West Meets East

A Western man travels East in search of love, opportunity and happiness.

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Name:Michael Strickland

This blog chronicles my adventures as I leave my native California and travel east to northern Virginia to start a new life. I can only imagine the funny stories I'll recount here as I experience a wildly different climate, culture and way of life.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Photos Posted

For those who followed this blog during my cross-country drive, you might want to check out selected photos from the journey. I finally got around to posting them on my travel site, Travels to Distant [strick]Lands. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

White Thanksgiving

I've been dreaming of a White Christmas, but I never imagined I'd have a White Thanksgiving! Last night, after dark, snowflakes began floating down from the sky. My first snow since moving out here! Those of you who have lived through snowy winters will probably laugh at me and rightly mock me for being excited about something that will give me headaches by February and March. Especially since the snow that fell last night was already gone by the morning.

But it is a milestone of sorts. As an occasional skier, I'm no stranger to snow, but I have never lived for an extended period in a place that gets snow (other than the brutal winter months I spent north of Chicago in Navy boot camp). So, naive though I may be, this first snowfall excites me! Laugh all you want... CJ already has....

Happy Thanksgiving!


Picture postcard view of the front of CJ's townhouse

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Brrrrrr!

Well, I can't call myself "bone dry" anymore. Last week, I attended a happy hour put on by a local scuba diving club. This morning, one of the divers I met took me to a local quarry for some real "Virginia diving." I was so desperate to get wet, I would have been happy diving the local creekbed! Which was fortunate. Had I been less enthusiastic, the temperature might have talked me out of it. As it was, I dived the coldest water I've ever been in... close to the bottom of the lake, around 70 feet, I looked at my gauge: 42 degrees! BRRRRR!

I can't say I saw the kinds of things I've normally seen during past dives—no lobsters, no bat rays, no octopi. But I saw lots of other unexpected things: a truck, a swing set, a school bus, a dentist's chair... a small plane. These Virginia divers are creative! I even spotted an old Chevy on cinder blocks... No divers spotting a mullet nearby, though.

Cold as it was, I had a great time. The coldest day diving beats the warmest day in an office. But I can't say I'll be diving the quarry again anytime soon. Sure, this week's weather forecast calls for high temperatures in the 40s, with a chance of a White Thanksgiving. That quarry water won't be getting warmer anytime soon. But I'd still try another dive—except that today was the last diving day of the season. I guess 42 degrees was cold enough for them. And now that I think about it, I guess it was for me too.


The schoolbus at Millbrook Quarry (I hopped aboard and swam to the other end).

Monday, November 14, 2005

NaNoWriMo

Official NaNoWriMo 2005 ParticipantNo, that isn't some bizarre shortening of "Nah, Not Writing More." It's the pseudo-acronym for National Novel Writing Month. And I just jumped head-first into the deep end. NaNoWriMo is a month-long challenge to lazy writers everywhere (especially yours truly) to get off their asses and write a novel in 30 days or less. That's right, 50,000 words (not one word less) in one month.

We writers treasure our procrastination, give it loving attention, cultivate it like a delicate flower. So this "contest" is a sledgehammer to our verbal glass-blowing. Forget about writing well, screw the careful construction, just write, write, write. It's all about word count. The idea is, by locking up the internal critic for a month and cracking the whip, we'll break our writers' blocks and actually produce a body of work. And if a few of us are lucky, the end result might have a scene or two worth salvaging (or it could even become a novel someone might want to read, after many page-one rewrites).

Lucky me, I forgot all about this big event until November 10, so in order to participate, I have to do it in two-thirds the time everyone else got. But I figure it's worth the effort, even if I don't reach the 50K mark. At least I'll smash a few windows in my mind along the way and let some fresh air inside.

Barring any big events worth reporting immediately, I probably won't be adding to this blog till December (unless I give up, and then I'll be too embarassed to post here anyway). In the meantime, you can look me up at the NaNoWriMo site under the name "Crapsmith" if you want to read an excerpt and follow my progress.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Thank You, Veterans

Today is Veteran's Day. This holiday, meant to recognize those who served our nation in wars and conflicts, originated as "Armistice Day" at the end of World War I (which ended in "the eleventh hour" on this date in 1918). Though another holiday (Memorial Day) recognizes those who fell in combat, it's useful to contemplate the number of people killed in past wars.

