Two weeks in glorious hell and back…

Two weeks ago, I was spending my last days in a cheap smelly Michigan motel room looking forward to the conclusion of one of the most growth-inducing experiences of my life. A little over a week before that, I was sitting alone in the same room wondering what happened. I had left my friends’ house in Iowa the second week of December with the prospect of a new job in a new state and I couldn’t have been more excited. It was a risk, but I thought I knew what I was doing. Or, at least, I knew that it was a risk I should take and would always regret, if I didn’t.

The move began smoothly enough. I had just spent the prior seven weeks with my friends near Des Moines, camping out in one of their spare bedrooms, creating a new website and attempting to make headway on a memoir that I had been putting off for the past ten years. With most of my belongings having been placed in a 10 by 10 storage unit in September, I had with me only the items needed for the simple life of a writer. This consisted of two suitcases of clothes, a backpack with laptop and other office equipment, a few books, camera, a small blender and coffee maker, a folding table to use as a desk, a laundry basket of various items, bedding, and guitar…..all of which I managed to fit in the back of my Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and enough for me to start my new life in a small Michigan apartment.

But my glorious visions of what was to come didn’t quite materialize as anticipated. Despite the relatively peaceful 10 hour drive along field-lined interstate and, eventually, northern Michigan pines, I was to get a very rude awakening when it came to the new job and search for workable living quarters. Hired as a news reporter for a small weekly newspaper in a small town with a population just over 2,000, I thought I was looking at a less demanding employment situation than my previous job at a larger daily paper. I also thought I was looking at a 30 to 45 minute commute to work, tops. I was wrong on both counts.

Arriving in town the first day, I arranged to meet with my new employer, fill out paperwork, and see the newsroom before my afternoon appointment to look at a potential housing option. Staff members were friendly and I felt comfortable, but by the third day in, job and financial pressures would get the best of me and that’s when the gravity of what I had done pulled me down and placed me smack dab in the middle of a mental and emotional crisis.

In short, I was miserable….and torn. You see, I had gone there because I knew I would eventually need work even if I did manage to complete a book within the next six months to a year….and I had gone there because there was a person who lived just a couple of hours south of my workplace to who I wished to be closer. The fact that I loved the tall pines and great lakes was yet another factor and I didn’t really want to leave. But the job, the pay, housing costs and the commitment to all of those were enough to make me sick to my stomach. Even just a year of financial struggle and being alone in a small town with no time for my personal writing projects was too much, but my employer expected me to start work before I even secured a place to live. And even after I expressed feelings of being overwhelmed and needing to find a place first, he didn’t quite understand and would call at all hours of the day and night about stories he wanted me to cover. This, of course, left me little time to find a place, which had become its own issue since affordable housing that was both close enough to work and civilization was seemingly non-existent.

And the person I had been texting for about four months? Well, I believed we would see each other at some point, but when? What if that didn’t work out? I believed it would, but would I stay there at all if he weren’t in the picture. The answer was a clear no.

And so, I eventually made the difficult decision to not relocate. However, I did learn some invaluable lessons and discover numerous things about myself and life during those two weeks of soul-crushing desperation that were totally worth the experience.

I am a capable writer and photographer. Yes, I believed I was quite capable before my attempted move, but feedback from the employer was very positive the two weeks I worked. Furthermore, a new found sense of conviction that I should write my own story grew out that temporary jump back into the newspaper world. With the realization that the new job (much like my former job) would allow me almost no time for my own writing, I wanted nothing more than to return to my own projects, thoughts, experiences, and words.

“I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.”

~ Rebecca Saletan

If I had doubted my ability or even my commitment to my own project in my acceptance of secure employment, I became a born-again believer in myself in almost an instant. Even if my progress was slow or I had lost the sense of humor and voice I had once possessed as a younger writer, I still believed I should do it. I believed I should explore and see where it would take me. Even if my plans for a memoir didn’t pan out, I also believed I had been on to something with my musings and writings about “letting go” before I left Iowa. Just maybe, that was my real work….my real story. I only needed to remain in it, living it, being it. No matter how good I was at being a reporter, I shouldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back.

Forward can be any direction from where you’re standing, but all directions are not forward. Before I started the new job, I actually thought that a step back in the journalism field would be a step forward in my personal writing career and personal relationship with my aforementioned love interest. Surely, there would be more time for my own writing if I worked for a weekly paper instead of a daily. And just as surely, there would be more opportunity to see the person I had been texting for months. At least, these were my thoughts. However, I quickly realized that the new work schedule with government meetings several nights a week and other work/events scattered throughout the daylight hours may actually mean less guaranteed personal time than my former job. And the love interest? Well, it was possible that I wouldn’t get to see him often enough to justify the misery….and I remembered something else. I remembered thinking that my writing could be the key to finding love, or it could lead love to find me if I stuck with it. If I sacrificed it for love, as I had done in the past, both the writing and love would elude me and it wouldn’t be a step forward at all.

