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.

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