gratitude

We would like to extend a huge and incredible public display of our affections and gratitude to the following list of people.

These folks have generously donated time, energy, and money to our project. Some have even gone so far as to welcome us into their homes and feed us, despite our lack of hygiene and our occasional crankiness, thank you :

Barbara Wolff
Mallory Craig-Karim
Susan Forker
Sarah Wolff
Carly Zektzer
Coerte Voorhees
Diane Vannais
Abigail Thompson
Sandra Sorlien
Jamie Morgan
David Graham
Roman Broberg
Cynthia Rhodin
Sarah Stolfa
Ali Lee
Lucy Murnane
Erin Kim Farnsworth
Naomi Mindlin & Stephen Perloff
Jim Coane & Marty Moss-Coane
Kate Powell
Penny Ettinger
Wendy Herbert
Carole Kelly-Daversa
Rebecca Bancroft
Henry Horenstein
Laura Jackson
Gene Kennedy
Nina Strong
Sandy Dobberstein
Leslie Sauer
Rosemary Tottoroto
Raymond Mathis
Lizze Ferrari
Angelica Recierdo
Steven Bilsky
Colin Montgomery
Tim Tracz
Melissa Lawrence
Phillip Block
Linda Heinemann & William Heinemann
Paul Rumsby
Sandra Stark
Rachel Weisz
Gary Minnix & Melanie Minnix
Emma Perloff
Mary Brown
Marcia Gehman
Richard Petry
David Litschel
Mariann Boston Reh
Carol Herbert
Harold Herbert
Jean Pearce
Joe Mitchoff & Curtis Thompson
Thomas Lamb
John Rumsby
Barbara Smith
Karen Hallowell
James Griffis
Mark Daniels
Myra Jacobs
Andrea Cetra
Danielle Picard
Elizabeth Bayardi
Judy Tripathi
Kenda North
Penny Mecca
Gary Mecca
Caleb Savage
Terry Culleton
Julie Lambert
Laura Gradowski
Gwen Kerber
Devin Drerup
Philip Dalgarno
Sara Harmon
Dottie Highland
Joseph Highland
Caitlin Brimmer
Lisa Satterwhite
Jeffrey Blake
Kelly Herbert
Sara Eliason, Cheryl Eliason & Richard Eliason
Alex Hinson
Clara Gray
Brad Mumaw & Jen Mumaw
Brendan Lambert-Ryan
Jacob Ritts
McKenzie Koepke
Anna Rock
Debby Duchscherer
Zoë Moore
Stephanie Bronco
Tara Grundy-McGlaughlin
Janet Jackson
Aly Passanante

Without Fail

Greetings, friends.

I know it’s been awhile since you last heard from me. As you’re likely aware, my prerogative on this journey has been to write in lively, prolific prose. Until this post, I’ve been enveloped in it. I’ve been keeping my head down, focusing on pouring out my thoughts as I experience them. It seemed like blog writing would prove a distraction, rather than an inevitability. That thinking was shortsighted. So here I am, alive and writing, ready to give you the update.

Last night, one week ago, Xina and I crossed a particular state border, one that for me felt both exciting and provocative. Our journey thus far has taken us through twenty-three American states in just twenty-three days. Yet when we found our way across the Oregon border yesterday evening, something lodged itself in my mind and hasn't yet come free. This thing I’ve been fixated on, it goes back. It links us, through generations, to the founding of America. It starts with this idea of the Western coast as the end and summation of all things, and it goes from there. In many ways, the coast is seen as a full stop, and of course, it's also a destination. It's a place where you can go no further, but that you may not want to leave. Much like the goal weight at the end of a diet, California asserts itself as a sort of fresh, alien conclusion. As Kerouac proves again and again, it’s a place for celebration, for living life to the greatest extent. Today it’s in the rearview.

 Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Now, as you all know, we've been billing our expedition as "The Quest West," and as I can pretty distinctly recall, that's for good reason. It's a punchy, summative, rhyming call-to-action that lazily encapsulates the goals of our trip. Firstly, we're heading west. That's easily understood. And then there's this word "Quest,' which maybe reminds you of Monty Python or a video game, but either way tends to imply an endeavor or struggle. So here we are, not deep in the Western landscape but literally on the golden coast, the West coast, the "best" coast, the Northern head of California, and I feel there’s been no struggle, no adventure. Everything is left to accomplish. This is when I start to sweat with the anxious fervor of an existential crisis. I think Xina had this realization on the actual midpoint of the trip, day twenty, which she spent in Tacoma while I was in Salt Lake, but of course I wasn't there to revel in the horror. So it goes.

