Becoming a Writer

For four years, I worked for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington state.  That means that I was working for the state department of Education.

I worked with a group of students who were learning English as a Second Language.  They’re good kids.  I had great colleagues.  I had marvelous bosses.  I got to travel and do meaningful work.

My friends in Washington state are fantastic people.  I made a decent living, and I was able to buy a house and get a dog.

Nevertheless, something bit at me.  Education wasn’t the field that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in.  I wanted to write books.  More than that, I wanted to write books that people love to read.

I tried to write books after work.  I would begin a book then stall out.  I didn’t have the mental energy to push them through to the end.  I was tired when I got home, and I either wanted to be with my friends or go skateboarding.  Or both.

In the beginning of 2018, at the end of a long, dark, wet winter in Washington state, I decided that I needed a change.  I needed to change my career, and I decided that I was going to do it.

So I did.

This is the post about how I changed my career and my life.

I started off with a very basic emotion: fear.

I was afraid of ending my days doing a job that I liked but did not love.

I was afraid of being without a job and money.

Most of all, however, I was afraid of not trying to achieve my goal of being a writer.  I was very afraid that if I died and did not try to do the thing that I really loved—to write—then I would forever sell myself short.

There were many decisions to be made.  I needed first to decide where I wanted to go.

After months of deliberation, I settled on a beach town in Mexico.

There were a few reasons.  America seemed too expensive to live in without a regular income, even in states with a low cost of living.

Faraway places would require airfare, and I could take fewer things.  I would need to re-purchase more things once I arrived.

I could drive to Mexico, and I could be near the ocean.  I love to swim.  I love warm weather.  I love fruits and coffee.  I love the Mexican people.

So I chose Mexico.

When I left Washington state, I could not take everything with me.  The hardest things to leave behind were my friends.

I also needed to decide what to do with the house I owned.  First, I considered selling it.  I got an estimate.  I looked at my property taxes.  I looked at comparable housing prices.

Then I spoke with a property management company.  My friend and I spent hours fixing the place up, then I rented it out.  Despite the repairs that we did, the property management company wanted to do more, and I consented.

Renting a house is expensive.  My property management company charges high fees for every repair.  They charge a monthly fee.  They took a cut for a finder’s fee.  They recommended that I increase my renter’s insurance premiums, and I consented.

But the property management company manages the property so that I don’t have to, which is exactly what I want them to do.

Next I needed to decide what to do about my car insurance.  I called my insurance company, and they said I would not be covered in Mexico.  They recommended a Mexican insurance company.  I cancelled my insurance.

I next needed to decide what to do about my health insurance.  I was covered during the time that I was in the United States because of the job that I was in.  I would not be covered in Mexico.  I have no health insurance.

Then it was time for packing.  I knew that I could not pack everything.  I called two estate sale companies, and they offered to give me a fraction of what I thought my furniture was worth.  I thought that I could do better myself.  So I started selling my furniture on OfferUp and Craigslist.  I sold my bed, my sofa, my kitchen table, my end table, my dresser, and more.  I gave my radial arm saw to a friend.  I sold almost everything.  I did not get a good return, but I did better than I would have with an estate sale company.

Next I needed to pack.  I only packed what I could carry in my pickup.  I brought clothes, a coffee pot, forks and knives, a skillet, and the things that I needed to write.  I bought plastic containers for them, and I tied everything down.

Then I set off south one winter’s night.  It was Friday, December 7th, 2018.

I drove south through Washington state along I-5.  I crossed into Oregon.  The way was rainy and dark through Oregon, and the wind whipped the rain in sheets.

I stopped at around 3 in the morning at a semi-abandoned parking lot in a small, quiet town in southern Oregon.  I got a few hours’ sleep.  It was cold, and I woke up every twenty minutes or so to turn on the heat in my truck.  My truck would heat up, then I would turn it off, and I’d go to sleep.  Then I’d wake up again from the cold and repeat the process.

