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Moving home is hard.

I won’t pretend that it’s not hard, that there aren’t times when I see myself getting further (mostly geographically and a little figuratively) from my dreams and wonder how in the world I got here.

I won’t pretend that there aren’t times when I wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t left California.

I won’t pretend that I don’t sometimes yell at the garage code that refuses to work and curse the dogs running from the yard and begrudge the grey skies that seem to go on for weeks without end like they’re making money from anti-depressants.

But, I also won’t pretend that this is what I do often.

I expected to do it often.

I expected to come home and feel like I was missing out, to weigh the pros and cons and finally decide that moving back to Indiana was worth it in the end. I expected to get a little sting in my heart when I visited California, when I heard news I could’ve been a part of, when others forge ahead.

But, it’s not like that. I won’t pretend it is.

Instead, it’s like this.

I call a local bookshop, the one I follow on Instagram, the day before the John Green book comes out. (I just know I’m way too late to get a copy.) I chat with the owner and tell her I love her Insta and she invites me to a midnight party and says she’ll save me a signed copy for tomorrow even if I don’t come.

I get my haircut by the same person who asks how my classes are this year. I begin talking about the TV show Supervet, and she kindly informs me that I told her about it and that tragic episode with the St. Bernard puppy last time.

I talk to my students about farriers, how I didn’t know what one was until I worked there. (They’re the blacksmiths who do horseshoes.) When a kid asks me what I thought they were called, I answer, with a shrug, “Horseshoe man? Feline cobbler?” I realize my mistake instantly. About three other kids do too. I find myself laughing all day about it.

I make pasta for my family. It’s a big, communal production, and at the end of it, my nieces actually eat the broccoli. We carve pumpkins with teeth and smiles and give them voices and names.

It’s Friday night, and my mom and sister and I are heading to Sense and Sensibility at an old theater that plays the national anthem and WB cartoons before the movie begins. There are four hundred other women there who cheer for Alan Rickman when he comes on screen, who laugh at Emma Thompson’s comic genius, who clap at the end of the movie.

This is it, and it’s not how I imagined. I don’t weigh the pros and cons because I don’t have to. This doesn’t compare. This is so much better.

I don’t feel a sting for something else, and that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped working my butt off.

It just means I’m home.

Home

My mind has gone in a million different directions the past two months.

Actually, scratch that. My mind has toggled between two opposite directions the past several months, maybe years.

Which path? I cry. Which path which path which path.

I don’t want to regret it, I wail.

I want to love it, I say.

I have this idea for how my life should go. And this year—well, it’s been a hard year. I don’t say that like I’ve had much outside stress. There are many people in this world, in this country, in my own circles, who have had much harder years. I’m just saying, for me, it’s been a hard year.

This year I didn’t laugh enough. I didn’t get outside enough. I didn’t hug enough. I hate those feelings because it’s like I’m not enough. My life isn’t enough.

So instead of focusing on the realities of my situation or, you know, doing anything about it, I went into daydream land. I’m very good at daydream land. In daydream land, I can give you a beautiful interview after I’ve just won an Oscar. It’s very humble and giggly and full of phrases like “why yes, I did happen to get engaged on the same day I was nominated!” (I know.)

I like to daydream. I don’t want to stop daydreaming either. Daydreaming can be magical and creative and immensely helpful to writing.

But I don’t want daydreams dictating my life. I feel like I’ve buried myself under layers of okays and fines and talk laters. I’ve covered myself with interviews on Conan and sappy acceptance speeches (for awards and proposals) and Pinterest boards (the secret kind).

Maybe this is too painfully honest. Maybe this seems pathetic. Maybe it really is.

For once in my life, I’m okay with being pathetic if it means looking it reality right in the face. I don’t want to be lost in daydream land anymore. I want to be grounded in reality, but still be able to daydream. I think that’s called being happy.

The thing that I’m realizing though is that this kind of happiness has very little to do with where I am or what I’m doing or any external factor. Those things are important. I’m not denying that I actually want success as I define it for myself: writing full-time, performing, getting married to a good guy, becoming a mom, showering my ageing parents in love, laughing until I pee my pants at game night with my siblings. I want those things so badly my chest physically hurts when I think about them.

But here, in this moment? I can choose success too. I can choose to be happy and to laugh and to face my dirty room and weird thing smelling up my fridge and facial hair and unsolved problems and still say that I like myself.

I can choose to coax my sensitive heart out from under the covers. It likes to sleep in these days. I made it that way. I let it believe it wasn’t cool enough or smart enough or famous enough or pretty enough or just enough. I let it believe it was stupid and ugly and unimportant.

But I choose to be gentle to it now. I will protect it from well-meaning harsh words and not-so-well-meaning ones. I choose to tell it to have fun, stay awake awhile, love on people, and love on me.

Tell me your thoughts, little heart, I say. I will still love you no matter what, you know?

Funny, I find that the most precious phrase in the world, but I never say it to myself. Today I do. I’ll still love you, I whisper.

Home or here? Home or here? I ask it. I’ll still love you.

My little heart opens its scratchy throat; it hasn’t been used in a while.

Home, it whispers. Home, please.

Okay, I say. I still love you.