My friend K likes to measure life experience with pizza.
So it was that, during a recent visit to New Mexico, I received a text that read: How many pizza slices are you right now?
A few friends sent similar messages throughout that visit, checking up. They knew it was a big deal for me to go back: one year after the three-month stint there that, in ways both personal and artistic, transformed me.
Those months were in Taos. But when I got K’s text, I was back with grad school friends in Albuquerque: finishing a Sandia hike, stopping for a snack before dinner and beer.
I’d left Taos a few hours earlier: the sacred mountain and my favorite breakfast burrito, a few good friends, a person onto whom I projected a great bulk of the emotional intensity worked up last spring.
There is always melancholy in returning to a place, particularly one whose impact looms so fresh. And so, my two days in Taos felt somewhat bittersweet, tinged with that inevitably sad recognition: I don’t belong here anymore.
But it didn’t mostly feel sad. In fact it felt, mostly, good–comforting even. I’m happy where I am. I no longer nurse dreams of roving back to New Mexico the way I did in fall. I’m not worrying about whether I should be in New York, the way I have most of my adult life. I’m secure that I like my life here, and that I don’t know, don’t need to know, where I’ll be in a year, or five years, or ten.
My visit closed on an extravagantly tender note, one that affirmed this feeling. (For more details and reflection on this, I refer you to an essay likely to arrive at a publishable state circa 2019. Writing, friends.)
For now, suffice it to say that when I got in my rental car, I swelled with feeling. I’d found unexpected closure, and with it, a newfound appreciation for so many ineffable things; joy and gratitude leaked from my knuckles and pores.
I listened to Fleetwood Mac on the satellite radio. Outside the car windows, the Rio Grande streamed and Jemez mountains stood. It was one of those rare moments when the majesty of the scenery matches the majesty you feel.
And: no one cared.
In those particular moments, driving south down Route 68, no one texted. No one called. No one emailed, about pizza or anything else. It was just me and the scenery…and an inordinate, irrational quantity of shock. It seemed impossible, unjust, to be bursting with so much, and for no one else to know.
A similar sensation surfaced one week later, in the aftermath of AWP: the annual conference where 14,000 writers descend on a city (this year, happily, this one) to drink heavily, talk craft, buy books, and drink more heavily. For four days, there are so many readings/panels/parties happening at once that just the thought can overwhelm, and I’d anticipated the event anxiously.
But once you let go of various envies and insecurities and streaks of panic about all the events you’ll miss (inevitably, most of them), you remember that writers tend to be thoughtful and interesting, stylish and intelligent. My time at the conference was energizing and inspiring and a total blast.
And on Sunday, after getting brunch with a pal from Portland and dropping her at the airport, I cancelled the rest of the day’s plans.
Part of me was eager to gush: about fancy new poet friends and cute book editors, bonding with favorite novelists and the late-night scene at the Hilton bar.
But also, my throat hurt. I’d slept for approximately two hours Saturday night, and could barely string together a coherent phrase. So instead of returning phone calls, I took a walk around the lake. I listened to a little Kendrick Lamar and a little of Let it Bleed. I watched people with fishing rods sit on cement.
And wallowed in that feeling: the one that happens after. After a trip or summer camp or the party or the fling or four days of writerly fun: the mix of residual contentment and a kind of muffled disbelief.
Do I have anything to show for it, besides the bruise on my left butt cheek from biking home tipsy at 2 am?
Is anyone paying attention?
It’s an extreme version of a constant challenge: to hold on. To be okay and be alone. To keep something of those passing pleasures (even ones blurred by gin and beer), always in your wake. To make your own meaning and afternoons. To keep moving, looking up and looking back.
To pay attention, no matter who else is.