Sometimes, what feels like a never ending cycle of loss and leaving is actually the continued formation of life-long relationships with people and places. Let me explain. Within a period of just a couple of months, I had visited a friend for a week in North Carolina, met a man from Michigan in Indiana, and spent eight weeks with friends in Iowa. None of the partings were easy and yet, the visits all required that I leave other places and people. When I was in Iowa, I missed my friend in North Carolina and the mountains. When I was in Michigan, I missed my friends in Iowa and the nearby parks and trails I had come know. In leaving Michigan, I knew I would miss the people I had met, the pine trees and crows, and even the crappy smelly motel room that had been my home for two weeks. But one thing was certain and that was that throughout my two-month journey in the world of change, transition, and impermanence, lasting memories and relationships were forged in my mind/heart that no passing of time or distance could erase. I realized that, once established, the pathways that connect us remain…like bridges, or strands, for as long as we allow….and this is the real truth of loss. It is an illusion. For one can’t lose what one doesn’t have…and what one has can never be lost. The only moment we really have is the present and beyond that is just the tangle of pathways to thoughts, memories, feelings, places, people. If you’ve ever visited a place and fell in love with it, then you know this to be true. Even after you return home, your connection to the very real and tangible feel, sound, smell, taste, and sight of the place’s existence remains.

“You only lose what you cling to.”

~ Buddha

It is possible to let go and hold on at the same time. Again, let me explain. The idea of simultaneously “letting go” and “holding on” has been with me since my late teens and I’ve believed on more than one occasion that I was able to do this. Before marriage, I let go of the person I would marry in a physical sense, but held on to the hope that we would eventually be together. And yet, there always seemed to be more to the idea beyond this initial practice. What if you hold on to your hope for a future that will never be or your hope that a person will be (or is) who and what you need, want, and desire? What if you hold on to the simple hope that you will see a person and you don’t, simply because the person decides not to see you? The person doesn’t stop texting or communicating, but simply passes on an opportunity to see you. Do you let go completely? Do you continue to hold on to hope and torture yourself with it?

“The moment judgment stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, peace, and joy.”

~ Echart Tolle

Wavering between the decision to let go and hold on is common in relationships. Those who are intent on being healthy typically let go all together in this kind of situation. And yet, many might continue to hold on….at least for awhile, until they can no longer take being a miserable basket case. But, is there another way? I think there might be. Even if you let go of being with a person; the hope that you will be with a person; the idea of the person; and what you need, want, and desire from the person, you still might be able to hold on. Now, I’m not going to claim that it will be easy or even suggest that you should hold on, but once you’ve let go of all that your ego desires and the person your mind has created, you can still choose to hold on to and accept the truth and reality of another human being. Although I don’t like to admit it, I’ve been in more than one similar situation in my life and each time, I held on….for awhile…..and eventually let go entirely. Maybe I’m doing it again. Or maybe I’m finding a better way, at least in this instance. As you have maybe already guessed, my Michigan love interest didn’t meet with me/see me during the two weeks I was there working. I came close to taking a break from communications with him and attempting to move on. And yet, despite everything that he was not…..or was not doing, I found that I needed him in a way that I’ve never needed anyone. You see, I had been writing him letters and he had been reading them…..all of my sappy and over-thought words. And he had been sharing music and movies with me and I had come to live on his video links, strength, and words of support. I couldn’t let go of any of that. Although I didn’t want another friend I could never really have or be with, I wanted him…..just as he was…..for the rest of my life. And because of this, I started envisioning a different future for myself….one in which I would focus on writing and would continue to write to him….one in which I may or may not ever be in a long-term relationship with anyone in the traditional sense. And either of those was okay.

I have the courage of a warrior, but sometimes I need allies and people fighting alongside me. Yes, it’s true. It took guts to pack up the few items I had with me and set out for a job and life in a new state where I knew almost no one. But, being alone in a small town with few people to talk to and where the prospect of making connections was slim to none, my friends and family were everything. Without the support of my friend in Iowa or my Michigan acquaintance, specifically, I would have never made it. My friend in Iowa left space for me to return. The man in Michigan remained a calm and solid voice of reason and a good listener throughout the duration of my ordeal….and he never was not “present” via text. We should all have such people who are there for us without judgment. We should all have our own little private armies….and be a part of the little private armies of others. I may have felt like I was in hell most of the two weeks I spent working in Michigan, but the pathways, bridges, and strands to others were there….and I have not one ounce of regret now for having gone.

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