The bar at Hotel Paisano - Maybe james dean drank here

Marfa is famous for being the location for the movie Giant back in the 50s (I had dinner at the Hotel Paisano, which served as the headquarters for cast and crew during the filming). More recently, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed in Marfa. I have seen none of these movies.

Marfa is also known as an artists’ colony with lots of small galleries and art installations (although apparently I’m not supposed to call the “i-word”). Today I’m headed to Prada Marfa, a not-installation on the outskirts of town.

Marfa is also well-known – at least among travel writers – because of the place I’m staying. El Cosmico, with its trailers, teepees, hip trailers, and solitary yurt, is a hipster destination in its own right.

Safari Tent 1 - Where I stayed my first night

Safari Tent 1 - Where I stayed my first night

Last night, I stayed in a safari tent – a comfortable bed and a couple of chairs. (I missed reserving a teepee by hours, because I’m not very decisive.) Tonight I move to one of the trailers. I’m really not one for camping and shared facilities, and in the trailer I will have my own toilet. I am happy.

A Short Story Road Trip

The fact that I’d made no plans for a two-month long road trip that was “scheduled” to start next week should have been a warning. This Bliss Tour that I speak of - this adventure to the west, and then to the east, and then to farther places, to seek out those who can find their bliss, chase it, make it, never let it go - is finally going to start next week. Kinda.

I’d thought I’d have some time to plan last week, but instead I spent it hunkered down writing 6-8 hours a day to turn draft 0 of The Bliss Tour into a first draft that I can actually give to people to read. That is exciting. Extraordinary. Scary.

From Draft 0 to First Draft. Yippee!!

From Draft 0 to First Draft. Yippee!!

I’m an external-deadline-driven sort of person, so having to give something to a critique partner before I took off was pivotal in getting it done. And I did. I wrote “The End” at the end of a story. I was so happy I cried. It’s still a crappy first draft, but there’s a story there. I can finish it! I can polish it up so it’s not so crappy.

Meanwhile the the tour itself, I’d made no plans, I’d plotted no routes, I had not maps. I had done nothing to plan for this two month road trip. And when I started to plan... I found out that an epic road trip requires an awful lot of driving. Like seriously, going west from Austin is just hours and hours, days of driving through... not a whole lot. So, no.

Now here’s the plan: Next week I’m road tripping to Marfa, TX for a couple of nights. Staying in a safari tent and a trailer (the teepee was booked :( must plan ahead)! Then, instead of driving to California from there, later in June, I’ll fly to southern California and rent a car. From there I’ll make my way up to Vancouver, BC, then fly back to Austin. It’ll take about 2 weeks.

It’s less of an epic now, and more of a short story road trip.

Let’s see how long these plans last...

RT: Bring Your SQUEE!!

Last year I went to my first RWA conference. It was a great experience, I met some amazing women, attended informal sessions about the craft and business of writing, and came home with dozens of books.

I didn’t really understand the difference between the RWA and RT gatherings. On paper, they seem remarkably similar: authors - published and fledgling - attending, informative sessions, and signings and big social events celebrating the romance, and in the case of RT, YA communities.

That’s on paper. In person I was stunned by how different the conferences are. RWA is about the business of romance: writing, publishing, and getting paid. There’s a reason it's called the “RT Booklovers Convention.” RT is about the reader, all about the SQUEE!!

However, I suck at fangirling. I have zero SQUEE!! game. Like none. My inherent shyness and lack of SQUEE!!, prevent me from rushing forward at the end of a session for the express purpose of saying “I love your books,” or getting books signed, or dear god, getting a photo taken with authors by the elevator.

Even the elevators had good SQUEE!! Christina Lauren's Sweet Filthy Boy was the RT Book of the Year.

There’s some business and learning going on at RT but it’s mainly an opportunity to let booklovers (see: truth in advertising) meet the writers they love, have fun, and play games. Literally, play games.

RT has a ton of sessions where booklovers can play games hosted by the authors they love and win prizes. Some of the prizes are amazing; some lucky RT attendees went home with new iPads/tablets. But you have to play the games, which honestly, I avoided. I don’t excel at excitedly throwing up my hands or shouting out answers. I lack SQUEE!! on several levels.

Now that I understand what RT is, I know it’s not really for me. And that’s ok. I learned a lot in the craft sessions I did attended, I added authors to my TBR pile that I didn’t know before, but am now excited about, and I met up with some friends I’d met at RWA last year. That said, I would highly recommend attending RT to any demonstrative fan of the romance and/or YA genres. But bring your SQUEE!!

Trial Run

I’m headed to the RT Convention in Dallas in less than 12 hours. RT is a conference of booklovers, mostly romance and young adult readers, mostly women who are excited, ney, passionate about reading and books. So passionate that they travel thousands of miles just to gather with others to talk about books they love and meet the authors who write them.

I’m using this as a trial run for the Bliss Tour, when I hit the road in my little Subaru and seek out the blissed out. It’s not far away (Dallas is only about three hours from Austin, in theory) and I don’t have any interviews scheduled. But I still feel like it’s the Bliss Tour. I’ll be surrounded by people whose eyes roll back in their heads at the mention of a book they love.

I keep picturing these women as book-holding whirling dervishes in an ecstatic dance of faith and joy. I have no idea why I see that. Weird, right?

But I like it. I’m excited to go, excited to see everyone, hoping their book bliss will rub off on me so I can whirl too.