I am a person ruled by my emotions. My family’s favorite pastime is to remind me how “sensitive” I am.
As I’ve grown (and continue to grow) into adulthood, I have had to figure out a way to exist that both honors my emotional intelligence and allows me to move beyond it. Within the past year or so, I have had to face the hard truth that I can’t just do or not do things because of my feeeeeelings. But I also learned that my emotional intuition is a gift. Thus, I need to listen to my emotions… because they provide me a certain type of wisdom and hold meaning.
Right now, it is quiet in my mother’s house. Almost too quiet—it was unnerving at first. But it rained last night—the first real summer rain in Southern California—and it’s overcast today, so there’s not many people out on the street. I’m the only person at home. I do not have music or TV on in the background, which never happens.
For the first time in over a month, I think I am able to really listen to and process what it is I’m feeling in this moment.
In 36 hours, I leave for a two-week road trip with my homegirl. We are heading to the Bay Area first, where I’ll get to see a bunch of people I love. And then we head towards our final destination: New Jersey/New York. (I write that with a slash, because we’ll be laying our heads in New Jersey… but I’m mostly excited to spend a day or two in my favorite city in the whole world.)
A cross-country road trip has been on my bucket list since college. When I was about to graduate, I had overly romantic notions of packing up a car and spending a year traveling by road. I would stay with different people and take their pictures and record their stories. I still might do it one day. But until then, a concentrated one-week version will do just fine. When my friend first asked me to join her, I was like, “Hell yeah!” And then I told my mother what was happening, and a lot of doubt and fear set in. My mother is good at doing that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing… but it’s not always what I need.
I resolved to do it, though. It’s something I have wanted to do for a very long time. But it’s also something I need to do. For myself. To assert my independence. To break out of the mundaneness that has been my life for the past few months. To affirm that I am an artist… and therefore, I am also a wanderer. And what better way to seek out inspiration by wandering with purpose through the crazy, vastness that are the United States of America?
But mostly, I am doing it because it truly scares me.
In October, I took a workshop with a poet/artist/woman I admire deeply, Natalie Patterson. I was feeling then pretty much all of the same things I have been feeling this summer: Impatient. Confused. Frustrated. Closed off. And she said to me, “You need to do things that truly scare you. You need to open yourself up.” I didn’t listen to her so much… but when I made the decision to go on this trip, her voice was so clear in my head.
So, yes, I am feeling scared right now, as I sit in my mother’s house with this quiet. My body is telling me, “This is a cliff and you’re about to jump!” This is a very particular kind of scared—one that propels, one that invigorates. It’s a “break-me-open” kind of fear, rather than my usual “closed-up-tight” fear. The last time I remember having THIS particular feeling was during my sophomore year in college. I had gone to my hometown for a night, to see a play and hang out with my high school friends. As I was getting ready to drive back into LA, something just told me, “You’re going to be leaving this place soon. And you won’t be the same when you come back.” Sure enough, I got into NYU a few weeks later… and I really haven’t been the same since coming back from New York.
This moment feels like that one over five years ago. This trip feels like the same kind of catalyst. Everyone keeps saying, “Yeah, a road trip will change you.” I believe them; it already has a little bit. The decision in itself was a small shift. I elected to spend a good chunk of my “Oh, shit! I’m unemployed!” savings to travel these big ol’ United States by car. I decided to spend two weeks living out of a suitcase, instead of trapping myself in the comfort/prison of my home. I have chosen to spend the next 18 days with another human being, even though I spend most of my time alone. I am suspending all of my usual worrying and stressing—about earning an income, finding a career, losing weight, proving that I’m a “real” adult, and so forth—until I come back. I have chosen to be on someone’s open road, under a sky that belongs to nobody. I have chosen to make a decision that belongs to me, to have an experience that will only ever be mine.
This is where I wanted to be last summer. It’s almost like a do-over. Last summer, I wanted to feel this free. I wanted to have this kind of open-ended question hanging before me, representing my life. But I wasn’t ready. And so I have spend the past year yearning for freedom, but feeling trapped within myself, within my own small definitions of what is right and acceptable. But I know this was necessary. Because as much as I’ve wanted to be “free,” I recognize that personal freedom comes with a cost. It comes with responsibility. The cost is a sense of security and external validation, the sense that you’re doing things the “right way” and are aligned with what is expected of you. You don’t get to necessarily have these things when you’re free, because you are not “free” because someone else tells you are. You are free because you make yourself so. Last summer, I don’t think I could afford the cost of freedom. I have spent the past year almost exclusively wanting other people to tell me what to do, to tell me that my decisions and actions are valid. It’s exhausting and paralyzing.
This trip is my small un-doing, my big becoming.