I grew with her. Not always right next to her, but on a nearby path that converged into a multilane highway only for us.
About 10 years ago, I was sitting at the start of every Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) movie, thinking I had my life together. My life’s frayed ends were tied off. The rug covered the stain in the floor. Everything was as visible or as hidden as it needed to be. Of course, I forgot that all those movies also have middles and ends where we see the characters and the actors playing them make bad choices, painting themselves into a corner, only to be rescued, again and again, by the intruding commercials. Maybe the commercials are rescuing the viewers. I don’t really know.
I finished grad school and was certifiably an expert in a field where the first answer is always, “I don’t know” and the last is some version of, “Probably …” Statistics, that’s what I knew. I’d moved from my longtime home to the East Coast where there were important people, in-laws of a now-expired marriage, and a chance to be what I wanted. It was the future I once wanted. I hadn’t really thought much beyond getting my degree. I started work at a non-profit research organization collaborating with exciting people doing worthwhile work. We were making the world better, improving the human condition! But it wasn’t easy. I thought I would understand better how to seek my own funding, my own research, or find a place at a university where I’d be adored by students and faculty alike.
I had a guitar, bought long ago. It never worked well for anything but posing in front of a large mirror. It had broken, or I had broken it. But I kept it, not as something useful, but as a symbol of something I wanted to be: a creative person. I was innately creative, a skill that served me to well in my life. In a pinch, creativity can substitute for hard work. I was not purposely creative. I did not immerse myself in being creative. Nothing fueled me.
She was somewhere else, with her own concerns, her own troubles. Nearby, yes, but not yet in sight. Those stories are hers to tell. Not mine.
My life exploded. My marriage ended. Neither of us were doing great job at marriage, being ourselves or being a true partner. We had no scripts (advantage LMN) and only a vague clue about what to do. We both forgot to communicate. Predictably, with no goals that matched our capabilities, we blew it, hurting each other in the process.
I bought an electronic keyboard. It was simple. With headphones on, I could be alone with my music, alone with my thoughts. I didn’t play other people’s songs, because I wanted to get things out of my own head rather than filling it up with more. I wanted it to be about my creativity, not other people. It didn’t work. I had to think too much, but I learned, and that would help later on.
She was near, her path converging on mine. Those stories, too, were hers to tell.
I felt alone. I had lost what I thought was a perfect life. I had failed at very important things. The failure of my marriage hurt worse than anything yet had hurt. It mattered a lot that I was good at marriage, but now I had proof that I wasn’t. I had no new goals and no backup plan. I was alone without a direction. That’s when I met her.
I purchased musical software to write music, but what I bought was more suited for “composing”, rather than just letting the noise gradually turn into a song. I was like a 6 year old who can talk well, read hesitantly, but doesn’t yet know how to really write. I knew the “rules” but not the art.
She arrived, introduced by a mutual friend who thought I was the right kind of nerdy for her. We met. Our heads were above water, but the effort to swim was wearing us out. We soon broke. Not broke up. Just broke.
When I broke, I broke thoroughly. I gave up trying. I was reeling and, when you reel — while fishing, dancing like a Scotsman, or just lurching around like a drunken Scotsman — it’s hard to do anything more than just reel. What was the point? The best thing I did was break. The most painful thing I did — to me and to anyone who cared — was to break. I didn’t keep count, but I used several of the best life tragedy stories when I broke. I had a template that I followed too well. Trust me. To tell more would leave all of us needing our teddy bears.
We left the East Coast, leaving my failure behind. Apparently, you can leave failure behind. Sure, the stench remains, but we cleaned up after it, aired things out a bit and started to make a new home. It wasn’t good. The drive was horrible. Our things were in storage. Our nerves were raw. We were angry. We were too close too much of the time. But we had escaped.
I got a new job at almost the last moment. I had nothing left financially or emotionally. A job application and a coincidence got me a job teaching. Yes teaching real students — the goal I left on the East Coast. They didn’t adore me, but they didn’t hate me either. I was good, for a rookie, mediocre compared to the pros. It felt amazing. In the several years since then, I’ve found new niches, new professional collaborators, new success. I’ve met goals that were once important, only after giving up on them.
I bought a guitar. A real guitar, made by real guitar makers, and designed for real guitar players. I played it. I wasn’t good. I may never be good, but, by failing or just growing older, I no longer cared if I sounded like crap. When I didn’t care, I sounded better. Now, a year later, I sometimes sound like a person playing a guitar. Purposely. With specific sounds in mind. I’m a musician of sorts. I am a full-fledged creative person.
She was now there all the time. Next to me. Going the same way, with the same purpose. Sure, we were doing different things, a division of labor, but we were going the same way. She’d shed her prior life and embraced a life centered around creativity – jewelry, stories, and people. I was writing and playing my guitar. We hadn’t arrived anywhere, but there was the road, going our way.
*all images by the author and/or Dana, all rights reserved.