December 25 marks a milestone at The Nervous Breakdown: the fortieth day of the existence of TNB 3.0. If the revamped site were the Ark, the dove would fly back with an olive leaf in its mouth. Or a sample from the bag of Jessica Blau’s “lemons.” Or a beanie Zoë Brock found on the side of the road in Frisco. Or…but you get the idea.

I feel like this momentous occasion should be commemorated by something other than the exchange of presents and spiked eggnog. Perhaps Megan DiLullo can organize a podcast? Or, better yet, a photo montage of TNBers dressed like Bond girls? (An editorial suggestion for Megan and Erika: next time, get the girls to wear the bikinis).

It’s been a month in which our contributors have displayed feats of tremendous bravery: David Wills swam with sharks. Matt Baldwin hiked with bear. Simon Smithson jumped off a tall building. Ben Loory stole money from Demi Moore. Don Mitchell wore tighty-whities.

J.E. Fishman is serializing his novel, Cadaver Blues. Between Cadaver and Cactus City, there’s a lot of blues going on at TNB. I hope 2010 is a happier year for everyone.

Richard Cox wrote a cool piece about the hoopla surrounded the Tiger Woods imbroglio, which—because we are above it here on this blog—somehow descended into a debate about the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections, it appears, refers to what Woods did to his swing a few years back.

Our Fearless Leader returned from blog post exile, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, Welcome back, Brad Listi. His piece, “You Lost Me At Hello,” was treated like the release of Chinese Democracy—top of the charts, top of the comment numbers—the only difference being that Brad’s post is good.

Someone named Darian Arky started writing for us from his redoubt in Prague. According to his dossier, he works for the State Department. How naïve do you think we are, man? I’ve read enough James Ellroy books to know that if a dude claims to work for the State Department, he’s really out there gathering intelligence, handling sources, and slipping Cold Ethyl into the Chivas of enemies of the state. I’m not sure what Arky is up to—other than contributing great pieces and leaving lots of comments on everyone else’s—but I find it curious that as soon as he shows up, Justin Benton vanishes.

Whether or not Darian Arky is an actual person, Darian Arky is a cool name. That seems to be a criterion for letting new writers on the site. Check out these new peeps: Gwenda Bond, Doreen Orion, Nathaniel Missildine, and Jeffrey Pillow all join Autumn Kindelspire, Slade Ham, and Will Entrekin in the Cool Name Hall of Fame.

(Alison Aucoin is a cool name, too, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it. Oh-KWAN? OH-cun? Oh-CYOON? Alison, please enlighten us).

The forty days have included lots of great stuff—if I neglected to mention you specifically, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because my daughter is yelling at me from downstairs to give her gum, so my attentions are diverted—but I’ve especially enjoyed the content from LitPark and 3G1B and WordHustler, as well as the fact that my kids routinely appear on View From Your Phone.

My favorite piece of the first forty days, however—other than my own self-interview, of course—is the trilogy submitted by Gina Frangello about her father. A must-read, it says here.

Happy holidays, folks. May 2010 be the year in which all your dreams come true…and the year in which we drop the idiotic “two-thousand” business and start saying “twenty-ten.”

When Tim announced he wanted to “chuck it all” and travel around the country in a converted bus for a year, I gave this profound and potentially life-altering notion all the thoughtful consideration it deserved.

“Why can’t you be like a normal husband with a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” I demanded, adding, “I will never, ever, EVER, not in a million years, live on a bus.”

We’re both psychiatrists, but he’s obviously the better shrink, for we soon set forth with our two querulous cats, sixty-pound dog—and no agenda—in a 340-square-foot bus.

The trip was truly life-changing in many ways: We learned how not to put off our dreams, and the importance of living our best lives now. We also learned to pare down our lifestyle, so that we could spend more time with the people we love – instead of the things we love. Finally, I hadn’t realized how comfortable—too comfortable—my life had become. That’s why I didn’t want to take the trip in the first place. I had become content, but “the bus thing” taught me that content was not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. I hadn’t understood how important it is to continue to challenge and stretch myself.

