Eyes on the Mountains (Part 1)

Musings

I used to fancy myself a city girl. I sat in my humble house in the country, located in a small farm town in Lower Michigan and dreamed of getting out. I envisioned bigger and better. To me bigger and better was New York City. I watched When Harry Met Sally as a teen, and seeing Sally aimlessly walk through Central Park with Harry, or drag her Christmas tree down twinkly streets was so picturesque and vastly different from Fowlerville, Michigan that I latched onto that place and vowed to get there.

All my thoughts orbited around New York City. How to get there, how to make it there, how to have what Sally had. So easy and simple. She moved there as a hopeful writer and voila, she was a writer. She had this friend that kept coming back to her and he fell in love with her. She watched Casablanca and had lunches at the Boathouse with her girlfriends, while bemoaning men.

I moved to New York City, fresh with my newly minted writing degree, down ninety-two pounds from working my arse off on The Biggest Loser and ready to take on the city streets, writing and love with all my know-how from When Harry Met Sally. Imagine my surprise and dismay when the only jobs I could find were waitressing and Starbucks. The only men looking my way were gay (fabulous, but not interested in any sort of lip-locks) and the city streets, while magical in their own right, were also fraught with a lot of trash and noise, making me realize that maybe making it there wasn’t like the movies at all.

I am sure a lot of people could’ve told me that. And there’s a reason Frank Sinatra croons, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” This is true. NYC is not for the faint of heart. I don’t believe myself to be faint of heart, but I think I gave a lot of credence to my city love (based on a movie and a couple class trips to Chicago as a youngster) and zero credence to my country love.

I was having the worst anxiety of my life while living in New York City. While she was a dreamy place full of fantastic culture, art, cupcakes, architecture and wonder, I felt closed in and manic. I never slept while I lived there. This isn’t one of my dramatic exaggerations. I really didn’t sleep; at least not at night. I had insomnia that wouldn’t go away and I utilized this the best I could by training for my first marathon in the middle of the night, instead of tossing and turning in bed, fitful with worry and damp with sweat.

I lived in Brooklyn Heights and I would leave my apartment in the middle of the night and start running: across the Brooklyn Bridge, weaving through Manhattan’s skyscrapers, past policemen milling about, fishermen fishing off the pier, kids skateboarding, and the homeless sleeping against fence-enclosed graveyards. And then I would run back and sit on a bench looking at the sun coming up across the Manhattan skyline while rats scurried beneath my feet. I would amble home, shower and lay in bed in utter exhaustion until eventually I dozed somewhere around five, or sometimes as late as seven.

I remember talking to my friend once as I walked to work in the Village, telling her that maybe I overestimated how much of a city girl I was and underestimated how much of a country girl I was. This troubled me, because I wondered how I could be so wrong about a place I had planned on loving for over a decade.

A need for nature kept hounding me, a need to escape to somewhere quiet where I could gather my thoughts, which were as rampant and erratic as the New York City rats. I would look at the skyline and wish it were mountains. I wanted all the hustle and bustle to be forest-still silence. I wanted the murky concrete puddles to be cloud reflected lakes.

My mom blamed all of this on a love who had recently broken my heart and then up and moved to Alaska while I headed for the big city. She thought the reason I saw mountains instead of skyscrapers was because of him. And that the whole heartbreak thing was ill-timing, ruining my NYC experience. And maybe to a certain extent it was. But I think it was more than that.

I think the mountains were in me long before that love came along and broke my heart, long before I saw When Harry Met Sally, and perhaps long before I even knew which way to go.

When things began to promptly fall apart in NYC, around the time I was due to fly back to the Midwest for my marathon, I didn’t much feel like going back. I was in between apartments and without a place to live. I was sleeping in a hostel in the fetal position and sniveling, wondering how in God’s name Madonna had done it, and starting to unravel in a most disheartening way. I would wander into churches and cry alone in a back pew. Or find parks to sit and do yoga-style breathing techniques and then get mad when I heard an ambulance blare on by.

When I told my mom after my marathon that I couldn’t go back, I just couldn’t, she seemed distressed, thinking I was giving up on my dream and that I had to just stick it out—the anxiety and insomnia and noise. My mom wasn’t being pushy, she was being supportive of how bad I had wanted this one dream.

