Like a swig of sweet tea

(HARRISONBURG, Va.) — The ups and downs of this trip take my breath away sometimes. Of course little is permanent in this life, but this journey is an exaggerated version of that rule, and effect is exciting, exhausting and stomach churning. I am not complaining — um, I don’t think. I am simply amazed. Boredom never enters the equation for me these days. I’m too busy wondering what the next tidal of emotion will bring.

The most curious cows I have ever met happen to live in Luray, Virginia.

The most curious cows I have ever met happen to live in Luray, Virginia.

Like right now, as I sit in my chilly trailer in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m hunched over my computer, and I feel like crying because all I want to do is to write words that matter. I know I can (I think I can), but I worry about my dedication. I get so afraid that distractions like Facebook and viral video and my desire for a partner will waylay me. I’m scared I won’t make things happen, won’t sell articles, won’t search for that gem of a story. I want to step into being the writer I think I am. God, I want to create.

I find this sudden insecurity strange, because the last few days have been so pleasant. They have felt fated, even. When I first rolled into Luray (about 30 miles behind me) I spent several nights at the Country Waye RV Resort under the warm wings of its owners, Erich and Sulamith. I had not been in the South for years, and I loved basking in the genteel, green beauty of rural Virginia. The retired couple told me their life stories and brought me to their end-of-season park party. There, I felt popular, as people many decades older than I beamed over the idea of this trip. They asked me about the trailer; they asked me about my writing. I was all too happy to just talk and talk. I went to bed that night a little drink on white wine and pumped up with the support of strangers. Everything felt as I was hoping it would, months ago, before I left on this thing. It’s amazing how sweet it is to be appreciated.

Downtown Luray, Va.

Downtown Luray, Va.

I coasted on that feeling into Tuesday, when I met up with Sherry and Tom, a cool couple my parents’ age. They’re friends and kin of my friends Starr and Mitch of Silver City, and they welcomed me into their home so fully that I was taken aback. When I drove up to their little house, perched over pastoral Luray, they even had a place to park my rig. There was this instant intimacy between Sherry and I especially, and I loved it. I could have easily talked myself hoarse with her, a bubbly former-Deadhead hospice nurse who likes to knit and make beaded jewelry. Without reservation, she brought me into her history and showed her art and family photos. Tom was great as well, and I was completely dumbfounded as he led me around his collection of more than a thousand Native American arrowheads, tools and various chiseled points. He has a sixth sense for finding them and seems to do so wherever he goes. He has probably a dozen framed collections of them all over this house, and they look like a scientist’s grouping of butterflys or bugs might, propped up against a plain background, enclosed in glass. He has even more filling drawers and cabinets. I had never seen anything like it. Talk about manifesting your dream. I would never know how to even start to look for such things. I wouldn’t even know finding them was possible. Tom looked subtly proud but also played it off like it was no great shakes, just a hobby like anything else. I was fascinated.

Right before I left the pair, I got to see another side of Tom. He received a package, and he looked puffed up with excitement when he realized what had arrived. I watched as he unfolded a plush, dark red Santa suit, apparently a step up from the one he had worn for years at his family Christmas party. As he modeled the jacket, he explained that there was enough room for his belly pillow and that, with this new get-up, Sherry probably wouldn’t even have to hem the pants or sleeves. All he needed now to fully transform was some white dye for his bushy, salt-and-pepper beard and a pair of those little, round-rimmed glasses, which he showed off as well. The scene was so good-hearted.

Another friendly thing that took place in Luray was a dinner party that Tom and Sherry threw that one night I was at their home. They invited two of their friends, and we all talked about things like politics and adoption and regional accents and my trip over mounds of tasty, carefully thought-out food. Sherry and Tom insisted I sleep inside their house, and while I usually prefer my own digs, I was happy to be enclosed in their world. It made me feel warm and safe, and it was as though, for about 20 hours or so, I was visiting my own extended family. Later that night, the three of us went for walk with their old, lumbering dog around their quaint, green, staunchly conservative town (they, by the way, are not). The next morning, Sherry and I went for a run. I felt so at home and content. This is why, once again, that my original idea of this trip centering on me being completely alone is a sham. Just as much as I need and crave my solitude, I need people. Nothing makes a place make sense like some genuine folks welcoming you into it. In some small way, I feel I get Luray now. Damn, I feel lucky.

Sherry and Tom, some nice Lurayians.

Sherry and Tom, some nice Lurayians.

So what, you might ask, is this moodiness a day later? Why plunge into doubt and worry after experiencing so much kindness? I think, like everyone, I just don’t want to mess this up. As clichéd as this is to admit, I want to make something of myself. And sometimes I worry I won’t take the risks to do so.

Is that justified? I don’t know, though I’m sure my fear is in no way original. These feelings make me want to write out a strong, cinematic decree about my intentions and myself. And since I have no editor to advise me not to, I’ll give it a whirl.

Here it is:

I am on this trip, and I’m open to wherever it takes me. Even if that means getting another newspaper job, even if that means meeting someone and settling down. Even if that means traveling for two years. I just want to work hard and support myself and make art. I want what I do to matter, whatever that happens to be. And I’m not going to give up. That’s my promise to myself.

Does that read like things I’ve written before? Oh, probably, but that’s just because the same feelings have been with me for months.

Time to get back to myself and to start putting all this into practice. Step one: Get the hell off Facebook — at least for a couple hours.

2 comments to Like a swig of sweet tea

  • Starr Belsky

    I’m so glad that Mitch “fixed you up” with Tom and Sherry! They are both remarkably compassionate, lively, and interesting people–and very resilient. My cousin Sherry, whom I obviously know better, has seen an awful lot of hard times with her family–and with her work, where she fought very hard to establish and maintain an outpatient psychiatric day care program for seniors and often bumped heads with unsympathetic “superiors” and battled all kinds of bureaucracy. I have long marveled at her physical and emotional stamina. Tom is relatively recent in her life and is the soulmate so she richly deserves. They both are courageous, openly campaigning hard for Obama in some very “red” country. And Tom is the liberal black sheep of his family; maybe his love for nature and Native American artifacts has made him more aware of the big picture.

    As for Baltimore City (and I am rather familiar with Hampden, having lived on the edge of it for many years), you have definitely captured a taste of it. Growing up in a carless family, I walked and rode buses all over town, and the nooks and crannies of the city have been and still are the predominant backdrop and often the very theme of my dreams. It is the similar kind of nonuniformity (even among the blocks of row houses), the intimacy, and even the shopworn-ness of that old urban world that spoke to me in Silver City, and why it feels like home here. I rarely miss B’more, but it is forever in my bones. If you are ever there again, take some time to walk downtown, starting at Mount Royal Ave., and zig-zag north and south along Calvert, St. Paul, Charles, and Park Ave, and around the edges of the park at Mt. Vernon; the grand old rows in the area will occasionally treat you to a feast of architectural green men and lions. (Just mind your back; it is “the city,” y’know.)

    Missing you and your socks,


  • Sherry Myers

    Hi Stina,
    Just checked out your site to see how you are doing, and fell upon the comments you wrote about your visit to Luray (and us!). Really enjoyed the piece. Also, Tom and I thoroughly enjoyed having you here. There is absolutely no doubt that you will be successful…. hey, you already are!

    Hope you have a wonderful TG with Granny and we’ll be thinking of you!
    Safety Fast (as Tom would say!)

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