322.0: I’ve lived in cities /
where there is no solitude /
I’ve made some friends there /
that I hope I’ll never lose.
Seven years ago, I ended my ambition as an aspiring writer.
I announced this decision by taking a picture of some old manuscripts and posting it to Facebook. (It makes me feel old to cite using Facebook at 24! Can you believe it’s been around that long?) The manuscripts were actually drafts that, for whatever reason, I’d never advanced beyond the first draft; in fact, on my computer I had unprinted completed drafts — short stories, mostly, but two novels that I considered final — that I’d e-mailed to agents and had gotten enough rejections to push me to my rather melodramatic announcement: in the picture, I’d ripped the manuscripts to shreds and tossed them onto a pile that sat on the seat of the office chair I’d had, and still do, since my freshman year of college.
I was not a good college student. But one of the things for which I give myself credit is foresight: for simplicity, in conversation I have often said that I began as a Creative Writing major. It’s true, at least in the sense that it is the truth in my heart. But I’d actually declared myself a Journalism major because, at the naïve age of eighteen, I’d had a visionary flash in which I was convinced that declaring myself a Journalism major was a more practical way of engaging my passion for writing. Journalism majors, I thought then, grew up to work for newspapers and magazines; Creative Writing majors had more fun in college because they spent all their time reading and writing (and getting high — but I was still too sheltered to think about that). So you can guess which one I chose.
I’ll tell you why I was thinking about this by asking a question: have you ever been such good friends with someone that you can comfortably make fun of them when they’re not even around to defend themselves? While I shudder at the thought of what my friends are saying about me when I am absent, I find it great fun to engage in jokes about Ray’s age because he happens to be the oldest person in our group (even though he is in fact only two years older than I am).
Selma, who I’ve known for so long that our friendship occasionally strikes me as independently extant of time, asked me this morning: “Can you believe that we’ve known each other for almost twenty years?”
I must have made a face because she cracked up without my having said anything.
"When you put it like that, it freaks me out," I told her.
"On the bright side," she began, and here I overheard a pulse of mischief, "we’ll always be younger than Ray."
"You know," I began, and then trailed off laughing. Selma was laughing too, because for us, Ray being older than us is always a fountain of comedy.
"That’s actually a good title for a book," I continued. "We’ll Always Be Younger Than Ray. You should write a collection of humor essays.”
"You think so?"
"I know so. Doctors make good writers."
Selma nodded, although the merry look on her face suggested that she was not entirely serious about following me.
"No, really," I went on. "That Anton Chekhov fellar set a high bar for you people."
"You are deflecting."
Selma took a breath. “I like the idea of writing but I just can’t ever seem to make myself sit down and actually do it.”
"Oh, come on. It’s like writing prescriptions, except your handwriting has to be legible and you have to be funny."
"Can I just have funny handwriting?"
"Actually, they prefer you type everything."
"I’ll think about it."
And so it hit me that I have become much more content seeing other people become writers, not because I have given up on my own writing, but because I find myself persuaded by the talent of others even if they don’t seem to realize they are demonstrating any such talent. The melodramatic gesture that I made at 24 actually led to a practical decision to seek out editorial jobs, which led me to dabbling in social media. As I did in college, I find myself happiest when I am reviewing the writing of others: their resumes, cover letters, and most works that are introduced to me with some variant of the question, Can I get your opinion on something?
I remain on a quest to find practicality in my big dreams. Although I am only in my first week of a full-time return to school, I’ve already learned some good stuff. According to my marketing instructor, business decisions are made by looking at the end result and figuring out the steps needed to get there. This is the process by which life decisions are made, as well: you plan for a vacation already knowing where you want to go. You start by saving and/or pinning a photo of your ideal vacation spot to your wall or operating system desktop, and then you make reservations, a target date. But the first decision you made was actually the last one, too.
A long time ago, I decided that eventually I wanted to get married. By “a long time ago,” I mean as far back as middle school, when I was so closeted that even in my own imaginings, my image of my dream family standing in front of my dream house behind a white picket fence was myself, a wife, kids, and a golden retriever. What has changed since then, of course, is that the wife is a husband and that, theoretically (and perhaps in politically incorrect opposition to the defiance of gender binary stereotypes), I’m more suited to being The Wife — in fact, I still believe this. The notion of keeping house and home has always appealed to me as a career choice as much as any other job a college degree can bring. (Also, the golden retriever has changed into a black lab, though I could still live with a golden retriever — really, as long as the dog is one of those sizes, because while I don’t mind smaller dogs at all, they are not my favorites).
