Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Nashville Loneliness

You've held your head up,
you've fought the fight,
you bear the scars,
you've done your time.
Listen to me:
you've been lonely, too long.
- The Civil Wars

They shut off all the water to our apartment twice in one week in order to fix a major tear in the water main. The first time, we had no warning, and no awareness of how long it would be off. After half a day of sitting around bemoaning my unshowered state, Jordan and I got out of the house to run errands and live in the world of running water again for a distraction. As we were checking out at Trader Joes, the cashier started a casual conversation with Jordan. In the course of their interchange, it came out that our water was shut off for some indeterminate amount of time. The cashier looked at us with refreshingly human concern in his eyes and said "do you guys have a place to go?" While Jordan was explaining that the water would likely be on later that day, that it wasn't that big a deal, I felt an uncomfortable, familiar ache clamp its hands over my throat. I didn't contribute anything to the conversation. But if I'd been honest, I would have said "we can drive two hours to my in-laws' place, or four hours to my friends-like-family in Atlanta, or to Arkansas or Texas or Kansas or Colorado or North Carolina or Wisconsin or Ohio or just about any other state in this country, plus several other countries, and we'd have a place to go. But here? So few people even know our names." This subject seems so tired and worn out to me, like a song with a solid riff that bites deep-- until I play it dozens of times, play it til it blurs. And I shrink from being ungrateful or self-pitying or just whiny. But the reality is that it's still relevant as 2015 begins, and given that this year is a blank canvas with very little for me to anticipate, the persistent presence of this factor is hard to escape: it's lonely out here. I'm in a strange position in that some of my external circumstances are perhaps the best they have ever been. Which makes it challenging to me to explain at times why I am not more grateful, why, for example, I spent the second half of last year feeling lifeless and cold in ways I haven't experienced in half a decade. And I'm grateful for what's inside the walls of my apartment, for my husband and our roommate, for our little island in a lonely city. But the reality is this: the cheesy sentiment that "success is nothing unless you have people to share it with" is actually true. Someday I'm going to write more about the vast misperception that achieving "it" (a job you love, a marriage, a change in appearance) mends you, but for now suffice it to say this: when I'm up late with yet another of the panic attacks that have been my constant friend since moving here, or when I can't get out of bed for hours because of the weight on my chest, I'm not clutching my stack of all access lanyards from music industry events for comfort. I'm not repeating to myself the number of pounds I've lost in the past few years. In those moments, I wish instead simply that I could, for five seconds, sit in a corner and listen to a group of friends talk-- to know, for even five seconds, that I have somewhere to go when the water's shut off. I have had the extreme privilege, and extreme responsibility, of having relationships that are indescribably deep and vibrant and tenacious and lasting-- of riding out all the incredible joys and searing pains that come with that. I know, and am constantly reminded, how many people care about me and believe in my story from a distance, even when I give them zero reason to. Texts and messages and emails come out of the blue from people who are incredibly, absurdly kind to me, and I treasure those people and those words beyond what I could say. I know this: if I was ever really, truly in trouble, there are people who would drop everything to help me. I know this because I've had people do it. And all of this is part of what makes my relationship with Nashville more emotionally overwrought than a Taylor Swift song. I've been here for a year and a half and have yet to stick a single root into this dry ground I'll be stuck on for another three and a half years. My efforts to connect to people have been half-hearted at best, usually for a pretty simple reason: I'm not sure I want to succeed. This is in part because I've been burned pretty badly several times in the last few years, and I'm a little worn from the incredible pain love so frequently entails, but I know that's not a valid reason-- I learned a long time ago that burn wounds don't mean that fire can't still be useful, beautiful, and light-giving when used correctly. If nothing else, beyond my emotional hurts, my faith tells me that it lives and breathes in and through and with other people. I believe this (or try to). But every time the quiet internal voice I know as the Spirit tells me "it's time to try again with this heart bonding, with this finding new friends" the bitter angst-ridden self I still contend with so often snaps back "I had perfectly good friends, it's just that You took them all away." And that is the bottom line I've had to sign my name to, to own: this Nashville loneliness has not just been about the (sometimes self-inflicted) isolation. It's been about loss. And I have to allow myself to grieve it as a kind of loss if I want any hope of moving forward. I will never be able to inhabit old relationships and environments in the same way again. Although I love the people I know very, very deeply, I am relatively independent by nature in my day to day life, and I think I always will be-- I am a textbook introvert. I didn't seek out company a lot when I lived in Texas or Colorado (something I regret at times, in retrospect). But to know that there were people I could hang with, people who would recognize me if I walked into a room, who I could trust with the details of who I was but who would never demand those details from me? That was a gift that sheltered my spirit in ways I never recognized until it was deconstructed around me. The reality is that I've gone through three of the most monumental changes of my life in the past 19 months: I got married, I moved to a new city with no established prior connections, and I started working my "dream job." And though these things are all good, it has been profoundly, inexpressibly challenging to even know how to accept or process them without the context of living, present souls who care that these things happened to me, who remind me that they matter. Because when I don't get reminded, I forget. I have this thing I do where I mentally shut down and pretend I'm not married, I'm not in Nashville, I'm not living this life-- I hide these things from myself because they're too heavy to carry alone, because I either feel like they matter so much I can't bear them or that they don't matter at all. My perspective swings wildly. Perhaps in part this is why many times over the past year and a half when I've traveled to see friends, one of the most universal sentiments I've heard is we're worried about you-- you're not yourself. And I haven't been. There are benefits to this isolation, this molding heat and hardening cold. It has given me space to work through my major issues with relying on the approval of others, it has demanded that I face down false idols and expose the weaknesses in my faith, it has taught me to treasure moments with people more than ever before. Deserts have their purpose; they can make us stronger. But if we stay out there too long, we'll still die. That's where I'm standing at the start of this year. Although I think deciding to change ourselves at a new year's dawn is a little arbitrary, this year the date switch just happened to coincide with a season of internal change for me-- change where I'm fed up with who I've been. Change where I'm tired of letting life happen to me, bully me, instead of intentionally channeling it. Change where I'm ready to accept failures along the way for the sake of things that will be worth it in the end. Change where I want to be myself even if people feel annoyed or uninterested or threatened or frustrated or just straight-up completely misunderstand. This isn't a "so here's what I've learned today, kids" kind of post. This is a "state of the soul" address, if you will, in part because I know I'm not the only one, and in part because not posting this would perpetuate the kind of dishonesty I got so good at last year (there might have to be another post about the absurd level of self-censorship I developed and why it was a pretty dumb idea). But I will say this: after running as hard as you can to get out of a wasteland, punishing your body and destroying your strength in the process, you'll eventually have to stop. And when that happens, chances are it's time to stop looking for the desert edge for the moment-- time to try to set up shelter and dig a well instead. So in 2015, I'm going to attempt to dig some wells. What I'll find isn't certain; the fact that I'll get my hands dirty in the process is. But I have to try-- because if I find water here, it will be worth it.