Although we had our share of disasters on the trip (fire, flood, armed robbery and my developing a bus phobia, just to name a few), the adventures and misadventures helped us grow, shake things up and add back a certain “spark” that we didn’t even realize was missing. Perhaps nothing taught us the importance of getting outside our comfort zones more than our visit to the nudist RV park, Olive Dell Ranch, in Colton California.

Although as a psychiatrist Tim is very much in tune with unconscious drives, hidden meanings, and deep-seated motivations, he is also a typical guy. And typical guys want to go to nudist resorts. Not being any type of a guy myself, I had always informed him I would never, ever, EVER, not in a million . . .   Oh, what’s the use? By now I had clearly lost any semblance of free will. I was, after all, living in a bus for a year. I didn’t stand a chance. Not that I was nonchalant about this, mind you; I’d started Atkins in anticipation—just in case—months before. I need not have bothered, for as I discovered, nudists are incredibly low-key. Unless, that is, you’re trying to get into one of their parks. Then they can be just as big a pain in the ass as any prudes.

As we neared California, I checked around on the Internet. One place seemed particularly promising, so I called and asked if they were, indeed, clothing optional.

“No,” the lady unequivocally answered.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I must have the wrong information,” I apologized, hoping she didn’t think me some weirdo.  But something in her voice made me query further.

“So . . .  people don’t walk around naked?” I tried to confirm.

“Oh, yes, they do,” she answered. Is this place English optional, or what?

“Okay . . .  but you’re not clothing optional.” I offered slowly, with impeccable pronunciation.

“No, we’re nudist,” she snapped. Well, excuuuuse, me.

“I’m not sure I know the difference,” I conceded. She explained that when inside the park, one is required to be naked. Now I got it. It was the optional, not the clothing, that was the problem with the whole clothing optional thing. Who knew? I proceeded with what I thought was a perfectly reasonable follow-up question.

“Can I wear shoes?” She guffawed, muzzled the phone, and called out to some other nuditity-requiring linguiphile, “She wants to know if she can wear shoes!” For those as clueless as I, the answer is yes. I decided she could keep her shod-optional accommodations and found a different park.

When we pulled into Olive Dell Ranch Nudist Resort near San Bernadino, I faced yet another dilemma: Usually, I headed to the office to check in while Tim stayed with the bus. Should I take my clothes off now? What if, in a variation on the universal nightmare, this was some God-awful joke and everyone was clothed but me? I was wearing earrings. Do I take them off, too? A valid question, methinks, even after the shoe debacle. I could have called on my cell phone and asked, but it seemed a mite like the shoes question and I didn’t feel like being laughed at again just yet, especially as I was anticipating that reaction as soon as I stepped off the bus, anyway.

I kept my clothes on. The woman in her home office had not. (Note to self: This could very well be my dream job, for not only can one work at home, but not even have to get dressed.) She told us where to park and that the owner would come by to show us around.

The campground itself is at the end of a long, winding road set on 140 acres up against a tree-studded hill with views of the surrounding countryside and valley. There are about two hundred members, half of whom are permanent residents, the rest weekenders with about another fifty to a hundred visitors like us, just passing through at various points in the summer to stay in the handful of cabins and RV spaces. After we parked, we saw the owner approach. He was in his forties and nude, but wore an open work shirt against the sun (and sneakers, I was pleased to note). We quickly donned (or rather, undonned) similar gear and met him outside.

I soon discovered that none of my concerns mattered. In a nudist park, everything is stripped down, so to speak. As Tim observed, there’s no macho, no pretense, no posturing. Your balls (and whether or not you have any) are out there for everyone to see. (Especially, as we would later discover, when partaking of naked karaoke.)

Our first night, Tim started closing all the curtains in the bus. I wondered why – we’d been nude all day, anyway. He explained that he was about to start cooking and for his own safety needed to put on clothes and didn’t want to offend anybody.