According to the title of our campaign, our goal has been accomplished. We wound our way through the bulk of North America, stopping everywhere from Nashville to the Mall of America. We finished the pilgrimage, like so many before us, and we reached the promised land. The thing is, though, there's no intermission, there’s no relaxation, and there’s no stopping. We're only halfway home, and despite California's holy stature, we're not here to celebrate. We’ve got a checklist and we're pushing on to Nevada, passing up San Fran and LA for adventures off the beaten path. On day 23, there's still a good deal left to accomplish, and a terrifying, but necessary amount of reflection that goes along with that.

Being in the interlude brings up some challenging questions, many of which were posed by friends and family at the outset, and subsequently went unanswered. I occasionally felt, in the planning and campaigning stages, that people wouldn't, or didn't, understand the goals and limitations of our journey. To be completely honest, I don't think we did either. But here we are, looking back at the East like you might look in a bathroom mirror, and let me tell you, there's a lot to be said.

 Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

If you're inclined to envision this trip like Lewis and Clark might've, the questions get easier. Cities like New York, Boston, and Philly harken us with their morbid curiosity. They want to know what we saw, what we accomplished, and what we took to heart. Now that we've reached our destination, these questions start to demand answers. Our anxious minds, in turn, demand progress, demand proof of concept. They ask us: Have we grown as individuals? Is our art now superbly inspired? Do we have a trove of stories to tell around the fire? That's where the stress begins to peak. We see this trip as a life experience, the kind of thing that likely gets committed to memory, and we're starting to lose it. I start to wonder how many of the stories and poems I've started will see their way to fruition. I worry about the places we've already been, if I've truly seen them. I wonder if I've learned anything, if this forty-day trial has been worth the time and the money and the sweat and the emotion. We're only halfway there but it feels like so much more. Like the man in the moon is staring down at us, commanding his planet like a starship prepped for battle. It feels like the sky might be crushing down on us, and here we are, eating tacos and playing that album by the Alabama Shakes. We've been tasked with the mission of documenting America before this happens, before change occurs, before the moon man collides with our beautiful country and we lose it all in a hellfire dance of clashing culture and mounting adulthood. And this time it’s personal.

So before you ask why we even bothered, or what we're striving for, or where your postcard is, you should know one thing. Above all else, this journey is an education. It is history, sandwiched and squeezed between our storied past lives and the infinite future that drifts teasingly before our very faces, and that there is the basis for all art. It is not about beauty, of that I’m sure. Art isn’t what you learned in school, at least not my school, it’s not aesthetics and it’s not craft. Art, as I’m speaking to it, is the truth of human communication, whether visual or physical. It is that which comprises everything we consider as art and everything that we do not. There is no difference. So here, in the midst of New America, every hole in the wall, every motel, every new face, it all seeks to reinforce this education. Becoming a writer does not require that I write extensively, though I’ll admit that helps. No, reaching that ten-thousand hours, in every medium I’ve touched, requires life to unfold. You need thoughts and opinions and experiences to convey, and you need history, and joy and suffering, to contextualize.

 Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Objectively, technically, and in writing, our trip has been a success. On the surface, yes, we made it. And past the great distances and the ten-thousand miles, we lived to create and experience. We soaked in the matter of the universe, big and small, and if it hasn't yet imbued and dyed and contorted our work and efforts, it ultimately will. We've captured, laughed, written, and philosophized, and here, in the great state of California, we've accomplished every checkbox and dream and then some. So to all the friends and family that supported us, thank you. We couldn't have done it without you. Think of this as my acceptance speech, and please, please, please understand that the postcards are coming. I'm writing them all by hand, and god, let me tell you, I’ve got a lot to say.

Here’s to the road.

