Now, Not When

Sometimes I feel like living is like driving. You have to pick a lane.

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If your logical brain just followed my logical brain, you’re currently gazing out the window, biting your bottom lip and chewing over the following: have I chosen the right lane?

How urgently I need to answer this question varies. What doesn’t oscillate much — and perhaps this is a sign of immaturity — is my need to have an escape route. I need to feel like there is a way out. Another option. I can’t tell you how much it helps me to imagine that there’s a different outcome somewhere out there, waiting for me. One that’s entirely possible, even if at the moment it’s busy unfurling just beyond where I can see.

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Maybe what I just described is called hope, and this desperate need for it is called human. Particularly when the present is, you know, kind of grim.

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Whenever I can get myself to think on temporary terms, I feel better about Portland. I know how lucky I am to be having this experience. This wonderful/awful, living/learning chapter. (Thank you Mom, for better articulating the twentysomethings and also for giving me a minute to swallow around the boulder in my throat whenever I hear your voice, tinny through the telephone wire. Still so gentle and wise.)

Where is home? That’s another question I think I’m coming closer to being able to answer. At this time of year, as soon as I flip the calendar over to October, there is just no doubt in my mind. New England, Mom.

But this is an impossibility. Mom is in Arizona. And “New England” encompasses six different states, with family and friends in each.

Where do I go to be less alone? Not New York City, as eye opening of an experience as that was. And not Opposite Coast, Oregon — unless something drastic were to change. (Soon.)

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There is something I want more than a little house or a big garden or a slow, sane way to live. Love. I want to be loved. I want to feel like I have found my people (which, yes, okay, would include “my person”) and I want to know at least 50% of them are within huggable distance. For whenever I need them and they need me.

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How do I want to spend my life minutes? This is another question I am constantly noodling over. Ever since college graduation, I feel like the sum total of everything I’ve done and tried can be boiled down to throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks.

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What’s important to me? This one is easy: growth. (Personal and professional.) And health. In parentheses: freedom.

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What else? Authenticity. Financial security. Kindness. Relationships. Reciprocity. FUN. (By way of breathtaking hikes and beautiful views. By way of crappy dinner parties and A+ attempts at DIY.)

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Mostly: approximately fifty-five flavors of fulfillment, to occupy the empty space where longing lives now.

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If I were to bump up against the edges of my honesty, I would admit I’m afraid it won’t come: the day I’ll stop hoping for happiness and look around and discover I actually am happy. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt that feeling burning bright in the last three years.

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I should qualify that: I’m talking about big-picture happy. The kind that bubbles up like champagne but doesn’t fizz after it pops. Contentment? That could be the brand I’m looking for.

I remember what it’s like: it’s like kissing the person you most want to kiss. It’s like sitting on a porch swing with a quilt wrapped around your feet and a book on your lap, watching the sunset. It’s like hearing the rumble of voices from people you love inside, their silhouettes illuminated by lamplight. It’s like taking a bite of the apple crisp you’ve had a thousand times, cinnamon-y and warm, homemade and humble, slouchy and sweet. It’s everything satisfying and deeply reassuring, all within arm’s reach.

That’s not to say I don’t have a finely tuned radar for small joys. I do. I have my antennae up for those always. I look for them every day, everywhere I go. A leaf changing color. A whole tree already half amber, half crimson. A penny on the ground, shiny from a recent rain. A big bouquet of fresh flowers (#900 this year). This season’s first delicata squash, nestled on a baking sheet and roasted in rings.

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But I used to have, I don’t know, a zest for life. Not to sound melodramatic, but now: zero. Zero zest for life.

What I do have is a steadfast refusal to waste any more time. And a very real understanding (got it, noted!) that you can’t change your life without changing your life.

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I have t0 kick what I prefer to think of as “the eating thing” before I can worry about the rest of things not falling into place. And I am kicking it. I’m doing it. And it’s — like my mom said — by turns awesome and awful. I’ve never felt more emotionally all over the map. I’ve never come quite this unglued. I’ve never felt less attractive. Don’t look at me. I have never — and this makes sense — felt so completely isolated. I don’t think I’ve ever wished so hard for someone to come into my life and be distracting and funny and kind and make me feel home.

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I would leave if it weren’t for my job. The job I just worked so hard to get, and can’t convince myself I want, 60% of the time. If I were sure I could find something else, something equally good in all the ways that my current job is good — I’d go.

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I’d go wherever I could be pulled into a big family with a thousand things going on and an abiding appreciation for each other at the center. I want — and I actually think might need — to be around people who butter their bread without thinking twice and occasionally do nothing more arduous than walk to the post office.

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I need to be around more people in general, but more positive influences, in particular. I need to be around people who aren’t dieting. I need to be around people who don’t talk and think and behave that way, because it’s a MISERABLE WAY TO LIVE. I need to meet women who love their bodies and men who love women’s bodies. I need to be around people who push me to forgive myself every other minute, and pull me out to the movies when it gets really hard.

I need to meet people who have never been full of so much self-loathing that they’ve had to switch a hair elastic from wrist to wrist every time they said something mean to themselves throughout the day. (This…this is quite an exercise.)

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The bottom line is, if I’m going to stay where I am for any additional length of time, I need to find a way to make friends with people who will say: hey, I read some good things this week. (Exhibit A: The Last Laugh.) Or when you want to eat something new and different, make this recipe. Or the next time you’re lonely, listen to this lady. Or the next time you’re floundering at work, look at this list.

Do you know what I really, really need, though? About a million hours straight with people who’ve already come to the conclusion they’re going to love now, not when.

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{Portland sign via @heidiannstclair, road into Bend via @bayleyjunes, rainy PDX via @reagan.alicia, West Burnside via @lovewasher, I Hate Men via @letterfolkco, Everything’s Going to Be OK via @ericaindira, sunset via @theplaidshirt, Old Town sign via @, road by Mt. Baker via @cadencrawford, A-frame via @brettcederberg — all on Instagram.}

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