Great Smokey Mountain National Park

Edward and I went to Cosby TN on Friday night and stayed in a little vintage camper we’d rented for the night on AirBNB for $70. It was fun and there had been a cold snap before we arrived so there were NO MOSQUITOS – which I was incredibly grateful for because they really tend to like my smell/blood and because of my skin type the bites and scratches (I can’t control myself from scratching the itches) take forever to heal and usually result in scars. Edward had a great time on Saturday morning cooking the two fresh eggs (from our hosts’ hens) we’d been left on the propane stove and making some earl gray tea and coffee with the little french press that was in the camper (the coffee, not the tea). We did A LOT of driving on Saturday because we got a little lost leaving Camp GRITS where we’d stayed the night and ended up taking a forest service road (one lane, unpaved) all around the edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park we were trying to get to the entrance of. It took about 2 hours to get off the service road and there was no way to turn around and no where to get off – so the only way out was through. It was beautiful though, forest and cliffs on either side at any given time. I would have enjoyed it more if I were not in a hurry to find a gas station (of which there obviously were not any on the forest service road) to get something to drink.We eventually got into the park and it was more crowded this year than it was when we visited right around the same time last year because the weather was better (it was raining for most of our trip last year) but it was still really fun to be in the mountains. Originally we had planned on going to the Gulf coast for a night but we had trouble finding an affordable place to stay near the shore so we decided to go to the mountains instead.

As we drove up to the tallest point of the park that you can get to by car, we had serious deja vu from our trip last year. We talked about how much in our life/lives and our relationship had changed since then. We reminisced. It was lovely. After the park we had to drive through Gatlinburg because that’s where the park exit leaves you and I HATED IT. I can’t imagine why anyone would go to Gatlinburg for vacation. It was crowded, the traffic was terrible, every store had bigger, brighter, more neon, more obnoxious signs than the next and the town was just filled with the tackiest stores and “attractions.” It was like Las Vegas but without the big money, just a town in TN that wanted to be Las Vegas in its own little way. It made me really anxious because I hate crowds and tacky, loud cities.

Luckily soon after Gatlinburg we found an Olive Garden and got some soup and salad for dinner there because we were STARVING by that point. The drive back to Birmingham was fine except for when there was about two hours left until home and Edward’s energy just crashed. He’d done 5 hours of driving the day before and had pretty much been behind the wheel from 11am (ET) that morning until we got home around 9pm (CT).

I’m being haunted

I’m about to turn 25 in less than a month. I feel like I should have accomplished so much more by now.

I’ve been struggling  a lot with big questions lately, so yesterday I decided to give myself a break and refuse to think about anything anxious or scary. I did not open the envelope from the student loan company that came in the mail. It kind of came back to bite me this morning when I woke up terrified of everything and just drowning in anxiety. I was afraid of living, of dying, of everything. I think all of the thoughts I was suppressing just kind of exploded because suppressing things doesn’t work for me. You can only keep the demons at bay for so long, and apparently for me that means one day of very effortful peace. I took 3mg of Klonopin and that didn’t help. I took a shower and drank some tea and that didn’t help. What does help is writing, truth-telling, being raw and being vulnerable. That is my safe space, where I can build myself a raft of twig honesty and hope twine. I not-so-secretly hope that by posting my words and thoughts and work online I will be able to join some kind of global creative tribe.

Here are the questions that have been haunting me:

– What do I want to do with this “one wild and precious life” (to quote Mary Oliver) I have been given? I feel directionless. I want to be an artist. I don’t know what I want, I know what I don’t want – which seems to really frustrate everyone I know.

– What if I never feel like a real artist? What does it even mean to be a “real” artist? What if nobody ever cares about what I make? What if I get burnt out and stop creating altogether and end up with the sort of boring, same thing every week, average life I am terrified of having?

– I ordered business cards last night with my name, contact info and the title “ARTIST” on them, but this does not make me a real artist.

Moving to Alabama: The First Month

July 2016

We left Saint Louis on the 4th of July, a little later in the day than we’d planned because the last bit of packing and loading the cars took longer than expected. We set off fireworks the night before in the streets behind our apartment building and had a few drinks with friends. We went to a diner with John, our good friend and one of our roommates for our last months in Saint Louis. The delivery truck hadn’t gotten to the diner so they were out of almost everything and I just ate buttery grits in a nod to my new Southern life to come. John is wonderful, he’s one of my oldest friends and is actually how Edward and I met all of those years ago. Saying goodbye to him was hard. We hugged and he kissed my forehead like he does before we got into our cars and drove off, waving and honking our horns in farewell.