Thanks again, and all the best,
William Wolff Ht

A Half and A Whole

The last time I wrote for y'all we were coming to the end of the first half of the trip. Not numerically, not physically, not even literally -- but...spiritually? I was posted up in a cute (read: hipster as anything), little (read: quite sizeable) coffee shop in Salt Lake City. Will's friend from Northeastern, who I had just left him* with, had showed it to us the day before. Naturally, I was petrified they would walk through the door at any moment and catch me out. I was also too under caffeinated to think of any alternatives.

*You may have just picked up on the sly mention that "I had just left him", at which point you either wrote it off as a reference to a temporary situation or a casual mention of the shattering of the entire trip and its goals. Well you'd be wrong -- both of you sitting here side-by-side reading this together and arguing over scrolling speed.

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This trip and all of its ambitions hinge on a few simple truths about human nature:
1. one person is lonely and potentially very stupid
2. mo' people = mo' stupid
3. two people still have a high possibility for stupid, but see #2 for the alternative

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Right now we are everything to each other. That may seem like some romantic declaration of love, but if that's case then you've clearly never had one person upon which you rely so completely. Will is my best friend and my fiercest enemy, my fondest companion and my worst date, the salt on my potatoes and the salt on my pancakes -- in other words :  he is my strongest support and my biggest hinderance.
In fact, this dichotomy is just the bread and butter of interpersonal relationships.

Going into this project -- swords poking out from behind our trash-can lid shields -- we knew we would get sick of each other. We knew that no amount of caffeine would be able to prepare the other the be in our glorious presence forever. We would need a break, if only to have something to talk about when we would get back together. This split was loosely set to happen in Seattle -- the official half-way point of our trip (numerically, physically, literally (whatever that means)). This plan was based purely off of my wishes. I was going to be meeting up with one of the boobiest of my bosom buddies and I selfishly wanted all of her time to myself. I didn't even think of what Will would do while we cruised around Happy Hours speaking French and daydreaming of our plans for this coming year.

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We arrived in Salt Lake just before Will's bornday with plans to stay with one of his bffs -- a first as we had been staying predominantly with people I know, or who are related to people I know, or who at one point shared a form of public transit with someone that had dated someone who was related to someone for whom I used to babysit. It only made sense that he'd want to linger in the city. We made a plan -- he'd stay and celebrate his bornday with friends, while I'd go off and explore Yellowstone, Montana, and Washington, then we'd eventually reunite in Seattle.

At first, I reveled in being able to listen to whatever Top 40s or country stations I wanted to without bothering Will and his more discerning music taste. I quickly realized that my Talker tendencies would be my ultimate demise. Even if we share a lot of silence between the front two seats of the Prius, he is always there for me to bounce ideas off of if I want. Now? I was trapped in between one-way frequencies that were maxing out the speakers.

xoxo
X I N A

Once in a Blue Moon

Just two nights ago there was an absolutely breath-taking blue moon. And boy, did it certainly explain away a bout of questionable decisions and excessive emotional output.

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There's something to be said for finality. In fact, there's quite a bit to say about it as well. If there is one thing The Trip is not lacking, it's finality. Due to the sheer amount of land we're trying to cover in 40 days and the way in which we're trying to do it -- traveling primarily via back roads and making a hefty number of stops (you can blame my art form, I normally do) -- we don't have the time to stay anywhere more than a night or even just a couple of hours. This relentless move forward is the source of most of our difficulties, whether it be getting used to this style of living or logistical issues. For one, it certainly makes it difficult to entertain any sort of romantic notions with any of the folks we come across in our travels. 

I like to think that I've finally adapted to this ever-churning momentum. The other day we decided to make a push to drive "straight" down from the Black Hills of South Dakota to arrive a day early in Denver so we could spend a whole 36 hours there. *GASP* THIRTY SIX HOURS!!! The fact that we had time to just drive around and spend time in the city and surrounding area seemed like such a luxury, and it was. It was a luxury that ate away at my road-earned travel-calluses and started to suck dry the deep well of energy that is renewed by an endless stream of sensory stimuli. I needed to move. I needed to leave.

The curious thing is that the simple terms that plague the discussions of our travels ignore the complex knot of roots that are at the base of The American Roadtrip.

"To come" and "to go". "To leave" and "to stay". These verbs assume a fixed point in space, i.e. a place, a person, or really any other example that I can't think of because the coffee hasn't reached my bloodstream yet. What these verbs don't acknowledge is the complete absence of a central point. Our first Difficulty that led to our first Revelation was that our journey is not, in fact, composed of string of destinations. Rather, our trip is a long string upon which a number of points are precariously balanced, just waiting to be knocked off with the ever-changing swivel of the paths which we chose to travel.

