Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Secret To Survival

Winter offers challenges for my nomadic lifestyle in my little van that make me question my sanity. By no means am I comparing my situation—one of choice, with resources and options—to my homeless sisters and brothers. I share these observations for my therapy, and because some of you might be curious.

A brief recap: for the past 10+ years I’ve lived in a relatively small motorhome, for 9 years in Tillie 1, a 27’ Gulfstream Class C, one of those unwieldy rigs with everything contained on a 6-wheel chassis. After over 200,000 miles I downsized to Tillie2, a 24’ Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, a sleek and efficient house on wheels. (FYI personal purchases.)

When I started my nonprofit HEAR US Inc., a unique effort to chronicle the plight and promise of homeless families and youth, I was a newbie at both filmmaking and RVing. That was then. I’m still at it, with much knowledge based on experience. I still am learning, often the hard way.

I was sensible back in the early days. I tried to stay warm during winter by hanging in parts of the country that typically could be counted on for above-freezing temps. I was filming and  giving talks in places like Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona and California. My Own Four Walls, my first documentary, was a product of that first trip.

Now I sit in frickin’ freezin’ Pennsylvania. I’m plugged into the outlet of a kind (and anonymous) soul, as I’m sure living in a van is probably frowned upon in this and most communities. It’s the anti-homelessness thing for the most part. I try to maintain a low profile for all sorts of reasons, this being one of them.

I’ve been way out of my van’s suggested geographic range for many years now, asking for trouble, I guess.

My spartan lifestyle, while I have the basics for a reasonably comfortable existence, has a few vulnerable essentials. Water, for example. Already this month I’ve had my water supply freeze twice. Think of what you need water for…flushing, washing, dishes. Yeah. 

I work in my van, mostly on a computer. Sometimes I look like a pathetic Arctic traveler, wrapped in blankets and shrouded with a hood to hold body heat in. Hard to type, and think, when I get too cold. Yeah. 

I’ve also had a really gross issue. I won't go into details, but let me just say septic-related. Yeah. 

I don’t always have a place to plug in. The longer I sit, the quicker the above afflictions can take hold. So I’ve been honing techniques to avoid getting into trouble, which I can assure you is life disrupting. 

And, life lessons are screaming at me in these learning opportunities, if I pay attention. 
  • Don’t let it get too bad before taking steps to avoid problems. 
Prevention won’t always work, but ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, and can often make them worse. Facing my challenges is usually the only way to deal with them. Not always easy. 
  • Know how to fix what will ail you if you’re going to persist at tempting fate. 
I learned electrical stuff decades ago and it has come in really handy. And I’m constantly learning about the workings of my rig. Learning, having tools, and being able to troubleshoot are vital.
  • Do what you gotta do, but don’t do stupid, aka life-threatening, things. 
Risks are good to a certain level, and those levels are never clearly marked. Listen to one’s gut. 
  • Ask for help, in whatever form is necessary.
Swallowing pride is not easy for me. And asking for help is something I’ve never done well. But sometimes ya need to. And sometimes people say no. Ouch!
  • Be well-equipped given the limited space, having at least the basics. 
This requires thoughtfulness. What’s really important? Space is limited. 
  • Be grateful for what you have. 
Taking things for granted is easy. Being grateful, mindful, not so much. But it helps reduce the angst for not having stuff.
  • Share.
Not hanging onto things is a hard habit to overcome. But letting go makes room. And giving to someone who needs something makes the world a better place.

Would I trade what I do for anything? Well, truth be told, I’d love to be in warmer climes at times, but I would miss the opportunities that come my way to do my dream job, giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth. 

Don’t feel sorry for me. I have the best of all worlds, and I get the deepest appreciation from those whose lives are impacted by having nowhere to call home. When I wimp out, as I do too often, I think of those who endure way worse. They give me courage and warm my heart. That makes it possible to survive. The least I can do is endure a modicum of discomfort.