Hello dream weavers. Guess what? Somehow it’s mid-November.
[note: don’t get bored, I’m going to talk about school for approximately one minute…]
This is significant because it means I’ll be turning in the final research paper of my third semester in just a little over one month, putting me at the halfway point in this crazy grad school adventure. [OK, that’s enough of that!] But perhaps just as importantly, it means we’re only two weeks out from my 29th birthday. I know, I know, hold the applause. Remember how I spent my whole life convinced I wouldn’t make it past my 27th birthday, and then somehow I did? Yes, it’s possible I actually died and this is all some afterlife fever dream (how else do you explain the Stranger Than Fiction situation where a poet named Tana Jean Welch is living in Gainesville, Florida and literally writing my life story as it unfolds?), but maybe, just maybe I’m actually still here and doing the damn thing.
Last week during my tutoring hours at the community college, a very earnest and very concerned student came in to talk to my coworker, her former English professor. Between her wild hand gesturing and aggressive semi-whispering, I deduced this girl was trying to make some Big Decisions. After all, she’s 19 or 20 years old, the age when the Decisions We Make will impact The Rest of Our Lives.
And I laughed, remembering a 21 or 22 year-old me, saying to Lucy I just think we’re at that age where we’re becoming the people we’ll always be, you know? I want to make sure I’m becoming the best me. That conversation went down approximately one year before I would make the series of destructive, drunken, borderline sadistic decisions that led me to Portland, where I floundered along, learning to be less destructive and sadistic. Where I started making the decisions that would eventually lead me here: a Japanese restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego [note: they have a hell of a Happy Hour and an $8 spicy tuna rice bowl that is literal heaven].
Was I making decisions that would impact me the rest of my life? Yes of course. Was I becoming the person I would always be? No, absolutely not. The thing I’m learning about decisions is that they’re more like altimeters than street signs. They’ll tell you where you are (in all your glorious ups and down), not where you’re headed, or where you’ve come from.
This girl wants to be A Writer. She wants to know if she’s Good Enough. She is afraid of Selling Out and Playing It Safe. She is afraid of Not Having a Safety Net. Ahh, memory lane.
Fact: I only went to college because a high school teacher didn’t want me to die still working at the diner in my hometown, so he literally kidnapped me, hovering over my shoulder while I filled out my application to University of Montana.
Fact: I declared myself an Anthropology major because I had a crush on my friend, who happened to be an Anthropology major (and, unlike an English degree, there was no foreign language requirement for graduation). We dated for nearly three years. We had a dog and a cat. We inevitably didn’t work out.
Fact: After graduation and the breakup, I had no idea what I was doing. I worked as the General Manager for a doggy daycare until depression and alcohol abuse brought me right to the edge of being fired. I dated the first “love of my life,” and spent over half our relationship setting us both on fire. I decided to pursue a career as a rugby player. I promptly blew out my knee, at which point I pulled some David Copperfield shit, and “disappeared” my problems by burning bridges and skipping states.
Fact: In Portland, I worked almost five years as a receptionist in the veterinary industry, but at parties I introduced myself as the “Marketing Director for a local specialty clinic,” because I was ashamed that I spent my days scrolling through Facebook and answering telephones. I learned how to drink a whole bottle of wine without blacking out. I dated. I made some good decisions, and some bad decisions. I started writing poetry, and it was just as angsty as the stuff I filled notebooks with in high school, but I was suddenly no longer afraid to read it on a stage in front of strangers, and they seemed to dig it. I was nominated for some awards, I published some things.
Fact: I applied to grad school because of a breakup. Because the second “love of my life” didn’t love me. Because I was hurt and angry, and I didn’t want to be in that town full of memories. Because I wanted her to see me doing fine without her, even though I wasn’t and didn’t think I ever would [spoiler alert: I was wrong] Because was learning, slowly, that you can’t treat real people like background characters in your stories. They have their own agency.
Fact: Currently, I can say in all honesty that studying for my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) is the hardest, most rewarding thing I have ever done. I have always been A Writer (link: Floorplan/Rusty), I have always been Good Enough. I don’t regret a single step in this crazy, circuitous journey.
So I told this to the girl making her Big Decisions, and I told her about my cohort: the retired construction worker, and the former librarian, and the mammal fresh out of undergrad, and the mother whose body rejected a job in the beauty industry, and I told her If you want to be a writer, you’ll write, and you’ll never stop writing, and if you’re meant to go to school, you’ll find your way.
I don’t want to act like I have all of the answers. This morning I had a sleeve of saltines and a whole French press of coffee for breakfast. I bribed myself to do laundry with a YA graphic novel and a bottle of sake. Tonight, I’ll go bump elbows with the staff of Fiction International (who happen to be some of my closest friends down here. I know, it’s like totally no big deal) at the new issue release party. In four days I’ll board a plane to spend Thanksgiving and my 29th birthday in Portland with the silly little familia that loves and supports me from 1,000 miles away.
Recently, I texted Lucy. I said I don’t know what to write. She said:
One time you were really drunk when we were dating-- like really blacked out, didn’t know who I was, or where you were. You kept biting me as I tried to put some pajamas on you—like you were incoherent but you were fighting back no matter what. Sometimes I think about that because… I feel like you saw yourself as weak. But you were really strong, you fought for yourself even when you didn’t know you were doing it.
None of this is easy. But it feels right like the essence of purple, which is to say god. It feels calm like blue heron. Like waking up and knowing I’ve been dreaming poetry. Even when I feel weak, something somewhere inside me is fighting.
Happy almost Thanksgiving, kittens.