Never before have I felt quite the need to get "the only thing that is constant is Change" tattooed across my face and branded across my chest in order to help deter the quite scoffs of disapproval from others, who are ready to assume this is the Wrong Way to see America, and even to quiet the persistent doubts of my own mind. More than that, it would be physical evidence of the internal change in my being.

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There is something so reassuring about the finality of a moment. Of knowing -- as it is happening -- that it will (probably) never happen again, at least it will never again happen in this way. Being somewhere. Seeing something. Or someone. Rather than realizing post facto that whatever Moment there was, was actually the Last of that Kind of Moment -- this awareness of the present moment is refreshing. You are simultaneously creating a new memory and reveling in the nostalgia of it before it's even over. This riptide leaves no time for the waiting room of Regret.

Every interaction we have on the road is so much more sacred because we yearn for the reliability of consistency. Minor conversations hold the crushing weight of substituting for whole relationships. We're breaking up with potential lovers before we finish giving our coffee order. The Blue Moon of the other night is the celestial guide of our varying everyday experiences -- for if our trip is a string of anything, it is a constellation of blue moons.

xoxo
X I N A

Don't Squat with Your Spurs on

There are many ways to plan a trip and if we use my great prowess in the academic field of Mathematics*, we can clearly see that there are infinite ways to plan our cross-country trip. To support this claim, I site the countless conversations leading up to and continuing throughout this journey. If there's one thing Americans all have in common, it is their incredible super-powered opinions on how best to see the country.

(*That Maths comment is heavily seasoned with sarcasm/irony/your tonal flavoring of choice.)

Everyone and their flea-infested semi-adopted local stray feels the need detail this Opinion. These insights are welcomed with open, sweaty-pitted arms -- the more local the better. Tell me about the "unique" little coffee shop that serves everything that Starbucks does, but with new names! About the town-square memorials (read: White History Monuments)!! About the Center for Diabetes -- ahem -- I mean, regional fast food establishment!!!

These little tidbits people have acquired from several years specializing in living in one area -- or the local grapevine -- largely come from places of goodwill. Occasionally an over-bearing Critical Cloud will roll in over Witty Banter and Amiable Conversation Town when Criticism tries to introduce itself as Advice. This plan is a brain child of mine, with a gestation period of about 25 months. It is very much my baby and Will has generously offered his time and love to help raise this baby. Like any parent, I readily seek pointers from more experienced child-rearers/travelers/artists/etc. But like any parent, the blatant and uninvited critical attack of my choices is less appreciated. Often, this comments are expected to be "excused" by our youth. I understand that people genuinely want to help us, especially because we are young and prone to mistakes. But as we move further West and nestle more comfortably into this current state of living, we learn more and more what works for us and what doesn't.

We are eternally grateful for all of the the love and support we've received and continue to receive every day. We only wish people would be more willing to accept the decisions we've made in order to achieve our artistic and thus *very personal* goals.

xoxo
X I N A

Having your Pie and Eating it too

You meet someone a world away on another continent, in another context, in what seems like another world from the one you're living in now. You spend day in and day out with them, sitting in well-lit yet drafty classrooms, learning a wide-range of subjects in a foreign language. The holidays roll around and they're leaving soon, but not before their parents come to visit. You meet their parents, who generously treat you to some local delicacies before casually extending an offer to come visit them if you ever get the chance.
Several hugs, even more smiles, and several hundred miles away, you meet the whole gang again. Another city, another holiday, a couple new characters (a sister, a brother-in-law), and another offer to visit. You scoff and politely thank them, not even wondering if you'd ever take them up on it.

And by "you" I actually mean ME.

The friend is Sara. The continent Europe. The parents Cheryl and Rich. The holiday is New Years Eve 2014. The offer? To stop by and say "hi" the next time I'm around Omaha, Nebraska.    As. If.