I couldn’t do it though. I loved New York City and truly always will, but I knew what I needed and it wasn’t skyscrapers and bustling streets. In fact a guy I had started dating around this time took me out one day when I was visiting a friend in Maryland. I was still living in New York and was wildly shaken up. He asked if I wanted to go see Washington D.C. and I all but screamed, no! I didn’t want to be in the city. I didn’t want to hear traffic or see people. I wanted him to take me into the country. “Where?” he asked. I told him where the pumpkins and apples grow.

It may have come as a shock to everyone who knew me and knew how badly I wanted the city-girl life when I abandoned ship and ended up moving to Virginia. Granted I was living outside of Washington D.C. in an urban metropolis about as busy as NYC, but I told my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t care where we lived as long as I had a view of the mountains and easy access to them. Suddenly the mountains became my new focal point.

They were my obsession and I wanted my eyes on them at all times. On my way to work they were on my left; on my way home, on my right. I wanted to talk about them constantly and found myself in a continuing state of awe over their grandeur. I must admit not many people in Virginia seemed to share my amazement. I got a lot of people giving the Blue Ridge Mountains the ol’ brush off and saying, well have you seen the ones out West? I had not, but I thought it was a little disrespectful to discount mountains right in front of us, for even bigger ones far, far away. Clearly these people weren’t mountain lovers.

And with my eyes on the mountains I started rerouting my belief system. About what I really wanted and questioning where I really belonged. I considered that maybe I belonged in Virginia because I had fallen in love with her and the man that lived there. And yet… there was still a displaced restlessness deep down that haunted me. It didn’t keep me up quite as badly as it had in New York, but it was there lurking in the shadows all the time.

To be continued…

The Execution

Musings

You know what writers used to do? They used to ride the rails to investigate hobos and no one cared. If I jumped a train now, surely I would get arrested and it’d be this big bureaucratic incident that would go on my permanent record and no one would appreciate that I was just trying to see if aimless vagabonds still rode the rails in search of new life and adventure. Or I would find a hobo and he’d be desperate for food, not adventure and he’d probably shank me thinking the fur on my coat was real and it’d be a whole bloody ordeal.

Or hopeful writers used to just brazenly walk into a newspaper to pitch a story and some editor appreciated their pluck and suddenly they had assignments.

Or maybe that’s just the romantic version in my brain, and maybe it was no easier then than it is now, but I feel like now, you have to sign a waiver in blood to the devil himself promising him your first born. And still all the magazines and publishers would cackle and sneer at you, throwing crumpled up McDonalds wrappers in your face and telling you not to quit your day job—and you’ll have given up your first born and half your blood supply for nothing.

Okay maybe I am getting carried away. And I hate to be cynical as I love my craft. I have loved writing for as far back as I can recall. It brings me the same kind of euphoric high that completing a run gives me, but without all the sweat. Although, truthfully I have been known to get rather excitable whilst in the throes of my writing and perhaps get a glossy glow.  Or pit stains… but uh, one of the kids I used to babysit for informed me not to mention my sweating problem in those terms as it was unladylike. So I will stick with glossy glow.

Anyhow. I was admittedly having a rough go of it at work yesterday. Meaning, I really, really loathed waitressing. People were hardly tipping, if at all. I have had an inordinate amount of stiffers lately (as in people flat out just paying their bill, sans tip, disregarding the fact that I basically make slave wages).  And I berated myself over and over that I wasn’t making a difference in the world at all. How was serving people pancakes and up-selling pies making one iota of a difference when I knew the difference I was supposed to make?

My panic levels crept up steadily and were exacerbated when I threw silverware into the soak bucket and all the gunky, putrid water splashed back and hit me directly in the face and mouth. I tried not to jump to my usual action plan when I am deeply disturbed by my life and that is running away and joining the circus. The Swiss circus was what I decided. I told this to one of my coworkers and he asked, why Swiss? I said it sounded nice. I bet the Swiss have a great Circus. Actually, they seem like the types who might frown upon all that lycra and animal cruelty.