Throughout the bus thing, we met so many diverse, interesting people, and the nudist RV park had plenty of its own. But our favorite there had to be the maintenance guy who walks around naked – except for his tool belt. An interesting effect, for every time he turned around, I nearly exclaimed, “Hey! You dropped your . . .” Oops.

Since we’ve returned from our year-long trip, our lives have dramatically changed. It seems Tim got not only a converted bus, but a converted wife as well: I was the one who suggested that instead of selling the bus, we sell our house, to live on the bus full time. And, that’s what we’re in the process of doing.

What other adventures are in store for us? Unfortunately, I’ve caught Tim on the internet surfing for sailboat sites. Neither of us knows anything about boats.

Why can’t I have a normal husband who just surfs for porn?

If you’d like to see my video of the nudist RV park (now, I have your attention), please visit my website, and click on the travelogue link.

Describe a typical day.

I usually wake up at the crack of 9. Then, I check email, pick up phone messages, make a few calls and do some cases for my insurance review work. By then, it’s after 11 and time to get out of bed. No wonder my husband has often observed that I’m the only able-bodied person he knows in danger of developing bed sores.

When do you write?

Whenever I can. Sometimes, a little here and there throughout the day, sometimes not for days or a week at a time.

Really? Most serious writers have a set block of time – usually several hours a day – that’s sacrosanct. No matter what, they force themselves to-–

What are you, my mother?

Your memoir, Queen of the Road, feels so immediate–

Why, thank you.

Ah… you wrote the question.

Oh. Right.

Anyway, how were you able to remember so much detail and dialogue from your trip?

I knew before we even left Colorado that I wanted to write a memoir of our year on the road. So, I took a lot of notes—whether about conversations Tim and I had, or from places we’d visit. Once, one of the tour guides even demanded to know, “Do I need a lawyer?”

Psychiatrists aren’t supposed to talk about themselves. What was it like for you to disclose so much?

What do you think it was like for me?

Well, I-I…

Verrrrrry interesting. However, I’m off-duty, so let’s get back to your question.

It wasn’t easy. But, I really, really wanted to write this book – even if no one else ever read it. And, if someone actually did, I wanted to share how life-changing the experience was. That’s why I dedicated Queen of the Road to anyone searching for his or her inner bus. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as taking a whole year off; we all have some “other thing” to experience, to shake up our lives, and help us focus on what’s important.

So many of us work hard for so many years, wake up one day and ask, “Is this all there is?” Tim and I hadn’t realized how routine our lives had become – lacking a certain spark. We actually ended up being grateful for all the disasters we experienced on the trip (fire, flood armed robbery, my developing a bus phobia and finding ourselves in a nudist RV park, to name just a few), because ultimately, they taught us the importance of stretching and challenging ourselves, as well as helped us get our priorities in order.

There are a lot of memoirs about some terrible catalyst that forces the author to change his or her life. Our case was different because we volunteered for this experience. (Fine. If you insist on getting technical, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming. Geez.) It doesn’t have to take a tragedy to change our lives. Tim and I are living proof that we don’t have to wait. We can make the choice NOW to live our best lives.

Another important lesson we learned is that all that really matters is to be with the people you love. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, that’s not how most of us spend our time. And, while it’s true that in traveling around the country we met incredibly diverse and unique people, we also found we all have one thing in common: Wanting to love and be loved.

The “bus thing” taught us how crucial it is to downsize and simplify our lives so that we don’t end up supporting a lifestyle filled with things instead of people. And, that… GULP… even includes shoes.

So, with all that went into the book, how did you decide what to put where?  Did you have an outline?

Do you really think a woman who stays in her pajamas all day outlines?

I see your point.  If your book gets optioned, who would you want to play you in the movie?

Uh, you’ve seen my picture, so I really don’t understand why you have to ask that question. Angelina Jolie, of course! Since she seems to have a lot on her hands these days, I’d be fine with Courtney Cox—although she’d have to lose some weight, first.

Since you’re a psychiatrist, have you been analyzing me this whole time?

Why? Do you think if I were a proctologist I’d want to look up your butt?