Well, as one could surmise from the above photo: we're here. In Omaha. Taking them up on that offer. So here, a quick summary of our visit so far in a cute lil humble brag of an adorable photo of Cheryl holding up an ~*~*InCrEd!bLe*~*~ homemade, from scratch, all sugar included, extra sprinkle on top, peach+raspberry pie :

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Let me show you another photo, one which I think pretty much sums up a lot of what we've seen since we've gotten out here to the MidWest (or, as I was kindly reminded by Cheryl: Nebraska - the Beginning of the West).

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This here photograph was taken from the Omaha World-Herald's article entitled "Crowning the best chip tosser".

Now, "chip" can refer to all manner of things. Potato chips, an alternative for "fries" if you're weird (read: British), micro-chips, to have chip on your shoulder, to be chip off the old block, etc. Fortunately, the Herald is not talking about any of these -- arguably -- more sanitary options.

The caption in this Saturday's picture reads: "Miss Northwest Nebraska, LaRissa McKean of Omaha, was hoping for a win of a different sort at the 2015 World Championship Chip Throw earlier this month during Fur Trade Days in Chadron, Nebraska."

So yes. All of those clods of brown earthy- consistency in the foreground, including the bit in mid-air, which had so recently been clasped in anticipation in Miss McKean's hand, are exactly what you think they are. Poop. Well. They're the highest grade of all-natural, organic, low-fat, gluten free, high fiber bison pies -- I mean excrement -- collected from herds at Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford and brought over -- by the truckload. Holy Shit!

Needless to say, my first reaction upon reading this first thing in the morning -- as I shoved  yet another super-scrumptious, homemade, from scratch, all sugar included, with extra drizzled on top, pecan sticky bun into my recently coffee washed mouth -- was outrage and disappointment. How could I miss such a glorious opportunity for photomaking!? The Americana! The Essence of the MidWest(TheBeginningoftheWest)! The chance to try my hand at flinging around another animals poop! And be rewarded for it!!!!!

I sighed in utter despair. I acknowledged that I would forever have a chip on my shoulder for not being able to witness such an incredible feat of American tradition. Here I sat, sucking sticky molasses off my fingers enjoying the all the home-baked goodness Nebraska Nice (#TheGoodLife #VisitNebraska #VisitNice #HomeofArborDay) could shovel onto my plate and thinking about the pointlessness of our journey.

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What does it mean to #VisitNebraska #VisitNice? What even is #NebraskaNice? Is it sitting here talking to the locals about 3/2 beers, where they could buy Coors back in the day and how happy they were when they did? Or is it digging through mounds of fresh, hot, organic clumps of bison doo-doo in order to pick the perfect dough for your soon-to-be-airborne pie so that you may launch it into the great abyss of Chadron's Main Street, hoping to surpass the difficult 100ft+ mark, and be crowned 2015's World Chip Throwing Champion as I thrust a gold-plated pie in the air?!

The answer is so glaringly obvious I can't bear to see it writing.

See you in 2016, Chadron, Nebraska.

xoxo
X I N A

The Wrong Side of Morning

I might have been coming at mornings from the wrong angle. I tend towards the side that pushes the limits of the calendar and puts doubt into the hearts of watches everywhere. A longtime all-nighter enthusiast, I figured that the first inklings of sleep deprivation were the real fuel to the fire of my creativity.
Sitting in the passenger seat of a Prius on the side of a residential street in a foliage-ridden neighborhood in Indiana with my pillow and hopes for sleep after just 4hrs of shuteye this mornight, I'm forced to reconsider.

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I am a crumpled V, my long lines wilting in the morning dew and the confines of space. If one were to see a cross-section of my chosen sleeping position, one would surely lecture about the benefits of good posture and proper stretching. I don't have time for that. Squished between a headrest and a pillow, my mind is a dryer on high -- restoring recognizable structure to saturated ideas and letting them tumble together into chunks. My eyes are covered into a pseudo darkness and I remove this clumps and shake them out, folding them as nonchalantly as my mild OCD will allow.

O based God, let me shake and weez with the contentment of mostly unsatisfactory sleep. My wish to regain a need to write does not need to be granted now. I will gladly pay the traditional tribute by imbibing inappropriate amounts of caffeine that it normally takes to be gifted Motivation.

