End of the line, start of a new one

(NOTE: I am sorry to everyone who reads this blog that I simply dropped off away for so many months. I was stuck in some sort of quagmire that was Austin, and I was too embarrassed or perhaps too lazy to work it out in words. In case you’re curious, in case you’d like to know more about me and my trip, I am going to spend the next few months re-creating the last little bit of it. Please stay tuned for more stories as well as some pictures. And thanks. )

(WAYNESVILLE, N.C.) — Last weekend, as I sat in an artsy movie theater in Asheville, I had this random thought that actually scared me for a split second. Perhaps it was due to my sleepiness, or maybe it was that beer I was drinking, but I imagined waking up one morning and being right back in Austin. I felt an immediate sense of loss.

Right now, I honestly can’t tell you what feels more like a dream, the fact that I live in North Carolina or that I lived in Austin for five months. They both seem equally improbable and foreign to me. I think I know what suits me better, though. It’s here.

OK, let me explain. I am now a writer and photographer at The Mountaineer, a thrice-weekly newspaper in the small town of Waynesville, one of the many little places tucked into North Carolina’s swath of the Smoky Mountains. I’ve officially been on the job three weeks, and it already feels like my life. For the first time in so long, I feel like digging my heels into what’s around me. I want to do everything here. I want to hike and explore and take photos and do long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I want to learn to do my job well. Of course I’m still thinking peripherally about my next big adventure — New Zealand is always my favorite fantasy — but I don’t feel a need to leave this place any time soon.

I haven’t felt that in so long.

If this all sounds random and sudden, that’s because it is. Two months ago, I was still deep in Magnolia Land, and I was still coming to work every day at that restaurant without any real dream for my future. Most everyone there was so generous with me, and I loved the human interaction and the money. I was so lucky to have that job, but I always felt like it wasn’t my real life. That’s why I was able to volunteer for so many doubles and extra shifts, because no matter what happened, that person who was so desperately trying to do that job well wasn’t really me. That person was the part of me that wants to apologize for everything. That person knew that she was not in her element, and I think everyone around me knew it too, though most at Magnolia were unfailingly nice about it. I tried really hard, I promise, and I think I did get better at the end. But I’ll tell you, the mixture of trying to be socially adept, confident and coordinated for eight to nine hours a shift very often kicked my ass.

All of this is why, when I stumbled upon the listing for this job in Waynesville, I went for it. I had actually flown out here to try out for a job once, back when I was 23 and in another life. I didn’t get the job then, which of course was perfect in its own way. But the editor remembered me, and this time, when I showed her my clips and references, she chose me. I still can’t really believe it.

Now I’m doing a job I want and know, and so I care so much that everything feels difficult. I spent most of the other day writing and re-writing the first few sentences of an 800-word article about a man and his gluten-free business. It was so painful and frustrating that I felt practically worthless during the process. But then I broke through something, and the story took shape, and I remembered how damn lucky I am to be here.

This is my first job in a year-and-a-half with strict hours and expectations. Part of me wants to run away, but the bigger part of me wants to embrace it. I guess, in all practical ways, this means my trip is over. I think that’s why I have been putting off writing this posting for so long. I didn’t really want to internalize that. Even writing it now feels like the death of something small and precious. At the same time, I am yearning for the this life. I want the structure. I want the difficulty and the pressure. I want to have to perform. Tame me, please, I find myself thinking.

I kind of feel like screaming. I also feel like I’m exactly where I should be.

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