It’s been a while. Tonight: I went to the same ice cream shop twice, once with my mom, once with my oldest friend (as in, we’ve known each other since the very beginning), so it was basically my dinner. After: I drove past my mother’s house so I could keep going, the windows down, music blasting, the night ripping through my freshly trimmed hair. I didn’t want to wake her up. In a few days, I’m leaving. Again.
I realize it’s a nasty habit I’ve gotten into. And I’d like to say this is the last time, but who knows, really. Part of me thinks I got into this rut because I tried to run the show–I tried to live like I had some sort of command over all those other mysterious forces at play. Well, I don’t. Big news.
I wish I could say more. People keep asking me all kinds of questions, and I never have any answers. I don’t know, I say to them. Or: call me in a few months and ask me again.
However, despite lacking any real answers or plans, I do have a pretty good understanding as to why I’m doing this.
Ten years ago, I wrote a terrible Master’s thesis paper that was completely off topic. It was a rambling and sappy diatribe about how when my life was not about making art, my life felt pointless, and I became this other person, this sort of shell. I didn’t like this person, and I vowed to live a life that held art, and the act of creation, at its center.
But: what happens when you don’t trust yourself? When you question whether you have any real skill, anything to offer the world? When you don’t have much confidence? Duh: you balk. You flounder. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent two years hiking around the pacific northwest, panicking about how to be an adult and working odd jobs (flower bouquet delivery girl, salt-seller, secretary, toddler-chaser, barista, part-time art teacher) to bide my time. Then I became insatiably curious about the world, and moved to Ecuador. It was supposed to be just a few months, but I ended up getting a terrific job and stayed for almost two years.
Of course–when I returned to the US, all of that panic was still firmly in place. I spent a year trying to get a teaching job–it was finally time to be an adult, I thought. Also–make a dent in that mountain of student loans! But no one wanted me (seriously: I think I must have applied for almost two hundred jobs, at least–it was an awful and demeaning year). So I stopped looking for teaching jobs, moved to Rochester and got my old waitressing job back, thinking I’d finally give art a real go–and then suddenly I was offered not one, but two teaching jobs. There really was no decision, I had to do it.
So you must understand: I spent five years avoiding being a school teacher.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. I do. I did. I loved it so much that I let it completely consume me. I gave everything and then some–for five years. And I knew I would do that. I knew if I taught it would pull me in and I wouldn’t be able to see out, I knew art would stop being the center of my life. But five years ago, I was so unsure of myself, so doubtful that I had anything substantial to share that I figured it wasn’t important. I could teach kids who might become artists instead.
I learned a terrible lesson in the process, though. I learned that it doesn’t matter, at all, if you have anything substantial to say. It does not matter if you’re a genius artist or writer. If you were put here to create, to make things, and you don’t, you will suffer. Terribly. It doesn’t matter if you make the ugliest shit in the world–if you feel compelled to make, you simply must. To do otherwise invites a whole sea of consequences that you may not like.
At least, I did not.
I loved who I was in the classroom. I did not like who I was at home at night, on the weekends, even during the summer. I was this depressed, zombified version of myself. I’d given everything away all day, and there was nothing left. I don’t have a bottomless well. Some do, maybe. But not me. I spent my summers relaxing and preparing myself for the next year–it was tunnel vision at its finest. Some part of me must have known that if my gaze drifted, it wouldn’t be able to return.
But something happened this summer: I didn’t have to plan for next year. I was unemployed in a tree house in Guatemala writing and thinking and working on teacher certifications in three different states. And then one day, after a few weeks of not having to think about school, I woke up and I realized: I can’t. I haven’t worked on those certifications since. And I won’t finish them. I’m so relieved. The fight is over. I can just be myself again. But with more conviction, more who-the-fuck-cares attitude. Because honestly? I don’t care if I never make it. If it turns out I’m a shitty writer with nothing interesting to say, then I’ll just figure something else out–and I’ll keep writing my crappy essays in the evening and I’ll find some third party magazine that no one has heard of to publish them on occasion, and I’ll be so damn happy.
