And that was enough to make me happy for the rest of the week.
I think I’ve finally discovered my problem with writing…or at least what caused my problem with writing…
Let me take you back. When I talked about my life, I thought it was normal. Overly normal. I thought everyone worked summers in factories and shot beebee guns by firelight and wore patched jean jackets. NORMAL.
When I went to college at Ashland University, magic happened. I somehow wound up in the English 101 class of Dr. Joe Mackall. His first assignment? A personal narrative about whatever we wanted. So on a hot August night in my dorm room, I sat down and wrote about attending a KISS and Aerosmith concert–about how the grass felt on the lawn that night, cool yet sticky. About how I somehow felt a kinship with people I didn’t know, and people I’d never really know, and how I felt more comfortable in decades prior to my time than in my own time. I wrote about the chains that bounced off my hip as I climbed the hill of Germain Amphitheatre in Columbus, Ohio, and how I held the callused hands of a boy who kept me at skin’s length even though I wanted more than anything to be a part of him.
I turned in the paper. The next class, Joe kept me after. The humid air had crept in through the windows and the sweaty plastic of the desk stuck against my forearms. I felt like I was suffocating. “What’s your major?” he asked.
“Undecided…but leaning toward education?” I half-asked. Was there a right answer?
“No. Creative writing. You have something here,” Joe said. Apparently there was. When I left Miller Hall that day, two weeks into my college career, I felt like I had direction for the first time. The flowers were brighter and the sky was bluer, and I felt like Joe had uncovered a part of me that I didn’t even know existed, like he had peeled back my own calluses and exposed a raw, undeveloped part of me.
As with any “new skin,” this part of me was sensitive. I babied it, wouldn’t fully walk on it right away. It was an odd sensation, having someone believe that what I had to say was worth something, that my insights meant something. That my story was one that people might want to hear.
I spent many nights at the computer, my chair tilted back on two legs, trying to find my reality. Reality. It felt so foreign then. It felt like a thing of value.
All through college, I pecked away at my keyboard. When I couldn’t write, I turned on Metallica, turned off the lights, and hung upside down on my futon. I tried.
Four quick years later, I was getting ready to graduate when Joe asked me, “What do you think about grad school?”
I shrugged. After a barrage of questions from my mother about what the hell I was going to do with a Creative Writing degree, I decided that grad school would only be a waste of money.
So I applied. I got accepted. I didn’t respond until they started calling me and asking me what I was going to do. I decided I wouldn’t take it without a teaching assistantship, and the next day, I got the assistantship. So in August of 2007, I moved to North Carolina with a fire in my hands to write. I had managed to keep the skin that Joe revealed open–vulnerable, yet livable–everything that a writer should be. Because if a writer is not vulnerable, are they really a writer?
The truth was that Philip Gerard was wonderful. I felt comfortable with him much like I felt comfortable with Joe. I felt that I could learn something from them. But, as I’ve mentioned, I could never fully enjoy grad school because I’m not sure I ever fully acclimated. The place itself was wonderful, minus the humidity, and I ran into a few great people. But most of the people there ruined it for me. Remember that time I said “gypped”? With everyone trying to be so politically correct, there was too much sameness. People were letting go of their own identities so not to offend others.
But there was something else. Something bigger. Before I went to North Carolina, I found beauty in everyday things. I saw beautiful, wonderful creatures in the people I worked with at Whirlpool, and I saw meaning in a dead-end bridge and a four-stroke engine. I lost all that in North Carolina. In North Carolina, I no longer felt like anything I had to say had meaning. It felt like I was too normal.
This may or may not be true, and it may all be my own misconception, but it seemed very much like the only thing that was celebrated in my graduate program was the writing that was “different.” And I understand that writing should be original, but when I say different, I mean crap like the lyric essay. I mean taking so many risks with the format of the writing and the content that it no longer made sense. It seemed like that was the stuff that was praised in grad school. All I could think was, “Oh, you put a sentence four spaces down at the bottom and that space represents the emptiness you were feeling? Shut up.” When it came to writing, I always thought it was the truth behind it all, the crafting of the story, the reality that made it good.
I also suffered from what I call “The Plight of the Happy Writer.” You see, all of the people I went to school with had some huge issue that they were dealing with, either from childhood, an ongoing battle with themselves, a sickness, a something. I felt like I was at a disadvantage (in writing only) because something horrible hadn’t happened to me, because I wasn’t molested as a child, or struggling with my sexuality. I had never been paid for certain sexual acts or had a horrible disease. I hadn’t traveled all over the world and saw the beauty and devastation. I was just an Ohio girl who was realizing she didn’t really have anything to say. And I became wonderfully happy with my lack of traumatic events.
So I let that callus that Joe so easily ripped off grow back over, and I hardened myself to writing. I was surprised that this hurt more than when Joe ripped that callus, and more than the period of my life before I even knew I could write. I was (read: am) purposely suppressing something that came naturally to me in response to something that seemed unnatural to me. I gave it up.
