When I first noticed the teasers for Kristine Stevens' new book, If Your Dream Doesn't Scare You, It's Not Big Enough, it made me queasy.
I wasn't quite sure why. Every time I saw another Facebook update or a colorful poster for Stevens' July 11 book signing at Moon River Brewing Company, my innards squeezed up like a pursed-lipped schoolmarm who'd just found obscene graffiti in her private bathroom. I'd be minding my own business, doing responsible adult-y things like making a list for Home Depot or trying to remember my online banking password (because you're not supposed to write it down even though part of being a real grown-up means not being able to remember crap), and there it was again, taunting me like a mischievous fourth-grader with a fuchsia Sharpie.
My inner sourpuss crossed her arms and squelched her face up even more.
I'm busy keeping the size of my post-40 ass under control and now I have to worry about whether my dreams are big enough?
Listen, I don't need any more anxiety. I'm pretty much consumed with the leaking shower pan in my bathroom and whether anyone gave the diabetic pug her insulin this morning. Not to mention staking out the thermostat to make sure no one surreptitiously drops it past 73 degrees. You know what scares me? The freakin' power bill.
Then I realized why all this talk about big dreams was knitting my colon into a lopsided three-armed sweater: I had become my own worst nightmare.
Who the hell ARE you? wondered the slice of me who shaved her head at 23 and set off for Alaska in a VW van after college. The one who got punched in the face for mouthing off to a cop in Greece.
The one who had no other plan other than to be a writer of life's glorious grit in the vein of Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski, only without the syphilis and liver damage.
I was once on fire to become one of Allen Ginsberg's "angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection." Instead, I had joined the best minds of my generation destroyed by the madness brought on by the abject terror of choosing new bathroom tile.
Oh, the shame.
As it turns out, Stevens did not title her book to upset me. If Your Dream Doesn't Scare You, It's Not Big Enough refers to her own colossal undertaking of quitting her job and adventuring solo around the world with only the pack on her back. It was an endeavor that required 26 plane tickets and jettisoning most of the ideas she'd ever had about herself.
"I grew up with the traditional messaging that you go to college, you get a job, you buy a house, you grow old," explained Stevens when I met her for tea last week at the Sentient Bean.
As a well-paid manager of online databases, she had marched that path like a good soldier, with the 401K and the mortgage to prove it. Then the fluorescent lights of her cubicle flickered one time too many, igniting the urge to veer sideways into life's proverbial wilderness.
She liked the notion of a transformative soul trek for her 40th birthday, but the idea of traveling around the world alone was "just too big, too bold, too out there."
Somehow she mustered up the intestinal fortitude to do it anyway. She sold her home in North Carolina and packed her life into boxes. She set off first for the East African markets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where as a six-foot tall redhead, blending in was not an option. Watching elephants tussle on a Kenyan safari came next, followed by traversing the majestic mountains of Kathmandu, riding a scooter in Laos, circumnavigating back to American ground in Hawaii and Alaska.
By counting her pennies, she was able to stretch the sojourn into seven months, and she always adhered to a fellow traveler's admonition to trust her gut, thus avoiding severe gastronomic distress or any rapey vibes.
She kept her agenda loose, with "just enough structure to find the fine line between 'brave' and 'crazy.'" Most of the time that worked out. Sometimes it didn't, like the time she got waylaid without a visa in Mumbai, detailed in the chapter "Thirty-Eight Snickers Bars to a Better Attitude."
Though she doesn't call herself religious, by the time she landed back on the tip of Key West, she felt she had made a type of spiritual pilgrimage, a journey that took her within as she traversed without.
But don't look for any of that Eat Pray Love preachiness here. Stevens calls her funny and descriptive book "travel candy," though she isn't surprised that certain sourpusses find the title provocative.
"It's very easy for people to get caught up in what's expected of them," she nodded sympathetically.
It's been almost a decade since her epic odyssey, but Steven's eyes shine bright with the memories of it. Her manuscript came out of her MFA thesis from SCAD, where she has a day job as a website content manager.
Though her wayfaring ways have been tempered, she continues to cultivate her dreams, which these days include shorter trips with her husband, Moon River co-owner Gene Beeco, and promoting her book.
"I hope it will inspire people to ask themselves what is your dream, and what are you doing to make it real?"
My curmudgeonly Responsible Adult Self furrowed her brow and considered this. The bald-headed punk who made it from Tucson to Big Sur solely on food rescued from Whole Foods dumpsters shrugged.
The working writer and wife raising two healthy children waved from the garden, then flashed her boobs just to show she's still the type of person who would.
Sure, it's been years since my last big dream, but I'm still pretty busy living it. Although it DOES sound deliciously scary to chuck the remodel plans and spend the tax return on a trip to Barcelona.
Then again, there's nothing wrong with vicariously enjoying the travels of others from a princess bathtub.