This revelation seems to come too late (or is it too early?) as I am already hundreds (or is it thousands?) of incidents into my Voluntary Sleep Deprivation career. Frankly, I am I'll prepared for such a shift in my psyche. When I was warned of the Uncertainty of my Twenties, I had no idea it would rock me so thoroughly to the core. I've based my entire food consumption schedule, and thus my personality, off the severe reassurance of my Night Person-ness. Take this pillar, upon which the rest of my being balances so precariously, and there will be nothing left that resembles a sense of humanity.

I don't know, maybe I'm just tired.

xoxo
X I N A

Indinois and the two Bloomingtons

As it turns out, there are two Bloomington’s. That’s a lie. Actually, there are quite a few Bloomington’s, maybe even hundreds. I’d hazard a guess at just how many, but my estimations tend to be quite hazardous.

Anyway, there is more than one Bloomington. And in today’s episode of It Turns Out We Don’t Really Know That Much About Geography Despite How Much We Love Maps, starring Occasionally McDumb and Slightly O’Stupid, this tidbit is crux of our drama.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have our call for shelter answered so enthusiastically that we’ve needed to turn people down. We only have time to spend a night — a bit of a nap, really — most places (read: every place). Metropolitan areas tend to be the trickiest. For example, we have about 237 (rough estimate) connections in Chicago, and, unfortunately, not enough time to do the rounds. There are huge swaths of the country where we know no one, so when someone mentions they live in Nebraska or Montana, this is big news.

Bloomington was one of those locations.

~~~
“You mean to say you know someone who lives out in the middle of almost nowhere Indiana? And we could *stay* with them?!”
~~~

These kinds of tips are immediately logged into our book as IMPORTANT and COULD SAVE US FROM POSSIBLE STARVATION and WILL ADD PURPOSE TO THIS LEG OF THE TRIP.

To add a little anecdotal drama to the story: I had ordered a ton of film for the first part of our expedition, but too late. It arrived the same day that we left PA, but about 5 hours after we’d already put Newtown in our rearview mirror. My super helpful and resourceful photo assistant (read: Dad) offered to mail this film along to Bloomington. I’d given him the address I’d received and thought nothing of it.

The next couple of days found mentions of Bloomington, as the conversation would inevitably lead to The Trip. It is –honestly– the only topic we’ve talked about this whole time (except for those two hours that we fought about what art is and who determines what can be considered art). Every time Bloomington came up I had to catch myself because I kept wanting to say: “BloomingtonIndiana” even though I *KNEW* we were head to “BloomingtonIllinois”.

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At this point you may be thinking, “wait, I thought she said she had a sweet shelter hookup in Indiana?” You would be correct, so if you wouldn’t mind calling/texting/emailing/etc me about 48hrs earlier than RIGHTNOW, it would be much appreciated. I should’ve clued into my mental/speech block preventing me from accepting Illinois as our next destination, but I didn’t. It took calling my dad in a musty bookstore in Milwaukee to comment on the seemingly sad windswept affairs of Wisconsin in order for me to set things straight.

Like any good father, he casually instilled fear into my heart. This time, it was by saying he mailed all of the film I needed to INDIANA, not ILLINOIS.

Like any good daughter, I thought he had royally, and foolishly, screwed up by sending my stuff to the wrong state.

Lucky for all parties involved, especially all that unused film, the fear burrowed and blossomed in my ribcage and I checked the address of our next shelter.

He was right.

Or actually…I was right, originally anyway.

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This tacked almost a whole two hours onto our trip, not including all of the unpredictable photo making stops. We were frantic. We sped on impossibly straight back roads down from Milwaukee, around Chicago and Gary to Bloomington, INDIANA. Or, as I like to call it, TheRightBloomington. –Please pause to note the crafty reference to relative geographical location.– we sped so swiftly on these roads meant for speeding that we didn’t even notice the cop hiding behind the corn – CORN! – until we’d already passed him at 20+ miles over the speed limit. We then noted, with alarm, that there must be a serious speeding problem in backwoods Indiana because the cop didn’t even flinch.

This unexpected change of plans took us through the largest grouping of wind turbines we’ve ever seen and taught us the necessity for renaming Illinois and Indiana as East and West Indinois, respectively. Hey, it worked for the Carolinas and the Dakotas. Maybe it will even inspire a whole trend of kid naming, because I don’t see Illinois or Indiana catching on anytime soon.