Fourteen million people died in World War I (9 million soldiers, 5 million civilians). The number of war dead more than quadrupled in World War II, when 62 million people (38 million civilians, 24 million soldiers) perished. Take a moment to reflect on those vast numbers. There are many countries in the world whose total population does not come anywhere near those numbers.

Next time you hear the mass media focus on some artificial milestone of casualties in Iraq, think again about the numbers above. The loss of even one soldier or civilian is lamentable, but our generation has long forgotten the truly tragic proportions of past wars. With what's at stake in our current war, and what we've already accomplished, I'd say the number of war dead is amazingly low in comparison.

If you know a veteran, tell him or her "thank you" today.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Peaks and Valleys

In high school, I participated in a yearlong study abroad program to Honduras. One of the many pamphlets they sent with us contained a detailed graph illustrating the stages of adjustment to a new environment and culture. I gave it a brief glance before stuffing it away with all the other paperwork.

A few months into my stay, after experiencing many highs and lows, I pulled out that graph and looked at it again. This time, with personal history to compare against it, I was shocked to see how accurately the graph depicted the adjustment process. The peaks and valleys of the graph almost exactly mirrored the peaks and valleys I had already experienced: the euphoria of visiting a new country, the struggle with the language barrier, the pride at overcoming that barrier, the pangs of homesickness, the sense of belonging after successfully integrating, and so on. The highs and lows were so evenly matched that the graph could have been mistaken for the regular ebb and flow of ocean tides. For the rest of the year, I kept the graph close at hand. Its accuracy was so spot-on that I could almost use it as a predictor of how things would go in the future.

Since that adventure, I’ve gone through other adjustments related to relocation. During the Navy, my “home” changed on a regular basis. After leaving the military, I relocated from San Diego to San Luis Obispo (California’s Central Coast, halfway between L.A. and San Francisco), where I didn’t know anyone. Each time, I faced similar stages of adjustment, a series of highs and lows before reaching a stable state of integration.

And now, I’ve done it again; this time, I moved to the East Coast, a place almost as foreign as Honduras (just kidding). Since I began this blog, more than one person has commented on the change of tone in my writing, which has ranged from initial excitement to expressions of negativity. While I’ve certainly hit some low points, sometimes questioning my actions, it’s only the natural adjustment to such a huge life change. I’ve also had some great times out here, and life with CJ makes it all worthwhile. What you might perceive from my reports are the same peaks and valleys I’ve had to get through during past relocations. You’ll continue to read negative posts along with the positive ones, just as I’ll continue to experience highs and lows while I acclimate to my new life.

Note: For those interested, I think I located the original graph referenced above: Rhinesmith's Ten Stages of Adjustment.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bone-Dry

For someone like me who loves scuba diving, this has been quite a dry spell. I knew that one thing I’d be giving up by moving from San Diego to Virginia was easy, anytime access to year-round diving. Here, the ocean is at least a couple of hours away, and the only decent diving within driving distance (unless you count lakes and quarries) is the wreck diving on North Carolina’s maritime graveyards. There, the Gulf Stream brings warm Caribbean waters, but the seas are unpredictable and topside temperatures make off-season diving unheard of. And any dive trip there would also be a road trip, not a same-day diving excursion.

But like I said, I knew this before I moved. I didn’t dive every weekend in San Diego, and I told myself that moving out here was a trade-off: on the East Coast, at least, I was much closer to the Caribbean, making long weekend trips to places like the Bahamas feasible. But as close as those tropical destinations are, such trips still require more effort than a last-minute, Friday-night decision to go diving Saturday morning.

For now, I’ll have to remain a bone-dry diver. At least I know CJ will always be ready for a dive trip. As a self-confessed “WWW” (Warm Water Wimp), she might not be as eager as me to jump in the water in San Diego over the holidays. But she shares my passion for diving—after all, that’s how we met—so talking her into a trip to the Caribbean will be almost as easy as convincing her to go shopping at the mall. (Well, I did say almost.)


Mike diving Catalina Island's kelp forests, Winter 2005