This piece is a long time coming.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing for the past eight months, save a couple pieces for INTO. While this was the plan in late 2017 – to take 2018 off of pitching and writing about politics and pop culture – it hasn’t exactly happened as I anticipated. “Man plans, God laughs,” they say.
The plan back in January was to write my first novel. I’ve long dreamed of doing this, and spent much of 2017 doing the legwork, building out this elaborate fantasy world and creating these rich characters. If that sounds like bragging, it kind of is. I’m incredibly excited about this project. I don’t know if it will ever get published, but in January and last year, I wasn’t worried about that. I was just having fun being creative and writing for the sake of writing.
And then my brother got his by a bus, and he almost died. Something like this is bound to impact you, but it utterly changed my life. While he was still in a coma I decided I was going to uproot my life, one I’d spent seven years building, and move from Chicago to North Carolina to be closer to him. By the end of March, I was here.
For the first couple weeks I was back I was at the hospital with him nonstop. He was in a rehabilitation wing making remarkable progress. When I left to pack up my life and move down here at the end of February, we weren’t sure he’d be much more than a vegetable. By April 1, he was walking on his own and mentally sharp as a tack, if a little obstinate and mouthy – as teenagers are apt to be. By the time he was released, though, it was clear that he was going to make as near a full recovery as anyone who is hit by a giant bus going 35 MPH possibly can.
So I went back to Jacksonville, where my family lives, and settled in at my grandmother’s house.
Then I had to find a job. That took longer than I thought it would.
Then I had to find an apartment. That happened faster than I thought it would.
Then I had to build a social life. That still hasn’t happened.
And now, after two months working at an office job (hi new work friends!), I’m ready to start writing again.
Truth be told, I had the itch for the first time when Connor was still in ICU. We were waiting for the doctors to tell us something or other, I can’t even remember, and I was in the waiting room watching live coverage of the Parkland shooting. The aftermath of that, seeing these brave high school students stand up for commonsense gun laws and for their – and my brother’s – generation, was inspiring. I wanted to cover it so badly. But not as badly as I wanted to be there for my brother. And so, my focus remained on him.
Since then, there have been countless times where I’ve thought that I should pitch an article, or write a blog, or do something else to get back in the game. But I haven’t. And part of that is understanding my own limitations.
Writing is an exhausting endeavor, even when you’re well practiced and nimble. Producing a 650-1000-word essay on a dime is no small task, especially when you’re trying to persuade the world around to your point of view. It’s mentally draining and can be physically exhausting.
So is looking after your hospitalized brother. One thing my mother and I discussed while Connor was in the hospital was how exhausting simply sitting in a hospital can be. The stress of sitting, waiting for some news, wondering if your loved one is going to be okay or if the test results the doctors are giving you are going to confirm some unknown horror, is a crucible of anxiety I cannot explain unless you’ve gone through it yourself. It takes everything out of you, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
But then, this was going to be a tough year by any measure. Those of you who were around back in January know that 2018 started off with a self-reckoning. I was drinking too much, I was unhappy with my overall appearance – in particularly my weight – and I was trying to figure out where I wanted my life to go. Then, Connor got hit and everything changed. Suddenly I wasn’t living my life just for me, but for someone else. My brother needed me, and he needed me clear-eyed and alert.
Deciding to move here was the easy part; settling in has been more challenging. I’m not exactly from a big city – Hyden, Kentucky only has about 400 people, and I lived seven miles outside of it. Even Bowling Green, where I went to college, or Dayton, where I grew up aren’t all that big. But after seven years spent in Chicago, with holidays in London, and not really living either very often, coming to a town the size of Jacksonville, North Carolina – population about 70,000 – has been an adjustment.
There are no gay bars here, let alone a gay village. Fine dining is Olive Garden. And while God forbid they socialize healthcare in North Carolina, they have no problem socializing booze; the state literally owns the liquor stores, so you must go to one of these Alcoholic Beverage Control (or “ABC”) stores to buy anything harder than a Malbec. Church is where folks go to see and be seen, and some people even have bumper stickers next to their “MAGA” decals that proudly proclaim they are “NOT A LIBERAL!” to which I always think “THAT’S A SHAME!” when I see them (yes, them – I’ve seen more than a few).
It’s safe to say, then, that it’s been a bit of a culture shock. But it hasn’t been as bad as you’re probably imagining. The people down here are friendly and nice. Not Midwestern nice, but proper nice; they genuinely care when they ask how your day is going. The weather is hot and humid, and it rains all the time, but it’s sure as hell going to beat Chicago come February. The cost of living is astronomically lower. I have a two bedroom in the heart of Jacksonville for less than I was paying for my garden unit one bedroom in Logan Square. And of course, it’s nice to be close to family.
But even with all that’s good, it still isn’t anything I’m used to. Getting used to being back in the south, coupled with the sheer stress of moving a thousand miles (regardless of where from or to), has really taken all the energy and spare time I’ve had. For not only am I having to adjust to a new town, with new people, in a new state, but I’m having to get used to a new time zone, a new routine, and a brand-new life full of brand new people.
That’s made writing not only more difficult, but less of a priority. I knew that in order for me to flourish in Jacksonville, I was going to have to focus on being in Jacksonville. And that meant not focusing on what was going on in Washington, or New York, and certainly not my beloved London.
I’ve spent the past four months doing just that – getting to know my new town, finding my new hangout spots, and settling into a groove that suits this new life. I think I’ve finally found it. Last week, I started writing my novel. I’m only about 1500 words in, but it’s a start. It’s invigorating. While I’m still dealing with the anxiety I’ve always dealt with when it comes to writing, I feel excited enough to push through it, and hope to have a rough draft finished by December 31.
I also think I’m going to start pitching again and commenting on the news of the day, though I’ll probably do it less frequently than I used to and probably share less of my work on social media. The truth is, I have a lot to say about politics and media, but I’m not particularly interested in discussing or debating it with my cousin’s boyfriend’s mother’s best friend on Facebook. It’s just not a productive use of my time. Arguing on social media is a waste of energy, accomplishes very little, and ultimately is quite boring. I’ve thought of deleting all the social media apps from my phone, following the brilliant Abi Wilkinson’s lead, to eliminate distractions and simply live more presently in the moment. It will, I think, help me be a better writer. I’ve not done it yet, but I’ll let you know if I do and what comes of it.
In the meantime, this is my first piece back to work, as it were. I don’t really know why I felt the need to write this, but I did. I suppose, on some level, it’s so that I can process the past eight months and the whirlwind journey I’ve been on. It really feels like it has less to do with who is reading this than it does with simply writing it and proving to myself that not only am I ready to start writing again, but that I can start writing again.
I also wanted to give you all and update on my life. I haven’t been as active on social media, I’ve all but disappeared from the websites you used to read me at, and I haven’t been terribly open about what’s been going on.
So that’s it. I’m a North Carolinian now. But I’m still a writer. And I can’t wait to write so much more.