-X I N A-

#Indinois2k15

 

 

The Calm Before

You’ll want to know what it’s like. Kind of empty, really. Difficult to understand. People ask you to describe. They ask about her. They make generalizations. They talk about the old times. This is what’s happening now, or what’s assumed to happen tomorrow at noon. Kind of frantic, like a cat might be in the measured fractions before the pounce.

Will, how you feeling? What’s goin’ on in there? Are you nervous?

Anticipation has many forms. There’s the giddy format, the jittering suspense of standing in today’s grass when tomorrow’s oversaturated lawn seems to catch the sunlight. Then there’s fear, the gnawing wasp that circles the silent classroom during testing. Some may describe the grinning anticipation of prediction, the mousetrap in motion. Others remember the structure of desperation, when your hands move faster than those on your wrist. Finally, there’s plain-old expectation. That’s when your aunt’s wedding date rides in the saddle of your brain until maybe you remember the location and it slaps the reigns hard enough to bring it out of a trot and into a canter. None of these answer the question.

 Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Let’s start over. My name is William Wolff Herbert, and I’m going to be accompanying Xina throughout New America. She’s been a co-conspirator of mine for awhile now, but this is the biggest, most ambitious scheme we’ve ever pulled. You might even say we’re not prepared. Well, you might say I’m not really prepared. With a background in game design and a passion for music, it’s hard to tell why a talented artist like Xina would want me as a partner on a cross-country artmaking road trip. The BFA in digital art probably helps, as do my award-winning narrative-driven games and my minor in English. Hopefully it’s starting to come together.

As for the trip itself, the clock has struck midnight, and my secondhand Toyota Prius has transfigured itself into a transcontinental, road-ready pumpkin. Unbelievably, our journey starts tomorrow at noon. So when people ask what it feels like to anticipate six nomadic weeks as a traveling, two-man circus, I’m expected to produce an answer. The thing is, my mind goes blank. The anticipation is purely physical. I don’t sleep, I won’t eat, and I can’t fathom an emotion save dry, unadulterated boredom. I feel mechanical.

 Photo by Will Wolff

Photo by Will Wolff

Really, though, The Quest West began weeks ago. It was thrust upon me when the campaign ended, during the time I spent negotiating routes with Xina, and as the last of belongings crossed over the Massachusetts border into the Eastern beyond (Connecticut). That’s when I started snapping photos, and that’s when I started stewing the themes in my mind that will eventually translate into my poetry and fiction.

This past week has been similar. Trips to Costco, REI, Target, CVS, Best Buy, and Dick’s have fashioned our hours and minutes. I’ve driven across the river to Newtown, and Xina’s driven back to Skillman. We tinted our windows. I spent time crafting a system for writing digitally in the passenger’s seat. Xina drove the red-eye down to Washington for her visa. A professional wilderness instructor consulted our plans and preparations. I was offered suggestions on the best freeze-dried meals. More often than not, trunks were packed and re-packed.

You might think it unusual to go into a trip without a clear plan of what’s ahead, or where you’ll be sleeping, but for Xina and I, it’s all part of the journey. Just as our mistakes teach us more about ourselves and the world around us, flying blind will show us more about America than any civil war re-enactor ever could. So, with the car packed and a change of clothes in the back, we’re ready to get our hands dirty. We’ve reached for the heavens, and we’ve prepared for the storm. From here on out, we’re bound to the idea that an understanding of rain requires you to get a little wet. So stay with us, watch the forecast, and who knows? You might even catch a little moisture on the way.

Until next time,
Will

backstory

Let us introduce ourselves. We are Xina Graham-Vannais (a photographer), and William Wolff Herbert (a storyteller): two young, motivated artists with a few holes in our wallet where the cash usually goes. We are long time friends, artists, and collaborators. We are two of a generation of freshly-educated artists who are prepared to take on the preconceived notions of our nation and the art it has inspired.

We want to find the New America — where everything is still possible and nothing is left untouched. That strange country where you can eat the same sandwich in every state or sample fish from both coasts in the same day. We want to find the New America — where womyn run cities, where minorities outnumber the assumed “majority,” and where you can still die over your sexual orientation. We want to find, to capture and to create, to build a web over so many states that the country can be outlined in our footsteps.

We will travel the same roads that have been the paths of great migrations and quests west for generations. We will redefine them with the photographic and written works they inspire in us.