I haven’t been able to write since, but standing in the bathroom this morning while I was brushing my teeth, I saw that thing of beauty reemerge. That simple, everyday beauty that comes from an overused toothbrush and a paste-flecked mirror. I saw the imperfections, the reality of life creeping back in. So I stuck my fingernail underneath the callus to see how easy it would be to lift away again. Did I even want to? Baring one’s soul is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
But until then, I’ll enjoy the bent bristles of my toothbrush, the blue flecks on the glass, the cold tile underfoot, and I’ll keep picking at that callus to see if it’s ready to come off. I hope that it will be soon.
It never fails. As soon as I get a taste of warm weather, I want to go home.
I want to drive the back roads to Fremont with my windows down, with country music on the radio and a bottle of Diet Pepsi next to me.
I want flip-flops and jeans that are too long.
I want brown skin and messy hair tamed only by a bandana.
I want to smell Heinz ketchup in the air from the factory on 6th and sugar beets from the hill by the fairgrounds.
I want to hear sprint cars revving and beer cans cracking.
I want the cloud spewing from the top of Davis-Besse to be visible on the horizon from Cole Road.
I want to hear my footfalls on the familiar block I run in the sun.
I want Root’s chicken sandwiches and Depot Pizza.
I want to end up at a bonfire and to watch the smoke disappear into the stars.
Mostly, though, I just want to drive.
We did it! Mom and I have almost every single present bought for Christmas. And wrapped! The tree looks awesome. I’ll get a picture of it when I go home next weekend. I had so much fun with her, and with my poppa. They’re the best. Plus an unbeatable sale at the Gap.
I have a lot on my mind today.
I’m thankful that something worked out in my favor, and that an honest mistake was understood.
I’m excited to see Mike tonight.
I’m nervous for tomorrow.
I’m exhausted and ready for Christmas.
I’m high on carpet glue from the remodel ha ha.
And I’m hungry, so I’m going for sushi.
My CEO has nicknamed me “Country”. It could have been the big belt buckle I wore one time (thanks, Jenny), or my not-so-quiet love of big trucks and men who do manly things. It could have been my request to wear overalls on Fridays, too…
And I kept thinking, “What does it really mean to be country?”
I grew up in Fremont–not quite on a farm, not quite in the city. I ate mud as a kid, had pet toads, played with bugs, shot guns, tried beer for the first time at a relatively young age, and have an odd love for 4-wheelers. But is that what makes you country? Maybe it’s because I climb a lot of trees. If you ask me (which you all inadvertently did when you started reading my blog), being country means a few things. Let’s just skip right past the deer-shootin’, beer-drinkin’ stereotypes and get into what it really means to be country.
It means being capable. The real country is a rough place, and if you don’t know what to do to survive, if you’re incapable of thinking on your feet and doing whatever it takes to make it to the next day, you’re going to die.
It means developing compassion, but not to a fault. Decisions must be made in the country. Think of it this way–do you swerve to avoid a squirrel but end up putting your truck in a ditch and causing damage? Or do you hit the squirrel and get on with your life (and maybe scoop it up for some squirrel stew)?
It means making decisions and not lingering on things that you cannot change. “Woops, hit a squirrel, now where’s my chainsaw? Granny’s waitin’ for me to cut down her tree.”
It means not being too sensitive. It was just a squirrel–geez.
It means appreciating the simple things in life, like having enough food to keep the family fed or a beautiful sunset.
It means knowing that you are but a small spec in the scheme of things.
It’s independence and knowing you can rely on your family and your neighbors.
It means trying it by yourself, and being able to ask for help if you need it.
And it means knowing how to sit back and watch the world go by for a bit.
If that’s what my CEO meant, I’ll take it. But I have a feeling he thinks I chew tobacco and shoot guns on the weekends. I’ll shoot guns, but I’ll take my tobacco in the form of a cigarette. 🙂
A familiar smell
An open door
Yellow porch lights
Waiting for Petey
And long runs around the country block.
On Friday, I got to go home. Going home feels like a privilege anymore. I like that…and I wish it could happen more often. In going home, I got to play with baby Jax and see my cousin Heather. There is nothing like having a baby fall asleep in your arms. Nothing. Then my mom took Mike and I to Applebee’s and then came home in time for Dad to get off work and celebrate his birthday.
On Saturday, it was dreary, so I lifted in the basement with Mike instead of going for a run. I’m feeling it today. I can hardly walk. I also found a list of old potential baby names from 2004 in an old journal. I take comfort in knowing that I tried to incorporate my then-current boyfriend’s name into the names of my boys. Yeah, that was nice of me. Ha ha!
