Monday, August 29, 2016

Dispatches from the piles of boxes

"You two are too big for York," a friend told me at our big last-night-out in York earlier this week. 

He was being earnest and kind. But I politely disagreed.

Twelve years ago I might have agreed. At 23, I thought I was too big for York. I thought I'd only stay here long enough to get a line on my resume before moving on to bigger, better prospects. Places where people didn't spend June nights watching cars from a lawn chair pulled up by the side of a highway. Places where people didn't obsess over deep fried dough as dense as bricks or the opportunity to get free anything and everything.

But a funny thing happened on my way to the rest of my life.

I found it right here. In the town I was too big for.

That's the thing about humility – it pounces on you in the best ways. Chances are the second you think you're too big for something, it's exactly the place you need to grow into. 

I've spent 12 years growing into York. It's this cozy, still too big sweatshirt I wear with pride.

There's a long list of firsts here. I moved to York for my first job. Met and married my husband here. Bought my first house here. Got a dog. Had my first little baby and brought her home to my beloved cozy, brick rambler. Had my second little baby and brought her home to my beloved, cozy brick rambler. Sent both of those babies off to their first days of preschool and kindergarten. Acquired a few cats and several fish. Learned how to pick a stall and console a sad pig. Finished my first novel.  

I grew up in Virginia, learning the tools I needed to function as a person in this world. But it was in Pennsylvania I came into myself. Figured out the type of person I wanted to be in this world. 

So when someone asks me how I'm feeling about this move, it's against this backdrop that I respond.

"It's bittersweet."

Bitter because I love this house and this neighborhood and my neighbors. I love my friends here. I love browsing the boutiques downtown and wandering through the wooded paths of all the parks. I love catching up with my favorite checkout lady at the grocery store and running into people I've worked with or played soccer with or sent my kids to tumbling class with. I love how important family (and family recipes) is to the people of York. I love how much they value community. I love the sense of pride and ownership of this place. 

And after this weekend when I had the chance to share another story at YorkFest and then sit among a group of amazing writer/poets who are molding this place into a better place with the power of their words ... yes, a little bitter that I hadn't come across them sooner. Sooner than the week before I'm moving, anyway.

Last week when Brad got home from Virginia, he insisted I go to yoga. So I did. And, appropriately, the class was centered around transitions. Focusing on the transition from one position to the next. The transition from one place to the next place. 

It was there I came around to the idea of moving. Finally. After knowing it would probably be in my future for the past three months. I had this thought somewhere between an up dog and a down dog that I am where I need to be. And that at any given point in time, I am where I need to be. Therefore, whether I'm in York or in Herndon, I am ... wait for it ... where I need to be.

That managed to relieve a lot of the anxiety. Though not necessarily save my from random, sometimes unfortunately timed bouts of ugly crying.

Random, like, I'm in the parking lot at the east-side Target and ugly crying because ... why? It's probably the last time I"ll shop at the east-side Target? Who knows.

And unfortunate, like, when I'm supposed to share an essay in front of a group of strangers and can't keep it together and require the heckling of various friends in the audience to pull myself together.

Clearly, I've been focusing on the bitter side, too much. Moving day will be here soon, so it's time to shift focus. Finally.

The sweet? Well, my family. As in three sisters and a brother and copious nieces and nephews who will all live within an hour or so of me. And old friends who live there. And maybe new friends. And proximity to the Smithsonian and all the museums I visited as a kid. 

And the chance to share all the lessons I've learned here about family and community and the power of art -- the chance to share York -- with my new neighbors.

I hope I never grow too big for any place I live. I think that might be a sign my heart has become too small. My ego has grown too large. 

See, because no matter where we live -- smallish city in Pennsylvania or largish suburbs of Washington, D.C. -- we're all just people trying to become. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Middle-of-the-Night Thoughts

Photo courtesy of William Warby/Flickr

It's 2 o'clock in the morning.

I'm lying in bed and my brain is muttering about all the things I need to do.

  • Contact Lily's school about withdrawing.
  • Contact Lily's new school about registering.
  • Find a preschool for Jovie.
  • Find a doctor's office for everyone.
  • What about Lily's dance class?
  • Get the permit for the garage sale this weekend. 
  • What if they hate it? 
  • What if we move and then get evicted and are homeless?
  • What if life doesn't work out as planned?
  • Wait, what was the plan again? 

The list grows like Jack's beanstalk as does my anxiety. I can feel the hairs on my head turning white. My stomach cramping. How will all of this get done in two weeks*?

I'm so tired. I need sleep. Sleep will make this better. Sleep will make this more manageable.

Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

I can't go to sleep. Did you see the list? All the things. I feel my brain whirring like the computer does when it's trying to cool down. 

I grab at calming thoughts. Soothing, sleepy, chamomile thoughts. 

Deep breathing isn't working. The sheep aren't working.

I land on that Syrian boy. The one from Aleppo who's Internet famous this week because his house was bombed by his own government. Not the one whose body washed up on a beach last summer. The boy who lived. Omran Daqneesh. The dusty, bloodied 5 year old with the dazed stare and the bare feet and short legs. 

His mother probably isn't worried about kindergarten registration at this moment. The media just reported his 10-year-old brother, Ali, has died. Killed as a result of the same bombardment that put that otherworldly gaze on his brother's face. 

No. No need to worry about school registration. Are there any schools left in Aleppo? Or, doctor's offices? I hear they've all been forced underground, hiding out from attacks, as they frantically attempt to patch people back together. 

A bomb just evicted Omran's mother and her children. My vague, pointless fears are already her reality. 

What a luxury for me to entertain the worst in the middle of the night. On my bed, in my room, in my still-standing house.

"It's all relative." 

I always tell my friends this when we're swapping stories about the stress of the day. This one's baby is still not sleeping through the night and she feels like a zombie and it's awful. And another is struggling with health issues she's still not received any clear answers on and it makes her feel (at times) like an enraged zombie (if such a thing were possible) and it's awful. And I'm here in the middle of my house, which in the span of just four days has become a place of empty shelves and stacks of boxes with that never-ending list. And it's awful, too. 

We are all struggling.

"Life is hard sometimes, isn't it Mom?" Lily consoles me after my nth outburst of the day.

She doesn't even know. 

And I don't even know. Not really. Omran tells me otherwise.

The boy who will forever be remembered for this tragedy than celebrated for his contributions. His childhood and self-actualization annihilated. 

Comparing one's misery is a dangerous game. It can easily lead us down this path of dissatisfaction and resentment. 

"It's all relative," I tell my friends to avoid the comparisons. The one upping. Life is hard at times in a general sense. And our own erratic, fidgety neurosis makes it harder for us, as individuals, to get a grip on it. 

The airing of grievances is important, I think, to make us feel less lonely, which is why I will listen to all grievances any time of day or night. 

Even at 12:30 a.m. when Jovie's bed is too lumpy and bumpy to sleep on.

We all just want to be heard.

But the celebrating of grievances is fatal to our growth. And I have to remind myself of that all the time and this week especially when I feel like the weight I'm carrying is much larger than my mind and my body can manage. I'm burnt out and anxious, sure. But, I'm OK. I'm alive. And I have a roof over my head (and almost another roof over my head). And my kids are healthy enough to drive me bananas, which is to say, extremely healthy. My husband is so kind to me. And he has a good job. And I have various good jobs. The dog isn't barking. The cat hasn't thrown up on the kitchen table ... yet.

It's after 2 o'clock in the morning. I'm lying in bed and balling up all the thoughts -- all that energy my brain has been generating. I strain out the anxiety and transform it into love and send it across Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and across the Atlantic and through Spain and Greece and Across the Mediterranean to Syria where I'm hoping it wraps around Omran as a blanket. 

I'm still awake. But it feels more purposeful.

I wonder if Omran's mother thinks it's relative, too. But on this one, I'd say, with tears in my eyes, she wins. 

* Yeah. Two weeks. Remember the last post where I was bemoaning uncertainty? Well now there's a bit more certainty. We found a house in Virginia and are signing a lease. And because of the start date for schools down there and prior obligations to life up here, we are scrambling to move by Labor Day. Why the hell am I blogging right now when I should be doing all the things? Because pausing is important. It's the only place we get to find each other. And sharing the love is way more important than all the things anyway.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dispatches From a Mental Vestibule

Photo courtesy of Paul Chiorean/Flickr
Confession: I haven't been writing a whole lot of fiction lately. Or really any fiction – except for maybe the lies I tell myself about how any day now I'll get back into querying agents for that novel. Or how I'll really buckle down on editing the manuscript for a children's picture book I wrote back in January. Or how I'll open up a new Word Doc and start writing anything for this other story idea I have, which was inspired by roadkill.

Inspired By Roadkill should be the name of a band, by the way.

My writing life feels as if it's in limbo. 

So when it got to be July and the deadline for the YorkFest literary competition I'd entered the past couple years was nearing, I didn't really feel like I had anything worth entering. 

But I'd really enjoyed the experience of mingling with artists and writer sorts and kinda sorta feeling a part of the community. OK, and it's kind of nice having someone affirm your work in a public way. And it's just plain fun to read your work in front of an audience. And it motivates me to write more (I know, I know, it's kind of pathetic and unnecessary).

