Potholes never move

On Tuesday I met an old friend for lunch. She’s also a life coach, and extremely new age, if one can say that spirituality comes in degrees. She’s said more than once that there’s a reason I found myself in a little town as isolated as Walla Walla, since my writing wasn’t really happening in the busy bustle of DC. Well, I have oodles of time to write now.

She’s from Nebraska, which I can only imagine, having never set foot in the state. In my mind it’s somewhere between the musicality of Oklahoma and whirling dervishes of Kansas, a state for whom I can only name three places: Omaha, Lincoln, and Platte, because my grandmother had relatives there. All the people I know from Nebraska, who also happen to number three, know farm life well, remember it fondly, and are the kind of folks who proudly announce, when they first meet someone, “I’m from Nebraska,” as if we’ll all have the same reference point. I’m quite sure none of us do. For easterners who only seldom cross the Mississippi, Nebraska is part of the “other” United States. We figure they’re flying the same Stars & Stripes, as us, but beyond that, it may as well be the surface of Mercury. Now that I live westward of ole Miss, I know this isn’t true. They’re just like easterners except quieter, often working with fewer resources, and ruggedly independent. They don’t need the east like we think they do.

What I’ve gathered from my friend is that she is a 21st Century person born nearer to the start of the 20th. She’s never more than nine inches from her PDA, and she handles it with an ease that I, a Generation Xer, never seem to manage, always cursing at a typo on my texting screen and feeling the urgent need to press BACK sixteen times to fix my mistake. She just hammers through on her iPod or whatever new device has just hit the market. She’ll have an Android sometime in the next hour, I’m sure. And for her it’s more than simple, or even amazing technology;  it’s the universe helping us feel more connected to each other, because there’s a positive force that comes with being proximate to our fellow life travelers.

She’s helped me beyond measure, as she helps everyone around her with her warm smiles, booming laughter, and occasional quick frowns that pop up when she wishes you’d behave differently. She tells me that I have one of the loudest interior critics she’s ever met, and that the next time it hovers over me I should just tell it to go away and retire. Such silliness, I have thought, at these kinds of declarations from her. And then the next time I think about writing and I castigate myself for thinking I have the right to waste my time like this, I hear her:

Oh, you again? You know, I am really so sick of you. It’s time for you to retire.

Could it really be that simple?

I look around. Nobody but me is in earshot. I speak her words into the air.

And then I start a new short piece. One that’s been kicking around for eight years or so, and that I’m positive I started writing a long time back. I can find no evidence of it, but I have sharp visions in my brain, scenes and characters and a plot surprise at the end of 3,500 words. I hate starting something all over when I know there’s even a piece out there, my wounded Marine on the battlefield that I’ve promised to retrieve.

I give up the ghost and start over, figuring that at least this way I won’t be burdened by past efforts.

I thank my friend for helping me with a sageless exorcism.

This trip has been good for pieces of me I’ve neglected since moving out west—the ones with unbridled optimism, the sanctuary for my bones by the old and familiar, the joy that comes with knowing how to avoid every pothole on a certain road you haven’t traveled in a long while. It shows me what I’m missing from Walla Walla, even though there are many things I enjoy and even love about that place. I’m missing the fullness of a boisterous life. I don’t know as many opinionated, brash people, have as many options, or have to tune out much noise. Even the frequent wailing of firetruck sirens has heartened me since we returned to the nation’s capitol, the only time Susanne has been here since President Obama took office. Walla Walla doesn’t have enough noise for me, although its springs come close to meeting my requirements for color, with the bright green, baby wheat, bold blue skies, and rainbow-infused balloons during the annual hot air stampede. I can relish Walla Walla for the quiet and agree with my Nebraskan friend that it’s given me—forced me, even, into—writing time, pushing me to reconsider what success means and who I am capable of being in this lifetime.

But while I’m here in DC, I can at least try to unite these selves—past and present—a little, and enjoy all of the good things in my life, which starting with Susanne, are plentiful.

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Categories: coffee, visiting


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