Travel Narrative

A Big Announcement Which Is Only Vaguely Travel-Related

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This is the story of how a trip to Minnesota and South Dakota changed my life, and a request for all of you to help me make that change.

It is a story which is only 66% about travel. So I’ll begin with the other 33%.

Those of you who know me in real life–and even some of you who only know me virtually–are aware that I’ve been going through a variety of struggles lately. One of the main struggles surrounds my current employment status. Or, rather, lack thereof. For those of you who are unaware of this situation, here’s the Readers’ Digest Version:

I was a teacher for ten years. For the most part, I loved it. Then, in 2013, I was given an opportunity to transition into a consulting role, working to improve teaching and learning through technology in districts across the country. I did that for two years. I loved it (again, for the most part. No job is perfect.) It allowed me to see what was happening in schools all across America, it gave me the opportunity to travel more than anyone ever should, and it helped me grow as a person and a professional. Then, this past April, the company with which I was contracting no longer needed my services. Thus, I’ve spent the past almost-six-months looking for similar work on a darn-near full-time basis (I will provide photos of my desk-chair butt-divot for proof, if needed.) I was looking for something in the ed tech field, or anything having to do with professional development. I’ve filled out approximately one million applications, LinkedIn-stalked hundreds of HR people and heads of companies, and had more than my share of phone and Google-Hangout interviews. The result? The determination that I have a fabulous resume, am bright and passionate, but I live in the wrong part of the country and/or the company decided to go another way and/or the position is no longer available. So here I sit in my desk-chair butt-divot, non-employed.

A funny thing happens when you find yourself out of work. Suddenly everyone and your mother (especially your mother) has suggestions of things you can do for a living. All are well-meaning, but few (if any) are realistic. Thus, I’ve spent the last almost-six-months telling people that no, I’m not going to ‘just become a writer’ and no, I’m not just going to ‘just become a photographer’ simply because ‘I’m really good at writing and photography’.  What I need is a Real Job (insert registered trademark) provided by a company willing to pay me X amount of dollars for X amount of work. After all, I’m a grown up with a mortgage and stuff. And freelance writer slash photographer is not a Real Job. Right?

And then I spent the last week in Minnesota and South Dakota, driving across the prairie, climbing across the badlands, hiking in the black hills, and learning all about frontier life. Here’s what I learned:

Life-Changing Lessons On the Prairie

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-You know Laura Ingalls? The lovable little girl from the Little House books and from the even more popular Michael Landon-produced TV series? Yeah. Her life was not easy. In fact, it resembled the Michael Landon series in almost no way. Most of her life was spent huddled in a tent or in a small underground dugout leaning into the warmth of a fire made from twisted-together prairie grass (because there were no trees on the prairie, and often in the winter the coal-trains could not pass through the snow). And do you know who’s life was even harder? Ma and Pa Ingalls. They packed up that covered wagon countless times and spent months in transit on each journey, trying to build and re-build a life for themselves after drought, the U.S. government, and clouds of freaking grasshoppers ruined each attempt at settling somewhere permanently. They did this while raising three children, and in the process lost a fourth child. In short, life was tough. But they lived. And eventually built an actual house. And eventually they had a Michael Landon-produced tv series made about them (erroneous as said tv series may have been).

-The prairie is freaking huge. Most of South Dakota is an actual sea of grassland and farmland, stretching off into forever. It is scary. It is scary in 2015 in a rented Chrysler 200 with mostly-working iPhone GPS. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the first people looking to settle there. If something went wrong, you died. Yet people still went. People still packed up their families and built tiny, rickety homesteads, gambling that they could stay alive for five years to prove up on the claim. The Homestead Act was less an act and more of a double-dog-dare. A dare which thousands of people took, and many (but not all) won.

-Have you ever heard of the Crazy Horse Memorial? It’s a barely-complete memorial which was initially built by one absolutely insane Korczak Ziolkowski. The work is continued to this day by several of his ten children. This is a man who looked at a mountain and said: I can turn that into a seven hundred foot high sculpture of a native chief who’s likeness has never even been captured, save for some passed-down descriptions. Sure. I can totally do that. And so he climbed to the top of the mountain every day for the rest of his life, slowly chiseling out the face of Crazy Horse. You know, while also raising ten children. And then he turned the entire site into a festival of capitalism, ensuring that money would continue to fund the slow progress of the monument (but more on that in a later post). In the beginning, he carried fifty pound bags of explosives up and down the six hundred foot mountain on his shoulders. Repeatedly. Every day.

I learned many other things–things about gold miners and Lewis and Clark and the Lakota people. And one theme remained throughout: these people were seriously bad-ass, and they didn’t let things like mountains or clouds of grasshoppers or the threat of dysentery get in the way of their dreams.

So I started thinking: damn. I am a wuss.

It’s not that I’m a person without a passion. I love to write and I love to take photos. Of anything. Anywhere. That’s it. That is what I love to do. And I don’t think I’m unskilled in either of those areas. But I am so secure was so secure in the belief that there’s no way anyone will actually pay me to do either of those things that I have not even considered making it a Real Job. Despite the fact that in the past, people have occasionally paid me to do both of those things. But to make it a Real Job? Who does that?

People do. Other people really do. So I’m going to, too.

If the Ingalls family could survive countless winters on the prairie; if Korczak Ziolkowski could deface that mountain; if thousands of un-celebrated settlers could build a life out of darn-near nothing on inhospitable lands, I can follow my far-simpler, much-less-dangerous dream. And so, filled with the spirit of pioneer American willpower, I am making the decision to pursue the freelance writer life. I realize the high chance of failure. But hey, at least there won’t be any clouds of grasshoppers. I hope.

Wish me luck. And more than wishing me luck, if you are someone seeking any kind of content creation–or if you know of anyone who is–please pass this post along. Or, better, share one of my personal portfolio sites, linked (and explained) below. Because if Pa Ingalls had had a blog, you darn-well bet he would have used it to reach out to his network for assistance. Pa Ingalls was no dummy.

Please check out and/or share either of my sites

Do you prefer text-based information? Check out my professional profile website, www.tracyantonioli.com. Here you will find information about everything I can offer, including professional development and coaching services. The dedicated content-creation/writing page can be found HERE. On that page, there is also a link to the following site.

Are you more of a visual person? Then visit my Padlet page, where you can find links and images of many of my writing clips, as well as examples of my photography and a rather whimsical ‘why you should work with me’ post.

I sincerely appreciate any consideration of my work or sharing of my sites. Thank you. In addition, I welcome all suggestions of books, courses, websites, or other resources aimed at cultivating a freelance writing business. Feel free to leave these suggestions in the comments below, tweet me, or email me at tracyantonioli@gmail.com.

Thanks! Here’s to new adventures!

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