Then I went old school. My cousin Meghan, Mike, and I went to Spiegel Grove to tour Rutherford B. Hayes’ home and to watch a Civl War reenactment. I hadn’t been in the Hayes house since an elementary school field trip, and it was crazy to look at the place he lived again. I remembered certain things, and others were really great surprises. No photography allowed…so I can’t show you any of it. But it is GLORIOUS. I found a picture of the outside of the house from the south side. The front porch is to the right, the second chimney from the left is Hayes’ bedroom. It really is a beautiful home.
You really don’t take advantage of some of the things in your very own hometown. I think I might have to take that tour again. We didn’t go to the museum, but that just gives us something to do another time.
Then we watched the Civil War reenactment put on twice a year at Spiegel Grove. This one was commemorating Hayes’ birthday (October 4th, 1822). I don’t really understand war reenactments. So I’m interested to see if any of you have anything to say about it other than the cannons are cool.
Saturday night, I drank a bottle of wine and rented two chick flicks with Mike. I then proceeded to wrestle him. I won. It’s my story.
Sunday, we helped Mom and Dad close the pool, watched football, and fell asleep a lot. We drove home the back way and in the midst of the dreary skies, God gave us a beautiful sunset that hit every direction of the sky, shooting a red rainbow up into the heavens.
You know how just one thing can change everything about your life? If you had done just one thing different… I’ve been thinking about all of the different ways in which my life could have been different if I had made a different choice in one area of my life or another.
I love my life now, and I have no regrets, but isn’t it kinda fun sometimes to think about what might have been different?
Like okay, say I never went to college. What would I be doing? Well, I’m tellin’ you right now that I’d have probably stayed at Whirlpool for at least a couple of years straight on till dawn. I don’t know for how long, though. Here’s the thing: if I hadn’t gone to college, I would most certainly have remained in Fremont. I’d have moved out into my own apartment or rented a house somewhere. Eventually, I probably would have moved into office work at Whirlpool (I do type on average 116 words a minute) and married someone from there. We would have gotten married at a Catholic church and had our reception at Ole Zim’s (you know what I’m talkin’ about, Fremont people), and honeymooned in Florida.
By now, I would have probably had our first baby and might be considering the next in about a year and a half. Every Sunday we’d have dinner with my parents. I’d probably join a book club and still be writing (about what, I’m not sure). I’d walk around the Grove. I’d snuggle up to my husband every night.
But here is the downside–I’d have never met any of my friends from Ashland (all I love dearly) and I would have never met the folks at UNCW (most of whom I love dearly), and I would have never met Mike. I wouldn’t have my BA or my MFA, and I wouldn’t be working at this incredible job right now. Both scenarios could have worked. It’s weird, but they could have. But this one brings me much more happiness (and often much more strife–long distance relationships suck).
I’m happy to be where I am.
I don’t know about your family, but mine has been in the same place for a long long time. Let me explain.
I grew up in Fremont, Ohio. Most of my family has been in Fremont and Clyde for at least 70 years. See that map? My entire immediate family including grandparents is pretty much in there. My maternal grandmother grew up in Clyde and searched for Jessie Simmons’ tongue on the very farm I searched for it years later. She married my grandfather, who was also living in Clyde. My parents, aunts, and uncles all married people in the same vicinity. And let’s be honest. Everything is easier for them in terms of seeing loved ones. If my grandparents need something, they have 4 kids and their spouses right there, plus some grandkids and cousins. It’s easy to pick a place to have a family gathering because everyone is right there.
And up until my generation, everyone was still there. My grandparents have 10 grandchildren. Seven of them are still living in either Clyde or Fremont. I am just south of Cleveland. My cousin Heidi is right around Ashland. I know we would love to be able to get back more often and see our family, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.
Getting off of work at 5, driving an hour and a half home puts me at 6:30, long enough to eat dinner, say hi, and head on out before the hour and a half drive back, so that I can go to bed at a decent hour. I’d love to be able to drive 10 minutes down the road to have a cup of coffee with my mother.
There are advantages to this. If you marry someone from your hometown, chances are you get to be close to both of your families. That makes celebrating holidays with both much easier. It makes planning the actual wedding easier. It creates built-in babysitters that you don’t have to pay and grandparents get to see their grandkids. I loved spending every weekend at my grandparents’ house.
But it’s hard to do that as a Gen Y kid. We move away, go to college, graduate, feel guilty for not using our degrees, and live somewhere we can get a job. During that process, most of us fall in love, either with someone from our hometown, someone in college, someone in grad school. And eventually you have to choose. Do you live closer to your parents? Or your lovers? You’re coming from different places, after all. Will someone be upset? What if you both can’t get a job in the same place? What happens then?
It’s just all very weird.
We might as well start this off right. Here’s the photo:
Oh. My. Garsh. What IS this? What is it?! Here is what I know about this photo:
OBSCURE OBSERVATIONS (the more profound ones):
So odd what a photo can remind you of. Thanks, Britta, for searching through your desk and finding this embarrassing thing. 🙂