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Moving Toward Mountains, Past Molehills

Updated on May 1, 2009

View from my Bed 2

Ink and watercolor sketch of the view from my bed in Kansas by Robert A. Sloan, branches in reddish soggy spring foliage
Ink and watercolor sketch of the view from my bed in Kansas by Robert A. Sloan, branches in reddish soggy spring foliage

Getting the News

 I found out about this move a couple of months ago.

My daughter Kitten decided to follow her life's dream and travel to Arkansas for farrier school. Farrier means "the blacksmith who shoes horses," it's a specialty of blacksmithing. She trained for a couple of months up here with a local farrier while waiting for the course to start in a different school, then got a better offer from the school in Arkansas because they a) had a better, more thorough program with perks like including her tools as part of the tuition, and b) offered to knock off half the cost of her tuition for her setting up the webpage for the school. So she's now functioning as Geek to Blacksmiths and having the time of her life down there.

Karl, her husband, the best son-in-law a man could have, her children, two large dogs, her cat, me and my cat have all been living on our own without a car in the house since she left. We miss her terribly, it's been hard not having her here because she's so much a part of our lives and the house is a lot merrier with her than without her. But we guys have been getting along and living fairly well, Karl is a good cook, the house is still clean, kids fed, old man fed, animals fed and everyone getting on with the things they're doing. Things settled into a routine of waiting for Kitten's visits and for her to finish school so she could get a truck and roam the countryside doing equine manicures.

About a month into the course, Karl broke the news after a phone call that we're moving to Arkansas instead of her setting up her practice here. Time frame estimated between six months and a year. Okay, plenty of time to think about the move.


Well, that's where she is and where she has a great opportunity. The school likes her work so much they're recruiting her into their long-established business and she's living her dream. She works with horses every day. She comes home and visits with pictures of cute foals laying in flower-dotted grass, horses of every color that she talks about by name the way regular people talk about their favorite actors,and she's put serious thought into what breed of horse would be the best match for me to make riding possible.

Her dream is living out in the country maybe half an hour to an hour from an interesting small city or large town with its amenities, with about 20 acres of land that includes woods, creeks, meadows and thus horse fodder, owning horses and having a large farmhouse we can make cosy and independent. It should have at least one fireplace so we can have fires all year round instead of just Weather Permitting and maybe a wood stove.

With Kitten and Karl we're looking at the type of educated counterculture people who own all the Foxfire books and actually do the cool things in them when feasible. We live frugal and green. The whole family has been living frugal and green since the day we moved in here three years ago -- they moved in a bit before I did in a fairly disruptive way getting sorted out from previous living situations and it took them a while getting settled in. Since then, we've wound up eliminating white flour and most of the refined sugar from our diet, gotten a giant freezer and lots of meat from a local rancher so the grocery trips are reduced to perishables, done lots of cool litle frugality things to reduce our monthly expenses and energy bills more all the time.

If there's a corner she can cut that'll result in more real luxury, Kitten will find it. The lifestyle changes have been gradual but I've realized that I went over a year without getting any digestive problems at all, something I thought was chronic but didn't want to deal with doctors about or get medication for. She just cured it by putting all of us on a higher fiber diet so gradually it didn't cause dgestive problems.

We have had a good time here the past three years.

LIfe gets a little better, a little easier, a little more comfortable every year. Things we did without come into our lives, things that make a big difference like the giant freezer and meat run. She went through some changes in what she did for a living, she was a pharmacy technician with a major orphan drug company at first and made a lot of money. She hated the corporate lifestyle that went with it though, and the stress drove her round the bend especially as the company went through some screw-tightening policy changes and Medicare Part D led to a lot of her job being how to explain to dying people that they weren't covered and would  be left to die without their necessary meds.

She switched to copywriting and worked from home, building up a good business in that until she reached a point of truth one night talking to Karl. She was trying to sell him on the idea of going to farrier school, since he's between careers and was trying to decide what to do. She checked out all the details, cost of training, everything, described the work and training in depth and glowing detail. With the sensitive observation of a loving husband and anthropologist, he asked her if she wanted to do it herself.

Stunned shock, she'd been successful at copywriting and was expecting to do that for years. But writing was never her dream, horses are. Karl likes them but isn't as wholeheartedly equine-passionate as Kitten is. Kitten loves horses the way I love cats. She understands them the way I do cats. She can handle a psychotic horse and laugh about it afterward. She has metal bits in her bones from three different Incidents none of which she blames on the horses and still loves them that much.

