“You’ve changed since I last saw you.”
My friend Az was sitting at my desk doing a touch-up on her makeup when she made this statement, which was not delivered with judgment or irritation but rather a mild sense of wonder. We hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half, and one of the last times she had seen me, I’d had a complete emotional meltdown over my then-impending second book, and my job, and the state of my apartment, and, basically, life in general.
And last night, I guess, I was a lot more relaxed. My apartment, as always, is still a disaster, but maybe somewhat less of one in spots. I’d made us dinner, and we were preparing to go out to a drag show. But it was more than all of this that she meant, and I knew it, and she’s right. I have changed, and honestly, it’s all been in the last four or five months.
I don’t think it’s a mid-life crisis.
It started with my Norway trip, and while I dearly love Norway, I suspect I could have traveled just about anywhere in the world by myself and still kick-started the introspection and adjustment process. And it’s not some sort of Eat, Pray, Love thing either, because I did not do much of any of the three of those while I was in Norway. Unless we count the chocolate, because damn, that was some delicious, delicious chocolate. Maybe not a religious experience, but really good chocolate.
My trip to Norway, as I have discussed to the point of boredom with everyone everywhere, revealed to me that I was capable of a lot more than I had previously thought. Capable of packing light, of traveling alone, of navigating a country with only a light grasp on the native language, of getting around quite a lot of a physically challenging city on foot, of giving myself an entirely new experience in life.
I stood at a wharf in Bergen at midnight as 2017 gave way to 2018, fireworks pinwheeling overhead and Gabrielle Leithaug’s “Mer” playing in my headphones, and I could swear I felt the mental and emotional shift over from one phase of my life to another.
Now, let’s be real. There are no miracles here – I still have depression, anxiety, ADHD, and god knows what else isn’t quite right in the ol’ brainbox. I’m between doctors, so I’m struggling to manage all those mental issues right now. My job is still one I am fortunate to have, but I am feeling more tested in it by the day. I’m still fat, I’m still timid, I’m still awkward, I still talk too much to fill silences, and I am still as self-centered as they come.
But. I know now that I can do more than I thought I could, so when I got home, things began to shift, particularly in three specific ways. The first shift is that I’ve taken up hiking.
I have never been an outdoorsy person. Nature and I have, in the past, regarded each other with a wary suspicion. I dislike heat, humidity, dirt, bugs, sweating…all those nature-y things.
But Norway was so beautiful! Even wet and snowy and full of hills and mountains, it was so gorgeous! And I did so much walking and even, much of the time, liked it! And I liked being up on a mountain! Maybe next time I should actually hike up the mountain!
“Wait,” my friend David said last week as I waxed rhapsodic about my planned return to Norway. “You just came back from Norway a few months ago.”
“Yes.” I smiled, I nodded.
“And you want to go back next year?”
“Yes.” Another smile, another nod.
“Well, last time, I didn’t climb a mountain, so I’m gonna go back and do that.”
“…oh. Yeah, okay.”
Yep, so, that’s the plan. Go back to Bergen in 2019 and hike up Mt. Ulriken, then across Vidden plain to Mt. Fløyen, and either hike or take the funicular down. It’s about 11 miles, it’s not the highest mountain climb in the world, or the longest hike, but since I have never climbed a mountain or hiked 11 miles, these will be new and exciting experiences! Importantly, they will be achievements that cannot be taken from me or diminished.
Writing books is hard. I have not yet quite reconciled myself to the idea that I pour myself out onto the page, that my stories come from my heart, but that once they’re out in the world they’re a commodity and I shouldn’t take it personally when people openly dislike them. It’s hard for me to think of art as business when art is the creation of a person’s heart and soul. To me, it has to come from the heart and soul, or it isn’t really art. So being a published author whose work is for sale out in the world has actually been a struggle for me. I have tied myself too much into the idea that writing is all that is left of me that is worth anything. When people do not like it, it feels like I am worth nothing. But it’s their money they are spending, so they of course have a right to their opinion! But it hurts! But it’s a business! Oh God, it’s an endless ouroboros of emotional horror. This is not how I thought it would be.
