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Willard, New Mexico. ©Oriana Schwindt, 2017

There is a great sucking hole in my chest. The present has trapped us all; the future tense has disappeared, and with it all sense of possibility.

To be depressed is to experience a flattening of time. The present is an eternal moment, unbearable as such, flat and grey and stretching out as far as you can see. The future simply doesn’t exist. The past is there, in the early stages, ready to enfold you with memories of past misdeeds, but in deepest despair all that really exists is the endless present. …


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Not this kind of work. (Photo by: Oriana Schwindt)

When I was on staff at the International Business Times in 2015, I had an editor who hated jargon. “If you use the word ‘space,’” he said once, “you better fucking be talking about outer space.” I did my part by creating a Jargon Jar. Into the jar clanked coins every time one of us used “content” or “space” or whatever dumb MBA or tech neologism had been handed to us by sources who sounded like — and were mostly nothing more than — hucksters.


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Here piggy piggy piggy (Photo Credit: Oriana Schwindt)

A number of running threads quickly made themselves apparent during the seven months I spent in 2017 crisscrossing America: loneliness, disconnect, virulent xenophobia and racism, conspiratorial thinking. But the one that surprised me the most, perhaps, was that of grift.

Everywhere I went, I was confronted by some kind of scam — powdered drink supplement multilevel marketing schemes, bullshit “theological universities.” Grift was woven into so many people’s daily lives. National stories of frauds like Fyre Fest and Theranos and Dirty John dominated news cycles.

I couldn’t stop thinking about these stories, or writing about them, or talking about them. And so at the tail end of the Summer of Scam, I decided to inflate the podcast bubble a little more by recording conversations about these stories between myself and whoever I knew with a spare hour or two. …


What my journey across the United States taught me about indie cafés and Ikea lights

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Photo: Michael Lee/Getty Images

The light fixtures were what tipped me off. You know the ones I’m talking about — you see them every time you go to Ikea, coolly geometric, and every time, you wonder if they’re worth the effort of getting them installed in your ceiling. (They’re not.)

I was in a non-chain coffee shop in Columbia, South Carolina. I was on a mission to the cities and towns closest to the geographic center of each state, and this was only stop №6 of 50, but I remembered seeing the same lights in coffee shops in Bend and Portland in Oregon, and innumerable others I had frequented while living in New York and the Chicago area. …


It’s not afforded to everyone

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“Shadow Monster” by darkday via flickr. CC BY 2.0

You always have a feeling.

Sometimes that feeling comes during a phone call with a guy who talks like he’s on satellite delay, warning you not to allow him to host you on a trip. (A warning you ignore, like some kind of innocent.) Sometimes it presages a midnight e-mail from a former source now professing his all-encompassing love for you.

This feeling is the fear that your female-ness is all that matters to straight men. That your worth, to them, is derived entirely from their desire for female attention. The fear that the attention they seek is sexual.

Maybe you don’t have this fear. If not: Imagine you do, for a moment. Close your eyes, and conjure up a life in which you constantly wonder whether your success is a result of someone else’s desire to bed you. That your livelihood depends on these people for whom you are simply a source of attention. …


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McClusky, North Dakota. (Photo Credit: Oriana Schwindt)

The reactions of people in my life when I told them about the Centerville project were largely expected: enthusiasm, or that slight delay where the listener put together that yes, I meant all 50 states, or “Wow, I’m jealous.” What were less understandable were the ones who took this to be some kind of grand vacation, some indulgent Hunter S. Thompson-esque road trip to Find Myself.

Forget for a moment the framing of this project — an effort to put together a word-mosaic of America at this moment in time — and focus only on the physical scope: every single state in America. …


Relating to Bourdain through the loneliness of travel

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Meriden, CT. Photo by author.

Day 133. The heavily wooded slopes of this mist-wreathed mountain in the middle of Connecticut are suffused with an energy that borders on the mystical. Ghostly birches look aflame, while mosses shine neon. Slick stone slabs jut into the damp air.

The wind is fierce here at the top, at the edge, looking down. At least, you think you’re looking down — your field of vision simply vanishes into the grey, the ground who knows how many hundreds of feet below. The sounds of other lookeylous have vanished, even though you’re only a few dozen yards from them. …


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Paīa Beach, Maui, HI (Photo Credit: Oriana Schwindt)

Well, this story was supposed to serve as a capper for this publication. But Medium decided they liked the story, so they plucked it from obscurity (i.e. removed it from this publication) and featured it and made it look very nice. They even recorded a woman with a lovely voice reading it! That was great, but it also meant the Centerville publication was without a bookend.

So, yes. I did actually finish this project, in December 2017. I’ve considered posting all 50 entries now that I’m done, but I have a couple other projects I’m using the material for — namely my Young Woman’s Guide to Crisscrossing America Alone (And Not Ending Up a Dateline Episodeand I don’t want to cannibalize or risk overexposure. …


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Sunset in Pierre, South Dakota. (Photo Credit: Oriana Schwindt)

Content Warning: Suicide

Three years ago, a bathtub full of blood. A fluttering of eyelids, a tightening of the gut after it hits you — that this is not nearly enough blood — that you have failed.

This is not about what led up to that moment. This is about what comes after.

***

Imagine, if you will, that you have been shot.

Imagine going to the emergency room after having been shot. Imagine having to detail the circumstances of the shooting to five different people, each of whom seem unable to understand why you got shot; none of whom believe you when you say the bullet is still inside you. …


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Glacier National Park. (Photo credit: Oriana Schwindt)

Call it “Chekhov’s Journalist.” That scene, you know the one, seemingly inevitable in any movie or TV series with a plotline that concerns a journalist, wherein the reporter bangs their interview subject.

But while there’s probably more of a market for a “Young Woman’s Guide to Banging Your Way Across America” book or TV series, I’ll relinquish that idea to some enterprising young person for a nominal fee and/or an executive producer credit.

I was looking to chronicle American life at this moment in time, and though I wasn’t being bankrolled by a major publication — I made my money via Patreon — I knew that journalistic ethics of at least the most basic order must be obeyed. I didn’t anticipate ending up in too many situations wherein I would even be faced with the possibility of romance with someone I was talking to for my project. …

About

Oriana Schwindt

Freelance journalist. No fixed abode.

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