I spent the past month or so in my beloved Texas. Overall, I hate traveling. Being an introvert, I especially hate flying; there’s no way you can go through the airport without having to make very close contact with multiple strangers — often while standing around barefoot. There’s something dehumanizing about having to stand around without your shoes, particularly when you haven’t made the conscious decision to do so. Perhaps that’s just my own brand of weirdness. At any rate, I dread traveling, so much so that I tend to have sleepless nights and unsettling dreams for several days before I depart on a trip. For my Texas, though, it’s all worth it.
I live in a huge metropolitan area in the northeastern United States. Everything moves at light speed or faster here. There are almost too many choices around you, and they are shoved in your face all the time. People are not nice. Or, maybe it’s more that people are incredibly self-involved. Everyone is in too much of a hurry, consumed by the act of getting from point A to point B. Life is complicated here. And, sometimes, it’s hard. I know life is hard everywhere. But to me, it feels hard on a different level here, like hard on an emotional or spiritual level. I don’t feel like I have the words to explain it fully, but our life here, as good as it is, can leave me feeling uneasy and dissatisfied. It almost feels like things aren’t real here. Or like I’m not real.
My trip came at just the right time this year. I was at the end of my rope, hanging off the proverbial cliff of life by the very tips of my fingernails. Dealing with a grumpy pre-teen child and a grumpy, stressed-out husband had left me feeling useless and more than a little bit lost. I couldn’t make things better for my husband. I couldn’t make things better for my daughter. I couldn’t manage to write or even sit down and think. I felt like the most useless failure ever; it was as if life itself was closing in around me. I needed things to be quiet and calm. I needed space. I needed my life to shut up for a bit. I even needed the doubts in my own head to take a chill pill and be quiet for a change. I don’t know … Sometimes, you just need to run away.
I won’t say that my trip was perfect or without its stresses. Because that would be a lie. We spent the first four or five days in San Antonio with my husband’s family for his younger brother’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony, but a bit stressful, as weddings usually are. Even though I’ve known them for a long time, I’ve never been completely at ease with my in-laws. My mother-in-law and I historically have not had the best relationship. She actively hated me for several years and did everything in her power to cause my relationship to fail horribly. In the end, I outlasted her, I guess. She is much kinder to me now, and she loves our daughter so much. I try to look past it, but I’m definitely no saint. I have a hard time with it. I think I’m getting better, though. During this trip, I was able to take a whole day toward the end of the trip to hang out just with my mother-in-law, my mom, and my daughter. It ended up being a really nice day, and I’m glad we did it. Two years ago — or even a year ago — I’m not certain I could have said that or felt that way. It’s nice to realize I’m not the same person I was even a year ago. That, maybe, I’m still growing up a bit.
I went into the trip feeling all kinds of positive about getting a lot of writing done. I felt upbeat and extra creative, and I just knew I was going to be able to break this mental stalemate I’ve had going on for longer than I would like to admit. (Seriously — months and months. It’s so frustrating.) Of course, that didn’t happen. My parents live in a fairly small town, but there is a cafe / book store not too far from their house. I had halfway planned on going there for a bit of writing time every day. Unfortunately, that store is going out of business; it was in the process of being liquidated during my visit, so there was no writing space to be had there. I’m sure I could have gone somewhere else in town — the library or some other restaurant / coffee spot. But I just … didn’t. I’m honestly not sure why. Maybe a mix of things. I doubt I could have gone alone, and having company would have made writing impossible. I felt overwhelmed and shy with the idea of trying to find a new place to go. And I guess I just wasn’t committed enough. I don’t feel like that was the case; I feel like there was a complex mixture of anxiety and avoidance and emotional crap going on. But my husband has told me it all boils down to a lack of commitment; that I just don’t want it badly enough. I don’t know. He knows me pretty well … Maybe he’s right.
Whatever the case, I decided to try writing at my parents’ house. In retrospect, I don’t know why the heck I did this to myself. I knew, going into it, that it wouldn’t work. Neither of my parents take my writing seriously. They don’t like the type of fiction I write; they aren’t interested in hearing about it or reading it. Overall, I feel my creative aspirations are a bit of a joke to both of them, and always have been. Not that they would admit this out loud, but actions speak volumes. I was a very closeted writer as a kid. I learned, early on, to take the thoughts and ideas that were important to me and hold them close.
My parents — and, in particular, my mom — are pretty high maintenance. My mom talks All The Time. She will talk to me no matter what I’m doing. She talks to me if she sees me with my headphones on, listening to music or watching a movie. She expects me to talk back or answer her questions, which means I constantly have to stop what I’m doing. If she sees me sitting down to work on my computer, she takes that as her cue to get out her own computer so that I can give her lessons. I basically teach her the same five things over and over, which is frustrating. At the same time, I am really proud of her that she is trying to learn something new and that she is actually getting out there onto the internet. I know she is pushing herself way beyond her comfort zone, and that is both a wonderful and a terrifying thing.
I managed to string together a few sentences. It’s not enough to make me feel particularly good about my efforts or to feel that I have managed to break through my hellishly persistent writer’s block. But it’s definitely better than nothing. I did a lot of thinking about my writing — about plots and ideas and characters and where I would like things to go, story-wise. In looking at the positives, I feel this is also important work, even if it doesn’t immediately make me feel as if I have made any progress.
So, yeah … There are a lot of things I didn’t get done during my trip. But here’s what I did manage to accomplish:
I watched life go by and savored the syrupy slowness of it all. I stood on a bridge and watched the river. I listened to the laughter and joy of the families playing in the shallows. I felt the heat and the sweat of summer, and the simplicity of it made me happy. I watched sunsets. I looked at the clouds and imagined what it would be like to live up there, just build a house in amongst all that solid-looking fluff. I saw deer meandering through my parents’ neighborhood, so close and so unafraid that I could almost walk right up to them before they decided to dart away. I watched westerns and read books. I played Polly Anna with my mom and daughter. I slept late. I shared old memories with my mom and my daughter, and we made new ones, too. I watched the hummingbirds buzz around my parents’ yard and listened to the cicadas during the heat of the day. I reveled in the feeling of having nothing to do and no particular place where I had to be. I breathed the air and gave myself space for thinking. I laughed every day. I enjoyed my parents. I saw my brother, my aunt and uncles, and my cousins. I hugged and loved them all. I loved how very real the world around me suddenly felt, as if all the cares and worries of my “normal life” had melted away — or, at the very least, faded into the background.
And, my very favorite thing of all … Every evening, in the hour before sunset when the air turned a little cooler, I walked. My daughter came with me, and we walked all around my parents’ town. Down to the river, over by the Catholic Church where we attended Mass every weekend, by the Catholic school, down the main street past restaurants and stores to the library, back through the public square, across to the courthouse, and then home to my parents’ house. We hunted Pokemon every night. We visited our normal PokeStops and fought to take over gyms. My daughter tried to explain the fine points of the game to me, but she ended up deciding I am a bit hopeless at it. I did manage to catch about ten pokemon, though. Mostly, we talked and laughed. And, in the quietest moments, I felt my breath catch in my throat and my heart beat a little bit faster. Because life was good.