Of course she said yes, and figured out a way to do it.

Kitten loves horses the way I love cats

A Little Busy -- portrait of dupliKate's cat Busy in watercolor by Robert A. Sloan, reference posted in Weekend Drawing Event challenge on by dupliKate.
A Little Busy -- portrait of dupliKate's cat Busy in watercolor by Robert A. Sloan, reference posted in Weekend Drawing Event challenge on by dupliKate.

Shock turns to Excitement

 I've had a hard life. Multiply disabled, I was in denial of nearly all of it for most of my life because I was among the majority of people who assumed all my symptoms meant Depression. Why else would a grown man feel like killing himself several times out of the month especially when things were going good and he'd just done something exciting? Well, massive pain and supreme exhaustion have a lot to do with it, that's why. I'd get my life in order, find a direction, get started, do well, wear down, fall apart, throw my  back, need months of bed rest, rinse and repeat for years and years.

I knew I had scoliosis but the social security doctor said it wasn't bad enough to disable me. I still couldn't walk or work or lift things or do much of anything without throwing it but I gave up on that route for a decade after that try. One by one after I became homeless, diagnoses came rolling in. Right side hemi-hypoplasia -- my right leg 3cm shorter than the other and right side weaker and more atrophied is a birth defect that I got snowed into completely ignoring, not grasping the fact that's why I can't walk very far or stay on my feet very long or even sit in a normal chair. "No wonder you have chronic fatigue" the orthopedist said.

Then the stress induced asthma got noticed by one of the GPs and prescribed for. The arthritis came up mentioned by the same doc that turned me down for social security. Fibromyalgia wasn't even discovered the first time I had trouble working because of it and so on -- the second dose of chronic fatigue. My life is a balancing act, literally, and thanks to pain medication I no longer exhibit the symptoms of someone who's out of his mind. On the contrary, most of the time I can remember what day it is, write coherently and connect with reality without passing out. Unless bad weather knocks me over.

Now this is where "lived like a refugee" comes into it. All those years of denial, whether working or self employed or crashing with friends because I was too sick to work, I would move two to four times a year because that's about how long a friend can put up with taking care of a sick friend who can't actually get out and get money to help with the household. Or put up with someone as weird as I am even if I'm the one bringing in the money, because I don't have habits. I have symptoms.

One of these habits related to symptoms was moving whenever the apartment got too filthy because I was not capable of cleaning it up by myself. I can't actually perform all the Activities of Daily Living that are in that fat questionnaire the government makes you fill out to tell how disabled you are. Heck, I found out how many things normal people do that I cut out and cut corners and did without and skipped reading the dang thing. All my life I've been unable to clean up after myself and tried to close the gap by doing it the easiest way -- which given the rest of the disabilities is often the long way around to abled people and frustrates them no end. Needless to say, nutrition whenever I lived on my own consisted of prepared convenience foods and the microwave was a big improvement to my life.

Friends will help you move, a whole lot easier than they will come over to give your apartment a spring cleaning even if they come over every week for an immersive roleplaying game. It's the nature of social expectations -- someone needs to move, it's a crisis and everyone pulls together. Someone needs help cleaning up and it's "Man, I wish someone would come clean up MY apartment." Not to mention the friends who were slobs and looked at it and said "Dude, it's clean, what are you fussing about?"

Dust allergy. Can't operate vacuum cleaner due to back/hip/leg thing. Can't dust without asthma attack. After 3-4 months dust accumulation can't breathe in apartment, get pneumonia.

This is why living with Kitten and Karl has been a joy, because they clean the house in a swift brisk abled-intense way and sweep through my room along with the rest of the house whenever they do. Karl keeps up the vacuuming and does not think of one more room to vacuum as a big deal, so I have not had to deal with carpet-dust-accumulation for three whole years. They cook whole family meals and don't mind my not being on the cooking rota because I do pull my weight just by being a sessile adult who's in the house when they want to go off being young-marrieds and have a hot date.

I don't mind, they go out when the kids are sleeping, big deal they're out having a good time. But they save a fortune in babysitters for the once a year point when I have to deal with a Diaper Crisis or something. Most of the time the kids sleep through and I stay up online so I'm alert and listening for kid sounds. It is a great arrangement and while I thought for a long time that my needs were a major burden, they keep pointing out to me that it's less and less over time. When I first got here I was in postsurgical recovery and debilitated by years on the road overexerting and living with crisis after crisis.