I joked with my boyfriend that I was going to jump on the beer delivery guy’s dolly and have him whisk me out of there. He told me not to leave him for a beer guy. I pointed out I wasn’t leaving him for anyone, not even someone who was a chocolate maker with his own railroad, but that I needed to escape before I had a full blown panic attack.

I have this journal where I jot down highlights of my day or at least the notables. I felt very sullen and so I doodled a noose and joked in my journal how worth it it would be to swallow some poison. Then one of the cook/drywallers (don’t even ask) came up and asked if I wanted to see his paint job. This isn’t a euphemism for his penis; he is gay. And he really likes to show off the walls he has recently patched or painted and go over every detail with great pride. I am not exactly sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with loneliness and/or needing some sort of attention or validation.

So poison it is, I thought. Get some dishwashing detergent and swallow half the bottle before you have to go check out another freshly painted wall and get a tutorial on it.

I didn’t poison myself, obviously. I went and politely inspected the freshly painted basement room while my coworker pointed out how much better it looked, didn’t it? I nodded. It sure did. I knew this, because it was his old room and he had brought me down there before to show me his dog. Also not a euphemism. He really does like Show and Tell.

I went home and rationalized that it was no use to get worked up and expect instant gratification, as even if I did have my novel done, (which I don’t) it wouldn’t get published or sell or probably even make money by uhh… tomorrow which is what I wanted so that I could throw my apron on the counter and storm out, vowing never to scrape another sticky pancake plate and get silverware splash in my face again. Unless it is my husband or kids. I will scrape their pancake plates. That’s all right. And so I may as well keep plugging at it with baby steps and not freak the heck out and doodle nooses (or is that like gooses and it’s not a word?)

Except I was still on edge and very much wanted instant gratification anyway. So I ate a whole bunch of peanut butter kiss cookies and felt sufficiently bad about myself, huffing into my bedroom and crying for all of two minutes until I became annoyed with my antics. And then I really did make an action plan. That didn’t involve a noose, poison, running away with the circus or a beer delivery man and mostly involved putting on a sports bra, tying my hair back and brutalizing myself in the room we loosely call a “gym”—a storage room with a few weights, a couple broken cardio machines and an aqua massager—at my place of employ. I reached some semblance of an endorphin high, regaining my clear rationale.

I would find a way. Even if I had to shove my writing down people’s throats, as was suggested to me by one of my Biggest Loser trainers. I hoped it didn’t come to that, but instead of being a big Debbie Downer, I would employ Biggest Loser tactics and get angry and get goin’. Because what else could I do? Boo-hooing into murky silverware water wasn’t going to make me an accomplished writer. I was. So I may as well shut the hell up about writing and get to it. Words to paper, man.

Or something. So here is my execution. Not of myself. Because how very macabre. No, of getting the writing going. And hobnobbing with other folks who write and generally just being a writer and not bemoaning that I am not a writer. Fourth grade me knew I was a writer and didn’t need a paycheck or validation to put pen to paper anyway. So maybe I should channel fourth grade me. Though really un-savvy and prone to wearing oversize Winnie the Pooh shirts, that girl had gumption.

Cheers to fourth grade me then. And not running away or offing myself when things seem bleak. And the written word. Always the written word.

 

Searching for a Story

Musings

I was freaking out the other day—like I am wont to do—over the notion that maybe I was out of stories. Maybe I had nothing more to say. I had said it all. Which okay, that in itself is quite laughable because I am the most verbose person I know, and I find that I know a lot of people, especially other verbosers like me.

I really had a fret about me as I tried to go about my day enjoying myself, whilst still searching for a story. But when I find that I may not have a story, inevitably a story finds me. Because life is beautiful and happenstance like that.

And surely a few things unfolded. First of all, I did find a story, or more appropriately, I located Story, Wyoming: a darling little village with a population of about 800 people. I suspected right away with a name like Story that I was going to fawn. And fawn I did as my sisters and I wove through the back country roads of Story while it drizzled and the windows fogged. A river wound past us and tall pines lingered in our peripheral.