Quite frankly, I have spent many years getting lost about the process I need to undertake to achieve my first/last decision of marriage. From a business perspective, I am a money loser. (Actually, if I’m honest with myself, this is an unfortunate life perspective, as well.) The company of me should have gone extinct long ago, as distant a memory as New Coke and Microsoft Bob. (My marketing instructor likes to refer to New Coke as a prominent example of marketing blunders, but I wonder if he would also say the same of — or even remember — Microsoft Bob, which strikes me more as a good idea that didn’t take off rather than a failure of marketing.) Maybe I have the right strategies but my tactics are off. Maybe I need new strategies altogether. Or maybe I should look at getting married as a life event that happens organically and on its own and not the result of the calculations necessary to a business decision — the thing is,at least business decisions have time frames and deliverables. In my life, so far, I’ve just been waiting and waiting…
Much clearer are my career ambitions, which are so concrete that I might even classify them into objectives. Objective: to help people. I am a people person. I like helping people. In fact, a lot of people say this. To stand out, you have to seek out a problem or a question to answer. Where can I help people the most? This is why I zeroed in on human resources as a program that I want to pursue in my return to school. But when I found out that my school also offers public administration as a concentration, I started dreaming about working in government — not, necessarily, in politics but other areas like lobbying or in bureaucracy. Those two words have so much baggage attached to them that it is fashionable to overlook their usefulness. In fact, Ma could be considered a bureaucrat — and I quite admire the respected leader she has become in her particular niche with the federal government. If I end up navigating that same career track, then I will be very happy. Objective satisfied. Mission accomplished. Thanks, Ma.
I also have my eye on the clergy. It will take many more years of schooling for me to become the leader that the pastor of my church is today. (She is the age that I was when I posted that picture of the shorn manuscripts!) Optimistically, I have started to believe that all I need is a better career and that will be the blanket approach to covering the end of my decision: of meeting Mr. Right, of having the resources to sustain a family. As of right now, I am just a starving student, a relic of aspiring authorship. I am not a particularly enticing spousal candidate.
Ma has started to reciprocate my musings about moving back to the east coast. It is a subject that comes up every now and then in our correspondence. I also find myself dwelling on Mary’s repeated off-hand comments that I should start coordinating with her about plans she has down the line to move back to Baltimore. She makes them in jest, as wishful thinking. But jokes, as they say, usually spring from some kind of truth.
The truth is that I am an adult. I don’t mean to say that I am grown up. I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, believe that I am any kind of grown up. For me, adulthood, in my current state, is the realization that there is nothing keeping me in San Francisco. If I had a family, then I would be necessarily tied down here — I would have roots, and as you know, they cannot be severed without consequences as difficult as replanting them and the indefinite period absent of nourishment and grounding. But my friendships are flexible — as in, I would not see Ray, Wolfie, Spencer, and the others on a regular basis, but we would not be Over. I’d just be Elsewhere. The truth is that I have to decide what is right for me.
The truth is that living in San Francisco is very hard. They say that if you can make it in New York City, then you can make it anywhere. I agree. New York City, for all its glamour and opportunity, seems like an overwhelming town — but so is San Francisco. I never seem to have enough money to live here, and although I am blessed to have friends who never look down on me because I never have enough money, this is a town that reverberates with the expectation that if I don’t have a certain amount, then my life will be hard. It is. This is why I often entertain the notion of becoming just another transient.
But I do have roots. As an adult — a single adult — I can do whatever I want. And the truth of my heart is that I cannot separate myself from the life I have here. I do, in fact, have roots. I do not want to be physically away from the longtime friendships that I’ve built. Although my school offers online classes, I do not want to exclude actually going to my school’s campus. I do not want to root for a baseball team that is not the Giants. I want to go to AT&T Park because it is there, not because it is a vacation. And there’s this: my church. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I do not want to leave town because of my church. The reason why I can’t believe I’m saying this is because I never thought a church would be one of the roots. You know, I’d really like to have my wedding there. I hope my husband, whomever he is and wherever he is, does not object. (He better not, lest he wants to find himself reminiscing about the amazing sex we are never going to have again. I’m pretty confident in my ability to provide a lifetime of physical satisfaction — or trying to, anyway. A lot.)
But the vacillations of life operate independently from our hopes and dreams. My apartment building is being sold. Any minute now, we will know whether or not we have a new landlord, and in these kinds of situations you never know if you will end up with a hostile landlord. In fact, Clara and her husband are over renting. They are exhausted from it, done with it. Her husband’s family has property way up in Marin that we can move into for a song. They’d be paying mortgage, and I’d be paying rent — lower rent, in fact, than what I’m paying now, to live in the living room of this one-bedroom apartment. I would have my own room. But note that I said “way up in Marin.” The commute to school and church would be hard. And what of the vibrancy of living in the city? Well, I’m 31-years old. My twenties were pretty vibrant, I only sought out vibrancy because it was necessitated by my age and peers. By and large, my own tastes have always been quieter. Maybe moving out to some peace and quiet is exactly the kind of step I need to take to achieve that elusive final decision. But here’s one more truth: I like being in San Francisco, too.
* * *
I miss Europe very much.