Over the past several months I’ve lost the thread of how to define myself—whether describing identity in terms of what’s urgent and the sum of circumstance, location and relationship is meaningful, honest or accurate. I don’t deny being a product of my experiences (as though they had me and not the reverse). But I don’t recognize the fixedness—I see it but don’t want to see it, and sure as hell don’t want to show and tell it.
After surviving a childhood in West Fargo, North Dakota, I fled to Minneapolis where I attended the U of M for four years. Having studied creative writing, cultural studies, and English and postcolonial literatures, I graduated in May 2003 magna cum laude with a degree in English which promptly landed me a dead-end job I’ve been trying to escape for over a year. I’ve considered higher education but I’m not sure in what—all that’s certain is I want real-life experience in the particular field before paying more money I don’t have for something I may not enjoy.
I love Minneapolis—every corner, every co-op, all the lights and graffiti, the Spanish and Somali I hear at the grocery, the twenty miles per hour I exceed the speed limit, the lakes I drag my skin through and canoe at evening coming on, the panting kids at laundromats (kings and queens, we’ll make slaves of them all), the banks of the Mississippi I run, the clubs I lose my sweat in and every bumper sticker, every yard sign still reminding, “Stand Up, Keep Fighting.”
And I might leave it. It’s wanting to see the country, yes. It’s wanting to see the world. But more important, more apparent, is realizing I’m not going to find myself in the place I got lost. But… still. I know. The physical, the geographical, isn’t what holds or holds back what I’m looking for.
I’ve been out of university for a couple of years—gladly so, at the time of release. My plan was to learn different things. Let life teach the primer and time take the reins. The nine to five (or seven to five, as my schedule dictates) has yet to break me into it—rather, I do it and I hate it but will never be used to it. I will never wake nicely or be okay in winter months with not seeing the sun at my windowless work four days at a time. I’m not learning other things, just forgetting what I thought I knew, and not replacing it with the grander, the more relevant and true, just… nothing. It’s hurtful, and I struggle nonstop for a contemplative life composed of the things that move me, make me think, that I care about and that care about me.
I didn’t expect this tensed way of thinking, out of tune and not because I dance my own beat. A few years ago I would have called myself a writer. Not any longer. I anticipated not making money. I never planned to be well known if known at all. But I never imagined possible ceasing writing altogether. I’ve never stopped wanting, never stopped loving words, but they no longer come together in either quantity or quality—nothing to go on, nothing to glow on. In the past months into years of what to do, where to go, of political outrage, election devastation and mourning the country I still carry in my heart, of personal epiphany and deconstructing the breakthroughs (deciding to leap is not leaping—dreaming of daring isn’t daring or doing), of perpetual awareness that I am not aware when I’m paying attention not spreading or selling it, of knowing standing still is falling behind, the words of my frustration, anger fear madness, the moments and I have them of meditative bliss, the explanation for why I don’t write anymore, for where my next novel is, for how the fake projection goes, for what the next step is the words stop dead on the end of my tongue, and like a god I swallow my children.
I didn’t expect this—but I didn’t plan for anything, either. I didn’t have dreams, just hoped something would happen to me. I’ve always thought I’d die at age twenty-four—and here I am. I’ve lost and gained so much, changed so much and stayed the same I can hardly stand it. Contain the weight and hide the void.
My career, education and creative stagnation isn’t static—I know this. Though it seems I’m not changing, I am; I am becoming further entrenched in the belief this isn’t working. This is not the situation I want (and I do not want to define myself by what I desire). It takes cloak and dagger to convince myself this modus operandi of negation is legitimate. But I want my ultimate response to be genuine and correct, grounded in experience and not expectation. As cautiously I approach my creative self, I do confront. I do demand. I comfort what I can and challenge what I can’t, focusing on the things I can control.
At this point, in this process, I must forget what feels urgent and find what’s important. Monsters are waiting to be born, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll pull off self-expression without self-annihilation, show without telling, describe without defining and speak without a mouthful of blood.