2017 in the rearview, and a pilgrimage to my childhood home

The day after Christmas, I loaded up a rental car and drove back home, alone. Not Ohio home, but original home: the place that bore me, that contains just over a third of my life’s memories.

I needed to spend the final moments of 2017 being silent and connecting with some filament of the past, but I also wanted to spend that time with my father.

IMG_4969

During my trip, I sat there in my childhood room. It’s mostly empty save for a bed, some lamps, a heater and some storage. And while there is sadness here — we live in the kind of world that speeds toward erasure, determined to dissolve the memories we attach to land, the ghosts of my brother and I as children becoming more difficult to conjure — it still is full of light and magic and promise. And love. Of course love.

Ironically, Facebook reminded me today about a short scrap of memoir about my childhood in Delaware that was published on The Rumpus on this day in 2011. (Images below.)

I was one year post-graduate degree when I wrote that. A year ago, I would have written that sentence with sadness and longing. I would have thought to myself, oh, well that was a different life, wasn’t it? I had, for almost 3 years, stopped writing seriously– or so I thought. A particularly traumatic publishing experience involving some family reactions made it impossible for me to sit down at the page and write anything without hearing their questions in my head. When you sit down with fear, nothing’s going to come out. That’s the first rule of any creative endeavor: you’ve got to give yourself permission to screw around, muck it up, and even bomb it terribly. You’ve got to get out the raw materials in order to begin working with them, shaping them into something sensical, creating a story.

2017 was the year I learned all that. I stopped being scared. I told fear to get the fuck out. I’d like to sit here and tell you that I had that in me all along, and maybe I did, but it didn’t just happen because I willed it to. It was the aftermath of depression. It was after living in the underbelly of grief. The loss of my brother made me realize how unhappy I was NOT writing. I began filtering everything through him, posing questions that he’d asked me before. He became the voice in my head, and thank god.

2017 was the year of turning inward. Of learning to trust myself again. More importantly, learning to trust my voice. It’d be nice to say that it’s a one-and-done thing, this self-trust, but it’s not. Defeating imposter syndrome is a daily choice on what to focus on, and I don’t always make the right choice. Drawing inspiration from the larger world — whether that’s art, fellowship with other creative friends, social media, books, movies, TV, whatever — is a double-edged sword. It can also be an energy suck and an inspiration killer, especially the social media bit. I’ll spare you the full tangent on that, but in short, it can be tough. Everyone and their mom looks like they’re having the time of their life, celebrating milestone after milestone, while I’m feeling all alone and self-conscious in my sad-girl corner of the internet. Of course, we all know perception ISN’T reality, especially when it comes to social media.

In 2018, I’m making a point to be more conscious of what media I’m consuming, and how. When I find myself reaching for my phone to scroll mindlessly through Instagram, I ask myself if there’s something else I’d rather be doing — like reading, journaling, even making a loaf of bread. More often than not, there is. I expect I’ll fail pretty well at this experiment, because social media is pretty unavoidable (at least in my line of work). But being more thoughtful about what, when and how much I consume is a practice in mindfulness that will only deepen the creative breakthrough I cultivated for myself last year.

*

When I left Delaware to return to Ohio, my father packed up my car. He sent me on my way with gifts for my husband, stepdaughter and I. He gave me two kitchen carts and a nightstand and tucked a huge sweatshirt and gloves into a box on my passenger seat. The snow had been falling for a couple hours by that point, the first snow they’d had in a while. He took a photo of me in front of the car, hugged me, told me where I could find the last Wawa in Maryland before I picked up I-95, and told me he loved me.

2017 was a blessing. The part of me that wants to make and create and write and share feels front and center again, in part thanks to a supportive partner and some incredible friends who encouraged it. My deepening relationships with family have helped some fissures begin to heal. The year began with a return home to myself, ending with a literal pilgrimage to my childhood. Without being fully aware of it, I completed the circle. Onto the next.