If that weren’t enough to elicit love—which I’ll be honest, pines and rivers are always enough to elicit my love—what’s more is when I happened upon a quirky little guest house in Story’s dinky downtown, named the Waldorf A Story. As a lover of words and stories—duh, I also greatly admire wonderful plays on words. I was delirious. I popped on over into the library after fully devouring the Waldorf A Story, which was built with bright logs and as warm and charming as Story itself. I chatted with the librarian about the Waldorf A Story, about the town and how I was very enchanted and maybe I just might have to move to Story.

“We actually have a lot of writers who live here,” she smiled.

Naturally I had worked into the conversation that I was a writer. And why wouldn’t I consider living somewhere that appreciated words as much as I did?

The whole ride home I would not shut up about how wooed I was and how conflicted I felt. I loved this place, not just Story, but Wyoming. I loved the mist coming off of the mountains and how nice the librarians are here, not uber grouches like they seem to be in Michigan—come on gals, don’t you know you have one of the most cherished jobs in the world—and I liked the cowboys and their ruggedness and how seriously they seemed to take their ruggedness. I liked seeing them lasso in the middle of the day when I was out shopping, because that is the kind of thing you see in Wyoming. I also liked that my customers understood my Wyoming love and even encouraged it, asking me questions like, “Well, why don’t you just marry a cowboy?”

To which I always responded with, “I’m trying! Why haven’t any proposed yet?” Cue 90’s Paula Cole crooning, Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.

Then I got to thinking, no but really, why hasn’t a cowboy asked me out yet? I posed this question to my girl friend at work today and before she could answer I mused, “Well it could be that I give myself only 17 minutes to get ready in the morning and then I go back to bed for five of those minutes and then run out the door letting my hair frizz out and only having put on one dab of mascara… but that can’t be the only reason…”

So what’s the dilemma then? If I love the mountains and the mist and the librarians and the rivers and the pines and the ruggedness of the men, then what is the problem? Well I suppose it’s that I know deep down I am not ready to let anyone or anything claim me quite yet… even Wyoming and so I feel a bit of melancholy over the whole ordeal, whilst at the same time feeling deep wells of gratitude for my good fortune of being in a mountains embrace dreaming of cowboys.

Do you see? Or maybe you don’t see at all, because I am a slight crazy person, but it’s like this: Wyoming wooes me so much of the time that I genuinely want to sob. I told this to my sister and I hammered on the point of sobbing so much, especially over this ballroom I had recently visited in an old Wyoming senator’s home, that my sister asked if I was pregnant.

“No, I am not pregnant,” I proclaimed, “not even possible! You have to have sex to get pregnant.”

But I had gotten to thinking after seeing the ballroom with the steepled ceilings and stained glass windows in a mansion perched on a hill, and the Buffalo farm nearby, and the town of Story and living atop a mountain, in a place where I felt others understood not just the beauty of the land but the magic of moving Westward, that it was grand I had moved on. Wasn’t it grand and maybe worth a sob or two?

I had loved Virginia in a way that I thought couldn’t be topped. I had also loved New York City, but in a different way. In a desperate sort of manic way. And I love the U.P. with the whole of my being. All these places have become a part of me no matter where I go, but what if I had stopped at the U.P. and never discovered the beautiful insomnia of late night runs across the Brooklyn Bridge, or endearing myself forever to beer, cheese and cows in the heartland of Wisconsin? Or the rolling horse country of Virginia, and Appalachia, and whale watching and falling in love with my nation’s capital and a man all at the same time?

So the conundrum is I can’t stop here in Wyoming. Not yet anyway. Now is the time for lingering. Oh and gosh darnit if I don’t want to linger with cowboys and mountains. But I also want to linger in Italian vineyards and along seaward coasts and wade through cranberry fields and dance at moonlit festivals.

I guess what all the fuss and fanfare is about is that I want to be a little morose already over potentially having to leave another love… because trust me, it ain’t easy folks. But at the same time, damn if it isn’t all so beautiful and worth every one of my seconds that I could simply sob. And I probably will. And no I am not preggo. I am just an emotionally overwrought kinda gal—or as one of my friends would say: a rollercoaster of emotion—and I like to cry over ballrooms, mountains and towns called Story.