Around 6 in the morning, I decided to start driving again.  It was still dark.  In northern California, there was snow on the mountains, and I drove til I reached a small rest stop near Yreka.  There I slept for a few more hours.

When I woke again, it was near 9 in the morning, and I drove south to Santa Cruz.  My friends were having a holiday soirée at 6 in the evening, and I made it to the party.

At the party, I got to sample new 3-D technology and new technology for headphones.  One of the hosts is involved in the R&D side of the music industry.

The next morning, my generous hosts gave me books and breakfast, and I went on my way.  I drove to Joshua Tree National Park, and it was dark when I arrived.  I spent the night there.

When I woke up, there were perhaps forty or forty-five other campers dotted around nearby.  They moved about getting coffee and scratching their faces and stretching in the cold morning air.  All of the other campers were men.  Not one of them was a woman.  I don’t know the reason for this.

When I crossed the border at Mexicali, I got a visa, and I bought a permit for $300 to bring my car into Mexico.  Both the visa and permit last for six months.

I then drove down the Baja peninsula on Highway 5.  Part of the road had been washed out by a hurricane during the summer, and I needed four wheel drive twice.

There are cattle on the road, and it’s difficult to see them.  I would stop at dusk, and I’d spend the night in my car.  But, even as it got dusky, the cattle would be out.  Even driving slowly, I almost hit cows on more than one occasion.  They are very difficult to see in the low light, and there are hills and corners that limit visibility.

On December 11th, at a place called Coco’s Corner, I stopped.  Coco’s Corner is a place in the middle of the desert.  There is no other habitation for miles, but at Coco’s Corner there is a house-like building that advertises beer.  I went in for one.

There is only one man who lives there, in this house that he built by himself.  He has lost his legs.  On his walls, he’s hung women’s underwear.  He uses solar panels for electricity.  I realized that he’d become unsocialized in a way that spoke to many years of isolation.  I paid for my beer, was polite to him, and I left.

As I left, a truck pulled up.  It was a dusty semi.  Its driver wanted to sleep for a few hours, and he was carrying a highway worker whom the government had not paid, because the government had stopped paying its workers.  This, I feel, was true.  The road had been washed out, and the half-finished work sites that I’d passed looked like they’d been abandoned for weeks.

The worker asked if he could get a ride with me, and I agreed.  Along the way, we passed many more places where highway work had stopped.  In some places, the road was gone.  In these parts, it was confusing to know which direction was correct.  My passenger knew the route, and he helped me find the way.  I took him as far as Guerrero Negro, across the state border into Baja Sur.  

Baja Sur featured many beautiful views.  The water was a deep blue.  There were cacti and mountains.  In parts of the country, it seemed desolate.

I drove until I reached La Paz.

In La Paz, I needed to catch the ferry which would leave the next night.  So, I stayed the first night in my truck, and the next day I went skateboarding, ate tacos, and got my hair cut.  That night, I caught the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan.  The ferry ride lasted 12 hours, and it traveled during the night across the Sea of Cortez.  I slept on the floor of the boat, as did many other people.  It was hard and very cold.  They kept an air conditioner running all night.  But the ferry transported both me and my car, and it delivered us both safely.  It also served a hot, hearty dinner and breakfast.

Mazatlan appeared very jungly.  It had a tall white church that you could see from the sea.  As the ferry motored up to the harbor, I spoke with four motorcyclists who were planning to ride through the country on their bikes.  They were in their early fifties, and they spoke of how they did not like to feel tied down.

In Mazatlan, I stopped for gas, then I headed south to the beach town.  When I arrived, I spent the first night in my truck.  I spent a day talking with people and asking about housing.  I found housing, and I moved in.  I have been here ever since.

Every day I write, and I go swimming in the ocean.  I write in the morning, and I write at night.  I write, write, write, write.  I finished my first book in four months, and now I have begun sending the manuscript to agents.  I’ve started getting replies, and I’ve started working on this website and drafting a second manuscript.

I plan to keep writing until I can’t anymore.

And that’s that.