I had only just gotten social security and lived most of that time in deep poverty. At one point I literally starved for three or four months because one month's food stamps don't last six months and it took that long to get them in the new state. I've done interstate moves before.

Usually as a refugee.

Usually because whoever cared and took me in had about had it with my disabilities and stopped believing that I couldn't clean up or cook or participate in family arguments. When they'd say "You're just like family to us" is when I'd flinch because that usually meant someone was codependent and would be very solicitous while Rescuing but turn into a Persecutor when I didn't wind up also rearranging my head space to suit their mood changes. A therapist in New York put it very well -- real dependence attracts codependents.

Not that everyone who tried to help was codependent. Sometimes they just ran out of resources and the household broke up. Sometimes they had natural life changes like finding a romance or having a child. Things happened. The time would come when I had to move on and would fish around among everyone I knew online or off to find another living situation.

Earlier, it was more that if I had the money coming in from street art or whatever I'd get the itch to live alone again and not put up with having roommates' habits such as their trying to drag me out of the house more often to activities that involved walking around a lot and staying on my feet, thinking of me as boring because I didn't Go Out or enjoy restaurants, etc. etc. Then wind up moving in and sharing expenses when tourist season ended and the money didn't roll in, it wasn't all refugee stuff till I threw my back so bad I was out of it for a year.

Kitten was the person I moved in with several times over, and I'd adopted her as my daughter a long time before. We were out of touch during my homeless shelter sojourn to a truly ironic cause -- the people I lived with who took me to the shelter didn't tell her where I was and implied that I'd moved on and left the state. Since I'd done this several times, she didn't worry about me and went on with her life, never dreaming that she could've prevented the previous time I spent over three years in one place that was for me a prison -- too physically far from any resource and too cut off from the Internet and other communications to manage to get out.

So most of my life, Moving On was either a chance to live somewhere I'd like better -- cooler state, better climate, nicer apartment, cool new housemates/having my own place... or a refugee evacuation in which I'd lose most of my stuff. It happened at very frequent intervals and solved one logistic problem -- moving in and gradually unpacking meant things were in order and dustless and the new place would be livable for at least a few months. I got better over the years at keeping everything so orderly that it'd take longer to become unlivably dirty. I got darn good at planning out living logistics to where cleaning-up was minimal.

This is probably why Kitten and Karl don't mind doing the things I can't -- I do make it as easy as possible for them and have plenty of experience at that.

The news we were leaving the happy house in Kansas hurt at first. It scared me. Flashbacks to all those desperation moves ran through my mind. Regrets and losses -- things like a full set of 72 Derwent watercolor pencils came to mind, it never made it out of New Orleans. Over 700 painted fantasy miniatures in a great Army of Evil plus numerous townsfolk and a smaller collection of elves and adventurers, 18 really great dragons. Long gone and I never took up that hobby again since I got more into art than miniatures gaming.

A lot of the things I left behind in moves didn't hurt. I didn't miss losing photo albums and stuff like that, I didn't get into those things. I didn't miss losing clothes or bedding even if some of it was pretty cool -- it was often getting very worn out by the time it vanished. What I missed and lost in moves was books, tools and favorite toys.

I managed to hang onto one good folding bookcase and a shelf of reference books that would be horribly expensive to replace, but my science fiction collection is gone. For a long time I even hesitated to buy books knowing I'd lose them. Then started getting very cheap used books because I knew they could be gone in the next disaster-move.

I lived here three years and wasn't broke during any of them. I've been getting books. I've got a decent little shelf of Pratchett from the Pratchett Savings Plan, a self-bribe to get myself to not spend every dime as fast as it comes in on something I missed and wanted for years. I have restored the art studio I had when I lived in New Orleans and upgraded a lot of it to artist grade -- that started with the back payment on my Social Security and has been building all this time because every cool thing I had in the 80s when I was a typesetter was in reach again, every cool thing I got in the 90s was in reach again and Blick delivers fast.

I've lived in some pretty nasty places.

I've had rooms that were no more than five feet wide and eight feet long, jammed with furniture and stuff. I've been stuck on the fourth floor of a three story house (its first floor was above ground level by an entire porch level) that also had a flight of steps in the very long yard and thus made it overexertion to go out for anything -- yet had to get food monthly and go to medical appointments, sustained repeat overexertion does very bad things to me in the long term. I've had to move by choosing out of everything I own only what'd fit in a very small car along with another person and a big dog and their kit. Fortunately the third person was someone who lived out of a backpack.