Here’s my dream for the next year: work a couple (or several) part time jobs. A coffee shop would be grand. A museum job would be fantastic. I’d love to get back into teaching yoga. I’d really love to never have to change adult diapers again (one of the many jobs I assumed in order to save money to go to Ecuador), but you know: I’d do it if I had to. Basically, I just have to make sure I can pay for rent, food, and Obamacare. And write like hell when I’m not working (I’m working on so many essays and poems right now and I love it). Network like a fiend, send my essays and pitches out everywhere I can. Volunteer, take classes, go on photowalks, join hiking groups, go to seminars, to yoga in the park–whatever I can do to make friends and make a home and career and personal life that are fulfilling. I don’t want anything extravagant–just good. Good people, good friends, a good job. The writing is the extravagant part. That and the traveling I’ll hope I can save up for ❤
It was a hellish twenty-four hours but I have them to thank for this, in part: last April, when a “spot” was found on my pancreas during an abdominal ultrasound (for an unrelated issue). And my doctor called. It’s probably nothing, but you need to get a CT scan, just to make sure, because you know, you’re higher risk for various types of cancers, including pancreatic, he said. I was stunned, and so terrified I thought I might just vomit all over the floor. I called my mother, hysterical, screaming into the phone that I was finally starting to get my life back together, and now I might DIE!? I wailed about all the hours I’d wasted lost inside of The Office or some crime show because I’d been so stuck and depressed and lonely. I vowed on the phone that if it turned out I wasn’t dying, I’d cut the shit. I’d end these bad habits and stop wasting so much time, I’d get my life back on track.
Actually; that’s where this whole “cancer syndrome” thing has been kind of a blessing: I mean, it scared the shit out of me at first (and sometimes it still does), but I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it: three times a year I get scanned, and three times I have to think about the fact that they’re looking for something that could potentially kill me, if I’m unlucky. Three times a year I’m blatantly reminded how fragile we are, how we all have to die, how there is nothing we can do to stop it. Except get our asses in gear. NOW. Live wildly, richly, deeply, lovingly, completely.
Anyway: twenty hours after that initial phone call, I got the call saying the second scan was clean. And that’s where so much of this began. I had no idea it would bring me here, that I’d end up leaving my job, or Rochester, and Atlanta was certainly never on the radar. But that’s what is so lovely about all of this: it’s been a total surprise. Every step of the way. And nothing’s been certain. Everything I’ve done, every change I’ve made–I’ve done with serious doubts banging through my head–not renewing my lease, resigning from my job, leaving Rochester. I was certain of none of it until after I’d already done it.
And that’s the most beautiful thing I suppose: that there are no guarantees, and there is so little certainty (if there is any at all). Most things are some sort of gamble. I’ve saved up some money, I’ve made a fairly informed decision. I’m going to work my ass off. But the rest is up to something I cannot quite discern. And there’s nothing I can do about that.
So why, then, am I doing this?
Because I don’t want some future doctor to find a spot on my pancreas and then think: God, I’ve wasted so much time, I’ve been living all wrong. Because I don’t want to be a shell of myself. Because I’m the happiest and truest version of Katie when I’m allowed to be an artist first. Because I need more sun and warmth. Because I need more people, more variety, more opportunities for change, for learning, for work. Because I want to be a better human: a better daughter, sister, friend, niece. Because I want to be a better teacher–maybe not in a school, but somewhere. Because I love novelty, and challenges. Because Rochester never worked. Because I don’t care if my writing or art is shit; it’s why I’m here, and that’s all that matters. Because once I’ve figured that out–the rest will follow, and I’ll write and teach and share and love to my heart’s content. Because even if I have to work five odd jobs to pay the bills while I figure all of this out: I’d rather make my own way. Because I’ve always been kind of a scrapper. And now it’s time to piece this next chapter together.
I’m so happy already.