One of the best parts of nomadic life is getting folded into close family parties–birthdays, graduations, Sunday dinners and, most of all, holidays.
But this has been a year of fresh firsts, starting with a several-month stint in Phoenix, continuing with a quicker-than-usual tour of the country over the summer in pursuit of my first gig as a wedding photographer. The trend continues, with my first holiday spent as simply two.
He was super excited about this from the moment we planned it. Which is the main reason I agreed to it. Also that he’s spent the last several Thanksgivings by himself–that just seems criminal, doesn’t it? I like to think that I’m good at being alone, but I’d rather insinuate myself into a place where I’m an awkward outsider than spend a holiday alone.
He’s a midwestern boy at heart, and having grown up used to exotic stuffing recipes and spicy turkey rubs, not to mention a prominence of fresh green vegetables on the Thanksgiving sideboard, I was prepared for the best part of this meal to be holding hands across the table.
Instead, he pulled out the most beautifully browned five-pound poultry I’ve ever seen, with soupy gravy puddling around al dente potatoes, and carrots that I almost liked. (If you know how I feel about carrots, you’ll understand.) He was so proud of himself, and so was I. Also, my attempt at Brussels sprouts was a roaring success…which is fortunate, because he’d never eaten Brussels sprouts before.
Earlier that day, the now-rare occasion of sunshine and temperatures above 40 degrees lured me out for a run. I got back just as the alpen glow was settling onto the sides of the Tetons, cold and wet-footed and flushed and starving and happy. Happy to be there, to be safe, to be free, to be spending Thanksgiving in a snowbound cabin with a man who spent all day in the kitchen to make a lovely holiday for us two.
Darkness fell. We ate. The combination of tryptophan and romance melted me just like the cheap candles running their wax all over his mother’s placemats. When I looked up at the stove littered with the detritus of his hard day’s work, it was all I could do to keep from crying. He turned on the end of the football game (whichever one it was) and I curled up beside him and we both began to snore and sweat off the meal.
And just like that, it all turned over. I don’t know how. I woke up with a face full of my own drool soaked up from the pillow, feeling guilty that I hadn’t even checked in yet with Laurel to see how the Thanksgiving went that I had more or less promised to be back for, when I left Arizona all those weeks and emotional eons ago.
I pick up the phone, and suddenly it occurred to me that I never got back to her about whether I needed some more time with this month’s rent money. Following upon that was the realization that when I get back to Phoenix in four days, I’ll owe her not just this past month’s, but the coming month’s.
And suddenly my insides gripped all the food I’ve just eaten with so much gratitude, churning its grateful melt into a hard charcoally bitterness.
I start to grow cold inside, rehearsing the speech that I will I have to deliver when I get back to Phoenix. Where will I go then? Being in Portland for a month was supposed to help me save money. How is this happening once again, just when I thought my career’s foundation was finally drying? Can you even really give such a grand name as “career” to a professional life whose main strength, after three years, is primarily its promise?
Do you get tired of hearing me talk this way? I do. At the beginning of this year, I really thought that I was all done with it…the prospects were so good.
It’s not as if I haven’t been working. That’s the bitch of it–I have been. I took on two of the biggest projects I’ve ever had this year. There are contracts, and there are promises, and there are contingencies, and there are emails…loads and loads of emails, most of them ending with a phrase like “by next week.”
Which ends up being all I have to tell Laurel, the school loan hounds, and anyone else to whom I owe money.
Which makes me look as if I haven’t been working, at all.
Last year, I drove west from Pennsylvania in a four-day blitz, got laid up in Laramie by high winds laid me up in Laramie for a night in a motel I couldn’t afford, had my headlights fail just after nightfall, skidded through the Emigrant Hill pass in a nightmarish fog, and arrived Portland with $12 to my name.
This time, Wyoming has more than made it up to me for that initial bad impression. This time, I’m driving south for December. This time, I’m only busted until that $20,000 paycheck comes for the book I ghostwrote. This time, I have somebody who loves me and holds me tight whenever I complain.
So things are better. Right?
I’m not sitting on the floor and gut-crying for an hour, the way I did last year, intermittently screaming to myself or God or whoever that I couldn’t do it anymore.
But that might only be because I’ve grown used to that feeling…it doesn’t elicit screams anymore.
I’m going to put all this on my gratitude list in a minute, but this is a whole new category of mystery for the gratitude list. Past occasions of indigence have unearthed this underlying rage at God that, much as it pained me to admit, seemed a good enough reason for affliction. You know–to draw it to the surface and deal with it. But this time is different. I’m not mad at him. Not like before, anyway. I even trust that he’s got a good reason for letting me languish thus.
That, I guess, is the very reason why I can’t really see what the point is for this round.
Unless maybe it’s you.
I recently read this piece in Fast Company or somewhere about how entrepreneurs are peculiarly prone to depression and panic attacks. They mentioned some Fortune 500 guy who, after years of playing with millions in one successful company after another, found himself with like $40 in the bank and loads of debt piling against his door.
He boomeranged back, of course–it was a happy story. But I really wanted to know all the details behind it. How he got there, what he thought along the way, what kinds of things people told him about his prospects, what unsolicited advice he received.
Mostly, I want to know what he did in those weeks or hours while his last $40 grew cold in his pocket. How his insides felt. I want to know if the way I feel right now is normal. And whether it’s what I assume it looks like to everyone else–a good indicator that now’s the time to give it up…or if, like reaching your threshold in running, it’s a sign that greater strength is around the corner.
I can’t shake the feeling that this venture of mine will be successful. This blog, this freelance career, this nomadic life. Also, I don’t know what else to do, at this point. So I keep going.
If it is successful, though, I want it well on record that it tore me up pretty bad, in the early years, and that there were several times when it looked like everything was going to be all right, and then wasn’t.
Those are the stories I want to hear and can’t seem to find, at this particular moment.
Maybe you’ll need them someday. Maybe you need it now.
If so, happy Thanksgiving to us both. It’s been mostly a very good year. As for the rest, we’ll get there. In spite of my feelings, I really think we will.