I've made bad choices on what to pack. Once I eliminated thousands of dollars in art supplies in favor of recycled item craft supplies because I was burned out on doing art at the time. That was the small-car move. So I can't say all these bad-disaster moves were a matter of things other people did -- I made bad choices too and sometimes moved into situations I knew were bad before I went in because that was better than the alternative or nonexistent alternatives. I am not physically strong enough to tour the country on foot or sleep under bridge culverts.

So my first reaction was a bit of shock and terror. Kitten owns this house -- and after a lifetime of renting and not being able to make rent, not having any freedom to paint or redecorate or anything, knowing landlords can change their minds about letting you keep a cat (reason to evacuate, sometimes I moved into bad situations because otherwise I'd lose my cat), I didn't trust rentals. We own this house. We're going back to renting to save up for the house of her dreams -- the big place in the country where it's feasible to keep horses.

She talked to me on the phone and reminded me who I am.

"Dad, this is an adventure. Remember who you are."

I remembered.

Remembering Who I Am

Self portrait from page one of my watercolor journal -- Robert A. Sloan, also Winsor & Newton Artist Field Box color chart.
Self portrait from page one of my watercolor journal -- Robert A. Sloan, also Winsor & Newton Artist Field Box color chart.

The Road Goes Ever On And On

 I'm not a hobbit. Notice the leather motorcycle jacket in the above self portrait, painted from a snapshot Kitten took on our way here during the previous evacuation from Minnesota. I've always been a traveler, a dreamer, a counterculture wanderer, a creative outsider who usually brings some inspiration and some entertainment to people who live in the places their parents were born. I wasn't ever housey-folk and neither was Kitten really.

"I love going South, it always seems like moving toward summer." -- Treebeard, in Lord of the Rings, both movie and book.

I love the green places of the world. I love traveling toward someplace beautiful and I love seeing what's along the way. I like a road trip better than anything. Of all the road trips I've ever been on in my life, the best have always been with Kitten, rambling journeys with side trips into whatever looked fun, long roleplaying games on the road where we'd skip the dice and paperwork to use looser "theatre of the mind" rules, staying in hotels and settling in.

Ari is the world's best traveling cat. Since he was a tiny six week old kitten he's been used to moving and moving out of state. He settles into his carrier, likes having a view of the road and just relaxes for the whole trip as long as he's got his towel. His only quirk is that on a two-day trip, he will mistake a hotel room for our new home, settle in and be mildly put out that we're moving out after only one day. He never complains or screams or makes a fuss during road trips and I think he thinks of car rides as road trips more often than vet visits.

I have to admit I wouldn't have picked Arkansas on my own. It's landlocked and I have this fondness for oceans, really like being by the sea. Being by mountains is another thing I miss though -- Colorado was great except for the elevation making me sick. Low elevation, nearer to sea level, more oxygen and moisture in the air, this tends to make me stronger.

Not two days after I found out we'd be renting out or selling this beloved house, I woke up with the usual Kansas spring weather debility and started getting much more annoyed at it knowing I was going to leave it behind. Spring in this place is murder on me. I sleep 18 hours a day like my cat and don't manage to get anything done, the pain breaks through my medication or I get so sick I forget to take it. Just when the world looks like it'd be really nice to go outside, I'm least capable of doing so and the frustration has gotten to me every year. The spring relapse has been part of the rhythm of my life since I got here.

New Orleans and San Francisco had climates where if I had air conditioning I functioned year round. That is, New Orleans needed AC, San Francisco really didn't. Chicago, Minneapolis and Westchester with their temperate climates always gave me the spring relapse and just as everyone else was getting out to enjoy the warmer weather, I'd be flat on my back dealing with arthritis and pressure changes setting off flares in my bad hip especially.

Aridity doesn't do me good. It's supposed to for respiratory problems but the dust allergy and maybe some other factors that haven't been doctor-translated into diagnoses affect me badly. I wind up with less energy and constant respiratory problems in arid climates, moist ones where it's green I breathe easy and have more strength. Virginia was great. Virginia had a lovely climate.

I've lived in a lot of places and while some of those moves were crises, others were larks. Others were moving on because I was frustrated with where I was or bored. I've got this wanderlust a mile wide and maybe it's a good thing I had all that practice triaging my possessions. I've still pretty much only got one room of stuff.

I have this fondness for portability in art supplies. The color chart next to my self portrait is the Winsor & Newton Artist Field Box, pretty much the ultimate portable watercolor kit. 12 half pans of artist grade watercolor, a tiny Kolinsky Sable pocket brush, water bottle included, top clips back on to make a water cup and two palettes fold out while the white plastic water bottle makes a third.

