November 4, 2010


A portrait of artists as young women

Ever since this past June, when I got rather stranded in Mexico and had to put The Facebook Project on hold for an entire month, I have learned to try to embrace detours and delays, because you never know where they are going to lead you. To name just a few examples from what happened when I left for this trip a month later than planned: I got to see the changing leaves up north; I got to participate in a dragon boat race; I got to see my friend, Noa, who only got to New Hampshire a week before I visited her; and I got to be a part of Harriet’s Girls Weekend, which subsequently led to meeting Jackie, which subsequently led to me getting to see where I was born.

Thus, knowing what good can come from a so-called botched plan, I was not too upset when I got to Michael & Jackie’s house in New Jersey and suddenly found myself without a next stop. I wanted to see my friend in the Camden area and she had seemed really excited to see me when we had talked a few months beforehand, as well as in subsequent exchanges on Facebook, so I was not too worried about putting things on hold for a day or two, while I waited for her to get in touch. What I was worried about was inconveniencing my hosts, Michael & Jackie, but they assured me it was all fine and when the time eventually stretched to five days, it had become just too comical to get stressed out over etiquette any longer. Besides, Michael needed more of my help with his photos and videos, and I was able to make them both dinner on my last night, so that I left feeling like I had at least earned a little of my keep, as well as two new friends.

By the time I left their house, I had also managed to secure a few invitations of hospitality from friends of my Facebook friends who had seen my plight and had reached out to make sure I had somewhere to go next. The first was my sister’s friend, Cathy, who had just moved to Princeton for husband Andrew’s new position with the university’s English department. Andrew was sick with the flu, so it was not a good time for house guests; but did I want to go out for lunch? And so we spent a few lovely hours strolling through the campus, nibbling on sandwiches, sipping macchiatos and wandering along the nature trail, talking about where we both were in life, each two months into our respective adventures.

The two of them had moved there at roughly the same time I had set off on this trip, but after having spent 10 years in Athens, Ga., theirs was a bit of more of an upheaval than mine. Add to that: a slight career shift for Cathy. She is an artist and after years of also juggling a job in the retail world, she had recently decided to devote herself to her painting full-time— except that she was new to the area, and so she said she was also fighting the urge to get a job as a way to meet people.

“It sounds so silly to say it out loud,” she admitted.

But it wasn’t silly. I know how it is to be the new kid on the block. I have moved every two years for the last six and it always presents an odd mix of excitement and utter despair. Excitement, because you can go anywhere with this new life of yours: everything is fresh, and nothing is as it was, and you get to meet an entirely new group of people. But then, that’s where the despair comes in: you go through this charged week of being in your routine and interacting with the other people in your workplace or program, and time flies, because you are trying so hard to absorb it all and to get the hang of it as fast as you can. But then Friday night rolls around and you have no plans and you suddenly realize that all your interactions thus far have been staged. And you feel completely and totally alone.

At least, that’s often been the scenario for me, and that’s moving somewhere with a built-in network, like a job or a school program, so I could only imagine how it was to be freelancing from home in a new town. But I told Cathy that it might be good to hang on to her freedom for as long as possible, because I found that as a writer, some of my best stuff came from being slightly uncomfortable, and I could imagine that it felt a little uncomfortable being in that position where she was. She might even discover some new things about her style and be pleasantly surprised, because of it.

And she agreed and said that anyhow, she had signed up for a stained glass class that was introducing her to some people and that she was thinking about doing some volunteer work, too. In the meantime, I added, she was probably finding herself with the least amount of distractions that she would ever have, because she probably also had the least amount of social engagements to go to.

“But,” I said, “I also know how delicate the creative process is.”

Take this trip, for example: more than anything else, it was a way to always give me something to write about, because although I wanted nothing more than to devote myself to writing full-time and was ready to give a year to doing it, I was also terrified at the thought of stopping everything and just sitting in a room and typing everyday. I needed something to keep me moving and provide constant inspiration— a muse. So far, the journey is doing that for me but even so, I STILL go through periods of enormous self-doubt: feelings of guilt when my hosts go to the office and I stay home to write in my pajamas, and come back later to talk about the meetings they endured; feelings of being overwhelmed when my blog entries are two weeks behind my actual journey, or I go more than three days without posting something new; feelings of uncertainty about whether or not I am paying attention to the right things.

And so, to meet someone like Cathy made me feel something like safety in numbers, because her focus right now is so similar to mine, in many ways, and as I drove away from Princeton, pointed towards my next stop in West Chester, Pa., I was still on my detour but I also had the feeling I was right on track.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. SirenaSteve
    Nov 10 2010

    Stranded in Mexico… That “embraced delay” also brought Toni the violinist into the picture!

    Daddy-o loved the huevos enfrijolados at breakfast today 🙂


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