How I spent my summer vacation: 2014 edition

In August orange cactus flowers open

In August orange cactus flowers open

My friend Jessy Schmidt, who I met in Davis, got married last weekend. She’s moving to Tucson soon, which I was excited to hear. One New Year’s Eve a few years back, at a bonfire on a farm in Yolo County, we discussed our resolutions and Jessy’s is the resolution to end all resolutions. “I just say the same thing every New Year’s,” she told me, “I resolve to learn the lessons my life is teaching me.”

I’ve been learning some painful lessons this summer. The first, and most basic, and one I am frankly embarrassed to admit I am still working on though I turn 36 next month (as though there’s an expiration date on these milestones and I’m still behind the curve), is that I need to be kinder to myself. I beat myself up a lot for not having mastered some lessons already: self-love, setting boundaries, self-honesty. I should do more to credit myself for even getting to this point in the curriculum—I’ll admit that I had to repeat this class several times, but I can at least say now that I deserve kindness, and even love. And much of the time, I even believe it. But there are still dark times. Some days I don’t believe I deserve anybody’s kindness or love because I can’t see past my most recent mistake, or disappointment, or loss.  

The truth I’m rarely willing to admit is that I’ve learned some pretty awesome things about my strengths as a writer and my purpose in life and what matters to me. And I’ve been having some Telenovela-level meltdowns lately because I see some things so clearly and yet reality continues to confound and frustrate me.

An incredible immaturity of thought underlies this: a certain magic carried me to this point of being in Tucson and feeling that this is the right community for me, and being an MFA-holding essayist with a handful of lit mag pubs under my belt when just three years ago, that felt like an impossible dream—it was a buttload of work that helped get me here, but it felt like a kind of magic, and I lazily wanted to believe that magic would follow me into my post-graduate life in Tucson, that I would beat the woeful job market odds so many of my fellow grads fled Southern Arizona for, that I would quickly find full-time work making a salary comparable to what I was making as a marketing coordinator at the Davis Food Co-op before I came back to school—but doing something even more meaningful to me—and that I would fall easily and joyously into a profound romantic love. All very quickly, all as if by magic.

I started my summer giddily optimistic that all of these dreams would come miraculously true. And I did very little writing, except for a storytelling venue (which is good practice, but instantly gratifying and doesn’t provide the meatier satisfaction of a longer-term writing project). And as weeks and months passed and the magic didn’t seem to be happening, my fantastic optimism started to devolve into hopeless despair. At its nadir, I wrote two Facebook posts which got a lot of attention from friends who enjoyed the way they were crafted, which in a way only made me feel worse, because I wrote them as a valve for a painfully excessive feeling—I suppose I was fishing for sympathy—and no one really asked “Are you okay?” But I got a lot of “likes”! (I need to seriously rethink my relationship to Facebook. Soon. But not today.)

August 9: and sometimes, you get so angry you have to break furniture*

*sometimes, people leave trash next to your house because you live in an alley next to the trash cans. sometimes that trash is perfectly good furniture. and sometimes, you get sick of someone’s perfectly good desk because it’s been sitting outside of your house for over a week with no hope of being taken by anyone, and so, after a particularly frustrating night, you kick it. and stomp on it. and kick it some more. and thrash it and trash it and it still isn’t good enough. if only furniture would bleed. that might help. (22 likes)

August 16: If you’re ever in a really low place, I mean just a no-good, rotten, miserable howling ache of a place, I highly recommend a sunrise ride on the Rillito River Bike Path.

Not because of the damp creosote smell of the desert waking up, or for the gentle sound of water (actual water!) coursing through the usually dried-up riverbed among the vibrant plants rejoicing in their monsoon relief, or for the changing colors of the Catalinas and Tucson Mountains as the light rises and intensifies, or for the drama of pink and gold and silver of the eastern clouds kissed by these changing rays;

do it so that when the cyclists and joggers and dogwalkers pass you with their bright greeting of “Good Morning!” you can scowl at them because beauty and exercise don’t fix everything, and those smug fuckers need reminding. (47 likes)

I’m glad when I express sentiments that people can relate to, or when I turn a phrase that is pleasing to one’s ear, and I believe that these qualify as authentic expression, but I regret the feeling behind them. Senseless destruction, even of abandoned property, isn’t like me. My deliberate facial rebuttal of strangers’ well wishes this morning, however good it felt to indulge that little black cloud when my heart was feeling especially tender, did little to increase the presence of love in this world.

And one point that the global and national news has been driving home this summer, and which has been bumming me out in almost equal measure to my personal frustrations and disappointment, is that the world is suffering from a critical dearth of love. Not fake Hallmark greeting card/TV reality show love, but the kind of radical, world-changing love where humans accept one another’s differences and acknowledge common humanity, where people support one another’s right to pursue happiness not just in theory but in material fact. Where people like me do the actual work we were put on this planet to do, and do it joyfully, because it is a path chosen of love not fear, and guided with the intention of creating more love (and therefore justice) in the world.

But while I waited for things to get better, locally and globally, I got lazy, I got slack, and I let fear beat out love in my life. And this is how I wound up with the melodramatic outbursts I saw fit to chronicle on Facebook, land of the smiling, curated life.

I’m telling this story to make note. To help myself learn this lesson, and get past it. The only way to make your own magic is to do the work. It can be a challenge to discover what that work is, for any given individual, so I’ve already got a huge advantage—I know my work is to write. My job prospects, my romance prospects—these are variables beyond my control. But I can control my creative output. And I’ve been choosing not to. And I have suffered as a result. Note to self: keep up the creative output. If you’d done your work this summer, nothing would be different now in the money or sex department, but you’d certainly feel a lot better about life. That’s a valuable lesson. Let’s learn it and move on to the next one.

The next lesson, by the way, will be to balance writing with my new job. I start as an adjunct English instructor at UA next week. It’s only a one-semester contract, and I may have stated, vocally and vehemently in the past, a certain distaste for teaching 101, but I have to believe that this, too, is one of those lessons life is going to just keep teaching me until I get it right—to bring my practice of teaching more in line with the standards of my ideals of teaching. This is one I’ve struggled with in the past, and it is with gritted teeth that I express my gratitude for this opportunity to work at it again so I can develop this skill set. I have an opportunity to make a difference in a bunch of young writers’ lives this semester—when I think about it that way, my jaw relaxes a little. It’s a pretty remarkable place to be.

And though it’s not at all what I had hoped or expected, it is just a little bit magical.

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