And this year I felt like I really needed to send something in. 

Because it's probably the last year I'll enter something.

Because at some point in the near future my family's moving.

I don't even really want to discuss leaving York. In fact, reading that last sentence is making me tear up. (And this for a place I moved to at 23 and swore up and down I'd never stay in for more than a couple years.)

Let's not just talk about the leaving thing for the time being shall we?

So the deadline for this contest is nearing and I don't have anything to enter, but I'd really like to enter something so on a whim I grabbed a post I was kind of proud of from this very blog and sent in on in. 

Then I waited. I waited until around when I'd heard back from the YorkFest folks in years past. And nothing. And I waited for a couple weeks after that. And nothing.

Then I decided to be disappointed. I wasn't crushed, just bummed. I thought sharing one last story in York might be a nice way to say goodbye. Even though we don't really know when goodbye would be.

I guess my writing life isn't the only thing that's in limbo right now. 

So here's the story behind that. Back in May, Brad accepted a job with Gannett, which is headquartered in McLean, Va. Two hours away.

Despite the fact that I grew up in Northern Virginia and still have family down there (I know all about NOVA's giant malls and horrific traffic and obscene real estate prices), I've been tentative about returning. Why? Did you read the stuff in parentheses? You can't just skip the stuff in parentheses!

We've kind of created this Band-Aid solution for the new job which involves a lot of extra driving for Brad and a lot of extra parenting for me. It's not ideal and we recently decided we needed to stop trying to keep our feet in two different states. It's time to move on.

So we're looking for a place to rent. With our two kids, two cats, one barky dog and five and counting fish (they keep reproducing). You can imagine how easy hunting for a rental has been.

It's felt as if we've been living this kind of suspended life for the past three months and even though we finally made the decision to move, everything still feels so murky. I can't see what life looks like next month or the one after. 

Where will we be? What will it look like? Where will the girls go to school? Will I make friends? Will the commute murder Brad's will to live? Will we feel as if we'd made the right decision?

This murkiness has kind of taken over. I don't feel as if I can settle into my current life, because that door is closing. And the next door hasn't really opened yet. I'm just skulking in this mental vestibule. 

I don't really feel like being social because, what's the point? Anyway, who has the time?

Lately it feels as if I'm squeezing the life out of every millisecond of the day – what with the parenting and the working and running around to return overdue library books and make sure the doctor's office has filled out the right paperwork for kindergarten registration and the calling of handymen to fix that window in the bathroom and searching Zillow every five minutes for an updated list of rental homes and the packing. All the packing. 

The packing and the sorting and the throwing away. 

How strange it is to be stuck in a mental vestibule sorting through the ephemera of your past to get ready for the uncertainty of your future. 

It feels like some sort of joke. 

Here's the person you were – as written in the boxes of journals and pictured in self portraits dating back to 9th grade. All those youth soccer patches I'd collected, the beads for all the beading I am probably never going to do, the cassette tapes of all the Lilith Faire-headlining singer-songwriters I will never listen to again, the M&M wrappers I'd saved with the intention of making some delightfully tacky craft item of some sort, and the college notebooks I'd saved in case I ever wanted to brush up on the politics of the Middle East or the long literary tradition of Arthurian Legends. 

And then here's the person you are, all slouchy, grumpy and defeated, debating whether I should keep the patches, deciding to throw away the M&M wrappers and notebooks. Because you can't take it with you. Especially if you don't know where you're going.

As for the person you will be – who knows? But right now, in this pile of sentimental misery, you're not even sure you want to know her.

But here's the other weird thing about being stuck in a mental vestibule. Life goes on. 

Even as you're sifting through the past to prepare for the unknown your family still gathers for a wedding where your 4 year old dances her (excuse the expression) ass off. Your nephew with all the swagger in the universe turns 7. The sunflower you planted in April finally blooms. 

The little baby you brought home to this very house gets ready to start kindergarten.

As it turns out life is a time capsule and a freight train and a vestibule all at once. 

Sometimes immobile but always evolving. The change you're chasing is already happening.

As my sister Laura wrote me so eloquently last week, "God has intentions and they are good. I believe that he knows exactly how to piece a puzzle for a perfect picture...even if we are a nebulous, tiny, inner piece."

Oh, on Wednesday I got an email. That piece I'd submitted back in July won first place for nonfiction prose. 

I'm glad one of my nebulous tiny pieces involves the chance to share one more story with a city I've come to love and call home. 

If you're around at 7 p.m. Aug. 26, stop by the Agricultural and Industries Museum in York to check out some fantastic art and listen to great storytellers.