We made it just past Nashville that first day. I am not the best driver to begin with and driving in the rain/dark after so many hours in the car by myself was making my driving extra scary for poor Edward who was following my car with his, watching me swerve around from behind, so we stopped at an cheap motel for the night with Lena. I had so many boxes and plants stuffed in my car that the only place for poor Lena to sit was on my lap. I listened to Harry Potter audiobooks while I drove. I used to be able to do 12 hour days driving by myself no problem when I would go back to my hometown during college or when I moved to Washington state briefly and drove alone for days (but I was hypomanic then so the driving without much sleep was a breeze) but now I am used to having Edward for company in the car so driving alone is a lot less fun and more tiring than it used to be.

We drank champagne in the motel room and ordered a big cheesy pizza at midnight because we both got hungry. Neither of us got good sleep and I got a little bit sick in the morning before we started driving again. Finally arriving in Birmingham felt rather magical. I loved seeing the cityscape in the afternoon sun, and it was all prettier than I remembered. I’d only ever visited in the winter before. We got to Edward’s mother’s house, where we’d be staying until we got an apartment officially lined up. We’d been trying to find a place since shortly after getting back from Iceland a few weeks before but had no luck. We kept finding places we liked but by the time we’d get the paperwork in someone else would have gotten the place. It was a really hard cycle for me – hope, disappointment, hope, disappointment, hope, disappointment again. Because Edward was still working 9-5 I had been appointed to do most of the long distance apartment hunting legwork.

Because I have been homeless before I get very antsy when my housing situations are anything but incredibly secure and official. I used to be more go with the flow but as I’ve gotten older, I need more security. Edward’s mother’s house is beautiful and she’s a great host but I don’t like staying in other people’s homes, I’ve never been comfortable staying anywhere but where I live or a motel. Edward and I jumped through more rental hoops and signed a lease on a place after staying at his mother’s for a few days. We were so excited to have our own place again. Living with so many roommates in Saint Louis during our last few months there had been great in some ways (I loved having people around while Edward was at work) but now we would only have to clean up after ourselves and we could nest together. When Edward and I first got together I moved into his place on South Spring Ave, then we lived in one room in a shared apartment (5 guys, 2 dogs and me) on Washington Blvd so having a place that was new to both of us and equally ours was an exciting and new experience. I couldn’t wait to decorate and unpack and settle in together. Luckily we had a few weeks before Edward would start medical school so we had time to get ourselves settled.

We bought stuff we needed for our apartment – we got a couch at the Salvation Army, a coffee table from Edward’s dad’s attic, a desk for Edward from Target. My orchids didn’t survive the move very well, they got too hot and too much sun and many of their leaves got bleached and dried up like leather. Some of them even fell off, so we bought two new orchids. I’m still trying to nurse my old collection back to health. It makes me sad but I try to remind myself that they are replaceable and were just a small casualty of changing times and growth.

I had so much anxiety during the weeks leading up to this move. I lived in Saint Louis for the better part of six years, it was were I had spent almost all of my adult life, and going to a new place where I didn’t really know anyone but Edward’s parents (a little) was intimidating. I knew Edward would be busy with medical school and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fill my days and they would be long and lonely. The future scared me a lot during this time. On good days, I felt fifty percent fear and fifty percent excitement. On the rest of the days I was one hundred percent anxiety. I felt angry at myself for my anxiety, resented myself for resenting Edward a little for making us move (especially ridiculous because I didn’t even really want to stay in Saint Louis) and judged myself against the impossible standards of the people I look up to and how they present themselves online and in books, thinking they would handle the unknown so much better than I was, thinking they would be able to see it completely as an adventure, feeling like a coward.

Edward and I went on some adventures in between settling in and medical school starting. He took me to Oak Mountain State Park, which I loved. Castlewood State Park near Saint Louis was one of my favorite places to go and I was glad to have a replacement for it. We went on a day-trip to Atlanta on his last day before beginning orientation to go to the Georgia Aquarium. It was glorious but very crowded. I loved the beluga whales the best. They were my favorite when we went to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, too. I love their big, pale, doughy bodies. I love their big, stupid, happy faces.

Our newest adventure is Sam. We got a second dog and named him Samson but call him Sam for short. He’s a great dane mixed with possibly lab puppy, almost 7 weeks old. The first couple of nights with him were very trying because he cried a lot before we gave in and let him sleep in the bed with us. Lena always sleeps with us but we didn’t want to teach Sam to because soon he wouldn’t fit. Oh vay. He’s the most loving little guy though, and he’s understanding that he’s not supposed to pee in the apartment a lot quicker than I expected, so I think he’s going to be a smart dog. I’ve always wanted a massive dog. I like extremes, moderately sized dogs kind of bore me. So now I have Lena (8 lbs) and Sam (probably going to be >140 lbs). He was the runt of his litter but is growing quickly. It rains almost every afternoon here in Birmingham for at least a little while and he loves when sticks get blown onto our balcony in the storms and he can chew on them. I want to pencil mark his growth on one of our door frames like my mom did with us kids while we were growing up.