I recently took a trip up to Cedarville from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Cedarville is in the far northeastern part of the state at the edge of the surreal Surprise Valley. The drive from route 5 over 299 takes you along the southern boundary of the Cascades. From the road you can intermittently see the large hulks of Mount Shasta to the north and Mount Lassen to the South. You emerge from the forest into the high desert. Cedarville sits at the entrance to the wilderness where 299 goes over the mountains to meet the most remote area in the lower 48 states. This is one of the approaches to Black Rock City where Burning Man takes place each year.
As a stranger, I never felt so welcome in a place. Why would this be?
I have written about the lack of friendliness that I have encountered in the small city I live in just north of San Francisco. Many of the people I know resonate with the sentiment that people in the Bay Area are hard to get to know. Everyone is busy making a living and keeping up with the rapid changes that the tech industry has thrust upon us. The cost of living is skyrocketing, whole industries are being “disrupted” as employees reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs and social mores are increasingly fluid as civil society is redefined. Competition has been promoted rather than community.
Many people no longer have a firm foundation of who they are, how they fit in and how they should act. This is, I think, why so many of us here feel a sense of dislocation.
Not so in Cedarville.
In this town of 400, if you go into a restaurant or store people want to know about you. They ask for your name, where you are from and how long you are staying. They tell you about their lives in the town and why they have come there.
They are a diverse group for such a small town. They include old ranchers, young cowboys, organic farmers, Burners and hippies. They have found a way of life that is remote and demands cooperation. There is no time or use for divisiveness. Professional boundaries are blurred as the chef at the newest hip restaurant is also a real estate agent. People do 2 or 3 jobs to keep the town running. This is how it used to be in the frontier days. This is how it is for them now.
It seems that I often have too much to do with too little time to do it in. This is more the case for me now that I am not working and have more time than ever.
Paradoxically, when I was working more than 60 hours a week, I seemed to have time to do everything. It came down to the built-in efficiencies that I had to come up with out of necessity. This kept me functioning in the world-as-it-is but gave me precious little time to come up with ways to create the world-as-it-might-be. The pace of modern life only allowed me to keep my head above water.
Whether we retire when we want to or when our health or finances dictate that we have to, there is an adjustment period. Our first inclination is to establish a routine that gets us out of the house and among others. Initially this may be enough. But it is very easy to fall into what I call the “entertainment trap” after a while — TV, movies, celebrity gossip, gaming — distractions which can appear to be innocuous initially but which take us away from ourselves eventually. This ultimately is very unfulfilling. We take but do not give.
To get myself out of this trap I started blogging. I felt that my background in mental health might enable me to give people a little guidance on how to move forward in their lives. I had no idea how this effort might change me.
When you work in any field you become an expert. This is true whether you work as a clerk, a doctor, a social worker or a mechanic. You know the ins and outs of what you do and often you don’t think about it too much. Not many people remain engaged and interested in what they do for a living. Your work becomes routine. You put one foot in front of the other and make assumptions along the way based on past experience.
So when you suddenly are freed from the constraints of a job’s structure you are able to look back and see all the things you were too busy to mentally digest in your daily experience. You are given a fresh perspective.
What you did and how it formed you is valuable. What can keep you busy now is not the mundane details of maintaining yourself in the work and social order of things but, instead, giving others the opportunity to learn from you, especially younger people. In a culture in which values and mores are changing rapidly those who are just starting out need an anchor. You can provide it.
Blogging is a way to find out what you really know and what you may have done differently given more time to step away and gain perspective. Others can benefit from your experience. Now is the time to show the way.