Out of all the many watercolor sets I've owned in my life, the Winsor & Newton Cotman Field Box that I bought in 1978 from Flax in San Francisco was my favorite. I used to call it my Renaissance Polaroid and take it to Society for Creative Anachronism events to sketch portraits of friends in costume and paint miniatures of them to sell, plus I tried manfully on every road trip to do watercolor travel sketches. Usually with dismal results because most of those years I took too long to paint slow and careful detail. I'd get one branch of a tree just right in an upper corner and then not have any idea what the rest of the scene was, whether I'd started to paint a lake or river or mountains or what.

I upgraded it in 2004 when I was in Colorado and gave away the old gray one in favor of the snappy navy blue version with the artist grade paint and Kolinsky Sable instead of Sceptre brush. Around that time I also started trying to learn to sketch and get better at quick drawing and painting. I've been getting there with it. But when I moved here I was way too sick to do any painting on the road.

Just post surgery and post years of malnutrition, some real starvation and overexertion just to survive, I was about half dead and barely able to totter out to the car, in fact it was overexertion just leaving that Minneapolis house for the last time even though Kitten and Karl carried all my stuff down. They had to pack for me because I was on bed rest from the surgery and way out of it, barely managed to pack the trip-bag and had to get their help bringing me the things I wanted in it besides my laptop.

So this is going to be the first road trip I've had in a long time. I'm moving to a better climate and at last, I know how to sketch fast! I'm a lot stronger than when they rescued me from Minneapolis and will be awake for the trip.

I've got an entire month to pack my stuff and most of it's here in my room already. Over the years I bought plenty of plastic storage tubs, suitcases, an ArtBin Tote Express that used to be my taboret. This time I don't need to make hard decisions -- all of my stuff is going, even the furniture. I have good furniture -- a waterbed, armchairs, a drafting table, a real taboret with drawers.

This move is going to be great.

In this house I've got a set of stairs to go up to the yard front or back and I stay in much more than I would if I were on the ground floor. She's looking for a place where my room will be on ground level. I'm starting to think better of riding when it sank in that horses are real transportation -- I don't need to worry about keeping the pace if the horse is doing the walking.

I have so much to look forward to and not many worries about the packing. If I pack one box a day, I'll manage to do this without overexerting. I lived packed for about four months when I was leaving the shelter -- this time I can prioritize and get the boxes labeled and stacked neatly long before the last day when the stuff I use all the time goes into the trip-bag and the last boxes.

It's going to be fun. It's going to be an adventure. Every day that the weather hurts my bones it starts looking like a better adventure and a lot to look forward to.

I'll be doing more Hubs on the process as I go, because I realized that my experience with all those evacuations may help people who live in houses and need to move. Next Hub, I'll talk about my priorities and list the things I need to do in order to leave the state with the least trouble and interruption in anything I rely on like banking, identification, notifying Social Security and getting a new doctor. With this much time to plan, maybe a lot of that can get worked out in advance rather than with delays and problems.


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    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Oh yes. I can honestly say I didn't know what a good environment could be until I moved here. Now we're moving on, and early news on the house-hunting is promising.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      Isn't it wonderful what a good environment will do for the body and soul? Sickness and stress take so much out of a person. I'm so glad for you, that your daughter and her husband are there for you.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks! I look better now -- my face is a lot less haggard and wrinkled because I've had several years of good nutrition and recovered from the surgery. It's weird, I seem to age more from being sick than from actual aging.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      Sounds like you have quite an adventure ahead of you!

      Your self portrait is very well done. Amazing!

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you! I'm going to have fun with it -- one of the reasons packing isn't so disastrous is that a lot of the things I have to pack are already in the kind of containers they'll be packed in. Some art mediums are in tubs all the time, it's a matter of tagging them with masking tape so they wind up in the right room. Others, I'll just pack them as I go and have so much time to do it.

      I think I'll try to get most of the books boxed first, it's not like I need all of them out all the time.

    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Robert, I love you for who you are and what you write. It is so true, so real, so moving. Many more people need to read it - in book form, soon, I hope. Or play or film. I can see so clearly what you write, as if you were painting every word.

      Arkansas, Art, Ari - must be something in that! You'll be the famous Arkansas Traveller and we'll read your words as if we were arm-in-arm with you on that compelling road south, listening as you sing your songs to us along the way.


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