I drove to the restaurant on Saturday, for the second first time, where I worked my way through college.
It's a small, sweet story, how I ended up logging any hours there again. Suffice to say that I walked in the door for a meal last week, and this is how it turned out, for a couple of reasons. I'm not in a position to turn down much financial opportunity, for one, the way things are going. Things are strange around here. I wouldn't call them wildly stable, but I am working, thanks to several years of writing and editing work that I did on the side of my teaching job, to the community I built up from blogging and Twitter and conferences, to the endless conversations I've had since I started talking on the internet.
And I like it. I like working, essentially, for me, although at the same time I work for, and with, lots of people, at a distance. I like being mostly in charge of my day, even though it's weird not having much of a schedule. I like working with smart, insightful, engaging, people on exciting projects. I like finally confirming, after years of knowing but not having any real, workable proof, that this non-routine routine is where my brain thrives, that I can get results (for me and for you) as a result, that I don't get sick of it, that it makes me more energized and productive and creative, every single day.
I like being my own resume. I like telling you I'll do something at midnight and having it settled by 11 a.m. I like the people in my inbox. I can't tell you what a gift this is.
But, economically speaking, I also like watching Rachel Maddow and Top Chef. I like having access to cable, and I'm not willing quite yet to turn it off. First of all, I live alone, do not Skype a lot or watch web video, and I hate the telephone, plus no one ever calls me except my mother and Sallie Mae (I love you, Mom.) My cable bill divided by the number of days in a month is probably worth its weight in sensory exposure that is not internet-based. Plus a certain level of the way I exist in the world is tied to pop culture, like it or not. I'd call it shallow, but I can't, because it's just part of who I am, how I think, how I connect, and how I process the world.
I also really like watching Rachel Maddow. I would have been an even uglier mess on election night without her. A daily hour of her plus, oh, one and a half minutes of Ellen dancing, is like therapy tax, whatever.
I also like paying my rent, and buying the very occasional pair of shoes, it's true, and not eating garbanzo beans for every meal (although I would, if pressed, eat them every day. I like them that much. I'm into legumes.) And not having a regular paycheck every two weeks, even though random ones come in now and again, is an unnerving and, yes, scary situation for me. I don't know when it will happen again, or if it will happen again, but I know that I will never again in my adult life take it for granted. It not happening has made my brain different. It's changed my social life. It's changed my plans, on a daily basis and in the long-term.
I think about everything carefully now, from the number of months ahead that I can estimate that I can watch Rachel Maddow without major stress, to the choice of whether to eat what I have in this sad little refrigerator and pantry, or go snag the steak and cheese I really, really want, for some reason. (Friday night I opted for the steak and cheese. Tomorrow I may choose differently. This is all actually really good for me, although I don't like it at all. Out of the comfort zone and all.)
Anyway, last night I got dressed up in decent clothes and got in my car. I got on the Beltway and I started driving in a really familiar direction, to work a host shift at a place I haven't clocked in at since 1996. Since I said I'd do it, I'd been thinking about it with a mix of amusement and nostalgia, and a little bit of dopey excitement. I'd be out of the house to do something useful, maybe. I'd be working a different side of my brain. I'd make a quarter of my cable bill.
It came clear as I drove that it was a gorgeous, mid-fall Maryland pre-sunset evening. Everything glowed. Fewer leaves on the trees meant that the light got through more obviously. I was in what I'd identify as a good mood. So I turned up the radio in my car for the first time (I'm not kidding you. I know. Come on, lucky 2013!) since I got home from my road trip in September. Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball cd was in the slot, not surprisingly.
The song of the same name was on.
"When your game has been decided
and you're burning up the clock
and all our victories and glories have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires have scattered to the wind
and hard times come and hard time go and hard times come and hard times go and hard times come and hard timesgoandhardtimescomeandhardtimesgo just to COME AGAIN."
I started crying and I just cried like a fool, I cried all my way to that restaurant. I cried for roads I was on again and roads I'd been on and stuff that was messed up. Around the exit where I really needed to worry about my eyes looking crazy at my destination I said out loud "What in the WORLD LAURIE?" which typically makes me stop crying but it didn't.
I cried because it was all hitting me, that there were times on that road to and from California when I thought my pain and confusion and the fallout from my choices would literally kill me. I listened to the entire Wrecking Ball cd on repeat for a good part of that trip, including one memorable moment when "This Train" took me around Dallas and on my way to Austin, triumphant, sun blazing, one of the most beautiful moments of the whole trip.
I had been scared, that whole time, scared of the entirety of my life and of my feelings, of leaving my job and of broken trust and the everything that was unknown and the bitch of my own fragility. I thought my game had been decided, that victory and glory were foreign concepts, that everything was what I was seeing: parking lots.
I cried because when I came home I walked back into an unmanageable vortex that landed me in an unpleasant room with my head buried in my mother's arms, weeping, terrified of my physical fragility. I was embarrassed and afraid and yet, and yet, I gave myself over to her and to my sister, to my whole family, really, finally. And that is when it started to get better, when I said I'd been carrying all of this stuff for too long and I couldn't do it anymore, and they said, to a person, that I would be okay, and I believed them.
It's been a slow road back, it really has, but it started moving a lot faster when I said words out loud, when I trusted in that which and who has been there for me the whole time, even and especially when I told it to go away. It's still hard, but every day, it's gotten a little better. I'm still nervous and worried and I still toss what are probably not the smartest things around in my head on a daily basis, but I'm better. I'm so much better.
I love Bruce Springsteen for unwittingly giving me context for all of this craziness. I'm just a drop in the bucket of people who appreciate him, but nonetheless, I am so grateful, because music is in many ways my most essential filter, and when I don't use it at my worst times, I suffer. My year and my path would have been lacking without this record, and when I look back over my life, this is really only true of a select few artists and their work.
Carries saints and sinners
Carries losers and winners
Carries whores and gamblers
Carries lost souls
Dreams will not be thwarted
Faith will be rewarded...