Who am I, and why the blazes am I going sideways?

Well, I’m Naomi, and I love to go pretty much anywhere, from the far side of town to the dark side of the moon. When I started, I tried to do it pretty straightforwardly. You know… put one foot in front of the other, check off your goals, and you’ll get where you’re going. Right? That’s what I was always taught. I grew up in a very ambitious family — my parents were both lawyers, super-smart, and they were pretty young when I was born. They hadn’t yet seen the twists and turns life takes. So they expected my life to go as smoothly as theirs had done so far.

Spoilers: it didn’t. (In fact, neither did theirs.)

See, I’m chronically ill, and that has affected everything I’ve ever tried to do. I have severe fibromyalgia — if you don’t know it, it’s a systemic, probably-neurological disorder that can cause a whole lot of weird symptoms, from all-over pain and fatigue to insomnia, migraines, nausea, and depression. It ranges from being a royal nuisance to being completely incapacitating, depending on the week. Oh yeah, and I have a chronic anxiety disorder mixed in there as well.

Both of those cropped up in my teens. Suddenly, there was a lot that I couldn’t do. I couldn’t finish college. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t live on my own.

But I could travel — at least sometimes, carefully — and it fast became my absolute favorite thing to do. I spent my early adulthood going everywhere I could get to. I took two trips to Israel and one to France, and several cruises ranging from the Caribbean to Alaska to the Canadian Maritimes. I drove from coast to coast across North America, and I took every long distance railroad route in the United States except one (I’m gonna get that last one someday).

And then I got married and had kids, and I mostly stopped going places. Occasionally there were family vacations, or science fiction or music conventions, but most of the time, I stayed home with my children. There was a whole decade when I think I moved house more often than I traveled just for the joy of it.

As I got older, traveling got harder. You get tired, you know? Things start to fall into routines. I had more responsibilities, and it took more to make me feel physically comfortable than it did when I was young, which made backpacking and other types of travel without creature comforts more and more difficult. And talking of creatures, first I had pets and then I had babies, and both are difficult to leave behind with even the most trusted caregiver.

With all of this happening to me, it became much easy to stay home — to take care of the people and the cats and myself — instead of traveling the world in search of adventures. And that was all genuinely okay for a while. It was even an adventure of its own kind. I love being a mom, and I adore my children, and it was special being able to spend two decades raising them as my top priority. But it’s not the only kind of adventure I want to have in this lifetime, either. Wasn’t then and isn’t now.

So, when I found myself about to turn fifty, I kind of panicked. My kids were 16 and 14, and I knew they weren’t going to be living with me forever. What was I going to do with myself after they were off making lives of their own? What did I even WANT to do? And if I could figure out what I wanted, how would I get there?

Sometimes all it takes is knowing how to ask the right questions. As soon as I had them, the answers began to shout at me, good and loud, from inside my head:

I want to travel. Everywhere. A lot. And I don’t have the foggiest idea how I’m going to get there, but if I wait until I do know, I’m never going to begin. I have to begin NOW.

So I began. I started to plan a dream safari to Africa for my fiftieth birthday, and called it the first step. What I would do after that, I still didn’t know. I didn’t have a ton of money, but I believed (and still do) that if I’m careful and creative, I’ll find a way to do this with what I do have. My mother, bless her, offered to pay my airfare for that first trip… if I would go to the country in her favorite books and bring her back pictures. The books were the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and the country is Botswana. I agreed, and Botswana became the first country on my safari itinerary.

We set the whole thing up in summer of 2019, all ready for my birthday in January 2020. And then two things happened. The second was, of course, the Covid pandemic.

The first was that Mom’s cancer, which we had every reason to think was under control, metastasized. In 24 hours, we went from thinking she was about to have surgery and then be finished with treatment, to being told she had maybe six months to live. She ended up with four.

I put off the trip by a year as soon as we heard about Mom’s condition. My immediate priority was to spend as much time with her as I could. She died in December of 2019… earlier than we had hoped, but also early enough that we were able to be there holding her hands instead of far away, with visitors forbidden due to the virus that came roaring across the world only a few weeks later.

Now it’s December of 2021. The second anniversary of Mom’s death is just days away as I write this. I’ve been postponing the trip for all of the last two years, waiting for the pandemic to be over… but one thing I’m starting to learn as I find myself staring 52 in the face is that nothing is ever exactly that clear cut. This pandemic is likely to get under control eventually, but I couldn’t say when, and I have no way to tell whether, if I put off my trip by another year, I will find that it’s a worse time for it next January than it was this one.

So unless I’m forced to delay by a positive Covid test or a closed border, I’m going on the whole big beautiful thing. And yes of course I’m scared — anxiety disorder, remember? — but I’m not letting that stop me. If I can’t get where I want to go by one route, I’ll try another, and I’ll keep trying new ways till I figure it out. I still haven’t figured out whether this is gutsy or stupid or both… I guess we’ll only find that out when we see whether or not I get away with it.

But I can’t wait until it’s easy. I’ve spent the last twenty years waiting to go adventuring until it grew easier, and if I don’t get moving I’ll still be sitting here after another twenty.

That’s why we’re called Going Sideways. It seemed like a name perfectly suited both to this whole pandemic we’re all muddling through, and to the grand project of trying to having a life of adventure and excitement and joy while you’re battling chronic pain and fatigue and anxiety. I don’t know exactly how to get where I want to go, I only know that it probably won’t happen by just putting one foot in front of the other and marching in a straight line. Because maybe there are people that works for, but I’ve never been one of them.

So that’s the who, and the where, and the why of this blog. I’m still working out all the hows, but I hope you’ll come along for the ride as I figure it out! I think it’s going to be quite a trip… literal and figurative. First I’ll be bringing you with me to Africa — write up every day of a six week adventure, send home the stories garnished with a lot of photos, and offer it all to you in as close to realtime as we can make happen. My brother Steve will post for me when I can’t get access directly from camps too far out in the bush.

(Steve, Chance and I make up the Going Sideways team, by the way. Chance is the crab mascot whose picture is attached to this post. His name is short for Crab Who Takes Chances. He comes with me everywhere I travel; look for him in the photos! Steve is my brother, my travel companion and my tech support. He isn’t coming with me on this first trip, but he’ll be with me on a lot of the others, later. He’ll also make sure I don’t do something horribly wrong when I try to post, and cause my computer to halt and catch fire.)

After Africa, I’ll come home and write about other trips I take, and what I’m doing in between them, and how I’m managing the chronic illness, and anything else that I think might be interesting or that you tell me you want to know. Steve will probably write occasionally too. He’s had a weirdly adventurous life of his own. He’s kind of my hero in this whole project, because he has a real knack for saying yes to anything that he doesn’t have a very clear reason not to do. It’s brought wonders into his life. I’m trying to be more like that.

This isn’t going to be one of those high end travel and lifestyle blogs where you see a carefully curated image, a life composed of scripted or semi-scripted high points. I can’t write that way and I know for darn sure that I don’t live that way! I blunder, I stumble backwards, I pick myself up and try again. I usually end up getting more or less where I want to be, or maybe someplace else that I’ve decided along the way that I would rather be instead… but never in anything that looks much like a straight line.

So that’s why, when I decided to write about my experiences with travel and fibromyalgia and anxiety and life in general, and share it with you, I knew it would have to be called Going Sideways. Because going sideways is usually used to mean “going all wrong,” but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can go sideways and get where you were aiming for. And even if you don’t, you can still get someplace else worthwhile.

Come along with me, and let’s see where we end up!