I’ve held on too long to the notion that my inability to write is because I’m never alone, is because there is never enough time and quiet, is because all the words that once occupied my mind as tenants, alive and restless, always pacing, always banging around inexplicably, skipped town without warning and left a vacancy whose ache is hard to ignore and harder still to fill. But, no. These are only half-reasons, close cousins to excuses. Valid, but just barely. They make for perfect decoys, flashing enough self-pity or blamelessness to draw attention from the murkier truth.
I don’t know is the truth. I don’t know and that uncertainty is more aggravating than any other possible answer. For months, I’ve had suspicions of why, whittling down a list of factors, first the half-reasons, then the better guesses: I can’t write because I’m sad. I can’t write because I have nothing worth saying. I can’t write because the first subject I reach for is myself and how uninteresting, how selfish. I can’t write because doubt. All of them flimsy guesses, but the fear that there is some fact in them is real enough. That fear is the closest thing to a cause that I can confidently pin down. It doesn’t satisfy the question, not completely. We are all afraid. I’ve always been. Some deeper shift is behind the creative disconnect that’s yet to undo itself. My mind ties itself in knots, the same two thoughts (Still nothing. Is this forever?) looped together and pulled tight. For now, all I can do is embrace not knowing, write about not writing, fish for words that are not there and eventually. Eventually, I hope, something will give.
How do you survive a drought? Forget the meaning of thirsty. Move constantly, mostly blindly. Talk often, listen more, unlearn the sound of your own voice that you find so grating and keep it coming, let it fill a room. Keep busy, keep loud. Sing in public, Tom Petty at work, Blondie while weaving through the last-minute dinner rush at the grocery store. You’ve never liked Tom Petty but Blondie, no question. Sing both at equal volume. Don’t bother with anything other than the chorus. Pay your library fines. Accrue more. Read stories that leave you breathless for days, words that shape your dreams for nights afterward. Translate the jealousy into proper admiration. Try harder. Scrawl in a spill-warped notebook any thought stubborn enough to linger for a week or more, struggle not to stop mid-sentence. Lose sleep and see double. Resist the urge to touch a stranger’s hand. Spend your savings on a car as old as you are, agree to drive 1200 miles alone despite a sore lack of experience. Forget your pedestrian years. Forget non-confrontation before self-preservation. Break your own heart and others’ without knowing if the pieces will ever fit back together. Scrawl, type, read, and worry. Try to be patient. Try harder.
Sifted through some old sketchbooks today and found this little anxiety doodle.
Yep, that looks about right.
Postcard From A Tumbleweed
The past few days I spent swept up in a whirlwind rendezvous with Chicago. Will it always be my favorite city? I found myself silently asking the streets and the lake and the endless reel of impassive faces, rolling the question around in my head like a marble. Time lived elsewhere has pulled it off the pedestal I built for it years ago. No single place can offer everything, an admission I’d never been able to make until this weekend, or more precisely, the moment I stood in a tangle of sidewalk construction, feeling crushed by passing bodies and the scream of the train, and found myself missing somewhere else, another more demure city. Nashville, of all places. The same Nashville I loathed and stewed in regret over during my first months freshly arrived. The same Nashville I meanly pegged as too small and too scattered, nothing close to Chicago’s infinite sprawl, its chaos that I sometimes feel like a phantom limb, an absence aching between my shoulders. And still, I stood in the thick of my favorite city and felt homesick for its opposite. It’s unnerving when your heart turns on you without the decency of some notice. No warning, just the shock of love and hate trading sides for mere seconds, a minute or more, the flicker of a coin flipped and slapped flat too quickly to see the motion itself. So quickly that heads and tails seem no longer separate but interchangeable, the same.
Of course, this micro-epiphany lasted less than a breath before I was back, unfazed and thrilled to be bowled over by the barrage of city life. A seasoned urbanite knows no sensory overload. It wasn’t until now, writing this, that I’ve begun to recognize the meaning in that jolt. I will always love Chicago without fail because I found myself there for the first time. Self-discovery leaves its scars and the magnitude of that shift - that first clumsy grapple with accepting myself, the whole wonderful mess - begs a certain loyalty to the circumstances that cultivated it. The place, the people, the experiences. For years and at this very moment, I’ve felt indebted to Chicago. Leaving was necessary but the odd guilt that came with that decision shriveled my roots, so that I’ve simply existed, uneasy and ungrowing, in every other place, a visitor clinging limply to the surface. That is, until now. I never expected Nashville to lure affection out of me. I never expected it to teach me so much, to be so generous, to foster a new shift entirely. When anyone asks how the transition here has been, I unconsciously reach for the same word every time: serendipitous, because no other definition comes close. A string of pleasant surprises, a sudden, slow-rising warmth. To call it home feels less like a lie and more like a possibility. Home, a good home, for the time being.
What I learned in Chicago last week is an obvious idea: you don’t belong to any one thing. You can’t, however vehemently you try to anchor your identity to a someone or somewhere or some time. I knew this before but vaguely, the ghost of an understanding. Why it took spitting out these words to resurrect the truth of it, to give it clarity and weight to throw around, is another question. Adulthood so far seems built on the concept of mental thrift shopping. Your adult brain scours the bedlam of its own decades-wide flea market for gems, bits of wisdom gleaned too young and left to gather dust. Over time, we find one and then another and wipe them clean for appraisal, by life, by our own maturing intuition. We are always surprised by their worth.
What I’ve learned in the process of writing this are a handful of obvious ideas: In most situations, most of the time, you have the answers to your own questions. Belonging, identity is forever subjective and subject to change and that is okay. I love where I’ve been as much as where I am and, come what may, I won’t shy away from making anywhere a home, one of many homes, every one important. I’m letting my roots grow.