In which our heroine bangs her head against the wall again and expects it not to hurt, again.
“Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives.” ~ Cheryl Strayed as Dear Sugar
I’ve been trying to really think hard on this one. What is the consciousness I bring to bear on my life? What story do I write, and to what end?
Of course, all the thinking is just another way of putting off the writing. When I write, I sit curled up upon myself, hunched over a notebook or a computer. I protect the words like they are my belly. When I finish, I’m convinced they are over-wrought or unimportant. I start calling lifelines, in the hopes that someone can read what I’ve written and tell me the truth. Sometimes, it feels like a kind of ripping when I hit save and close the file. Sometimes it’s like the moment between the firecracker being launched and the explosion of sparks. Not always, of course. Sometimes, I’m just writing about walking. Sometimes ceci est un véritable pipe.
But it’s hard. And when everything else is hard, too, I often give in to the murky middle distance and don’t write.
Fear has always been my great motivator. Fear of embarrassment, fear of falling, fear of being last, fear of being wrong or wronged, fear of being ignored or abandoned. Not all of these are fears which serve me, but they have almost all inspired action. My fear of failure, on the other hand keeps me stuck. I’m not unique in this. I have no useful insight.
I have failed a lot in the last two years. I have also succeeded some, but my book isn’t written, despite having had a year in which to do it. I don’t have a home, or job, or anything with long-term potential, despite being nearly two years out of my degree, despite pursuing long-term options, long-term goals. Even my car needs work before she can carry me wherever I’m headed next. It is hard to get up in the morning under the weight of all that, it is hard to fall asleep in its shadow. It is hard to write.
There are so many things I want to write. I carry the stories of people, places, and things with me. My dreams feature boxes and bags I am not supposed to lose sight of, creatures and people I need to look after, a clock, always running down. This is one of the many anxieties I live with: that all of these birds and people are counting on me and I am letting them down every day that I don’t write. I am so terrified of suffering that ripping in this temporary space that will disappear behind me in just a couple of months like so many other places, whether I’m whole or not. I pace around my notebook like it’s a snapping turtle.
Last spring was more difficult than this summer, for a few reasons. But it wasn’t entirely different. And the spring before that. Those last two years I was saved in the eleventh hour and this spring, too, I was granted at least a few months reprieve. I’m still applying for residencies and fellowships, though more than a year has passed since I got anything other than a no (I am trying to keep going in the face of that, too). I want to teach, but I can’t afford a move just to adjunct. I’ve been trying to make online teaching a viable option, but so far, it’s still just a maybe. If I get some other job, how do I make myself a more attractive candidate for a tenure track job down the line? There are other ways to teach, am I being too short-sighted? Is going back to school the best answer? Is academia even the best place? Around and around.
All this when it feels like my writing is on the verge of finding its audience. I tell myself to write now and worry about the rest later. But, come on. The rest isn’t just bells and whistles. It’s the horse and the buggy and the farm. It’s not just me and a backpack; it’s me and a 14 foot moving truck packed tight. It’s me and 18 boxes of books and two beds (one for guests). It’s me and 4 boxes of photos, drawing, notebooks, papers, ticket stubs, love notes, newspaper clippings, magazines. It’s me and 4 giant space bags full of yarn. It’s me and a horse skull, a turtle shell, rocks from all over the world. It’s me and a lemon tree. I would never, ever claim to be without baggage.
I miss so many things about living somewhere for more than a “stay.” I miss learning the ins and outs of a town. I miss the inspiration of commuting by bus and the way a block or a neighborhood slowly changes from a cluster of anonymous houses to the homes of people I know. I miss watching gardens, buildings, and projects start small and then flourish. I miss having ties to the community (too much Law and Order). I miss being someone that people stop by to see. I miss stopping by. I miss planting actual roots. I miss tending to.
Still and yet and now, I cannot envision a next step that is anything other than temporary. My boxes have four moves worth of notes on them. They’ve torn and been taped and torn again. Ceci n’est pas une métaphore. I have too much shit to keep packing packing packing and carrying over so many thresholds—but it’s the only home I have, so I can’t part with a damn thing. I’m beginning to wonder how much longer I can take it. How many more years of looming homelessness and joblessness? What is this thing I bring to bear that is so much more important than my comfort, my well-being, my mental health? What do I need to do?
It is too simple to say, just write. Or maybe it isn’t and I’m just making it all too hard. I make most things harder than they need to be. But more and more I find that I need security and routine to do my best work. Is that a failure of character? How do I manifest those things? Am I supposed to find a way to produce without them? How do I carve a path forward without these answers?