(Yes, I know, don’t read the reviews – I don’t, now, not on purpose, but if I have to Google myself to find things for promo purposes and the like, sometimes I come across upsetting things, and then it’s a bad time in my life for a while)
In essence, being a writer has not matched my dream of being a writer, it has hurt and I have this feeling that a lot of what was meaningful to me about achieving the dream of becoming a published author has been diminished and dismissed, and that really cuts so deep. I am proud of my work, and I am lucky to work with a great team at Interlude Press, I’m just having a hard time with certain emotional aspects of the whole me being a published author thing.
So I’m going to climb a mountain. I need a solid, undiminishable accomplishment, something that I really want to do that I am going to do. I’m going to climb a mountain! A smallish mountain, but I’m going to climb it! That can’t be taken away from me, no one can make me un-climb a mountain, no one can review my climbing performance, no one can say I didn’t do it. It will be an irrefutable fact that I climbed a mountain. The next time I take the photo below, I’ll be doing it after a several hour mountain hike, and I love that idea so much I had this photo printed and framed, and I hung it right inside my apartment entryway so I have a constant reminder of my goal.
Easy, it won’t be. I still cope with plantar fasciitis. I’m still fat. And the fact is it’s hard to train to climb a mountain when you live where there kind of aren’t any mountains. It’s hard to train for the long hike portion of the Ulriken-Fløyen trek when metropolitan North Texas is not exactly known for hiking. And summer is coming. Summer in Texas is brutal.
But! I am working on it. There are places to train, if you look. There’s a hiking park I have mentioned before that I visit twice a week to do thirty to forty minute hill climbs – it’s full of steep hills and I climb all over them, I have total buns of steel right now. In recent years my hind end has become somehow a wide, flat plain, but in the last three months it has perked back up a bit. My weak lower back is much stronger now.
On weekends I try to find a nature trail of some kind – unpaved is preferable to match the Vidden terrain as much as possible, but it’s been unpredictably rainy here lately, so sometimes I just have to do a paved hike. The point of the weekend hikes is distance, though, so anything I can do to work my way up to 11 miles is good. It also gives me a chance to visit different areas of DFW and see beautiful little parks and nature enclaves. Nature may still be dirty, buggy, and sweaty, but I have developed a deep appreciation for its beauty, which I think has been helped along by my years spent tending my pathetic balcony garden.
That said, summer is still coming and summer is still brutal, so I may have to renew my lapsed gym membership and make reluctant friends with the stairmaster and the alpine runner during the hot, sunny months. I don’t have to train in 100F heat if I don’t want to, it isn’t necessary to acclimate myself to those conditions; Bergen in August hovers between 50F and 65F. If anything, I’ll need a light jacket when I hit the Ulriken trail!
I am not really losing weight, but I am getting undeniably stronger. I can go further and further each week, though I have to proceed with caution if I want my feet to not give out on me or cause another injury. I still plan to visit Portugal with my friend Alice, and while it is at least as hilly as Bergen, if I keep up my training pace, I’ll be able to navigate it with considerably more ease than I did Bergen, so the benefits just keep stacking up.
So I am not writing right now, still. I’m focused on hiking. Things do come to mind from time to time and I do jot them down, but nothing has seized me in an all-consuming fiery desire to write just yet, I don’t have a complete story in my head. Just ideas, and so I will let them burble about and see if anything becomes bigger, and I will keep hiking and working on my personal growth. Because let’s be real: my emotional foundation has been pretty shaky for the last decade plus, so it’s no wonder the building I constructed for my writing dreams collapsed. I’ve got a lot of figuring myself out to do, because I am more than my writing, my music, my romantic relationships, and anything else that’s collapsed on me. The failures and setbacks made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of taking up space on the planet, and that’s not how it should be. I am more than the things I can do.
To paraphrase Gabrielle, life is better with me in it.
I mentioned three shifts. But this post is long enough, don’t you think? If you caught that I mentioned several different friends in this post, though, then you’ve got a clue as to the next shifted phase of my life.
I’ll be back in a few days. Really, this time. There’s more to discuss.