When I got her Facebook message last Friday, I wondered if anything was wrong. It was an innocuous "where are you today?", but it made me think she might need my help. I've learned to trust those instincts--why else would she contact me?
Many of my friendships involve that role. I'm a listener, I suppose. Women share things with me. They always have.
But for about a year, I've avoided counseling people or listening to their talk about their struggles. My distant friends still call every now and again to bend my ear, but the technological barrier of the telephone shelters me from refracted angst. And the longer I'm in Omaha, the less frequent those calls become. Time effaces the distance. People get used to not having me around.
I had a healthy dose of heart to hearts when I traveled east in August and west in October, but I've had few of those conversations with people here in the middle. I haven't been doing a lot of empathizing. Or socializing. I watch Husker games with the Irish Mob and ride bikes with newer friends, but I've watched two new acquaintances struggle with loss and kept myself apart from it, withholding sympathy.
I responded to her Facebook message last Friday by saying that I was home with the girls all day. But still, I worried just a bit. And ignoring that concern felt like a violation of all the other friends I've had.
We met briefly for coffee on Monday. The talk was about writing, about focusing on the process and ignoring fears about the outcome. A thinker can't allow concerns about how the work will be perceived to impinge on the creative or productive process, and I reminded my old / new friend of that.
But I was talking to myself.
The fears are paralyzing. Who will ever want to read this? Who will ever hire someone who writes such under-theorized drivel? Is there any tangible connection between all of the archival research and the poetry I'm trying to interpret? These worries kill the project before it ever takes shape.
I wrote a blog post this summer about how the fear of fear kills any chance of winning a bike race. This current paralysis in my work is the same damn thing.
I'm also letting fear keep me away from people. Leaving my Omaha friends to go to graduate school seven years ago was really hard. Leaving my Davis friends 12 months ago to move back here really sucked. I don't want to go through that loss again, so I'm keeping to myself as I try to finish my dissertation. But that's just another example of allowing a worry about the destination ruin the fun of getting there.
So the next time someone invites me to a pub crawl or a half-price beer night at Dario's, I may just turn up.
* * *
Last night, I worked three hours at the bike shop and had a good chat with Lowell about motivation. He's running a marathon in December to force himself to keep training through the Autumn. I congratulated him on his efforts and lamented not racing 'cross to keep myself motivated.
But now I wonder. What about riding for fun, for the sheer, unadulterated hell of it? Does time on the bike always have to be spent training for a goal? Do I always have to use my hobby to punish myself the same way I beat myself up about my work? "Gotta go train today so I don't get dropped next week!"
It's bullshit. The objective this fall will be to write my book and ride my bike for fun. I'm still setting goals and deadlines, but I'm going to try acheiving them by enjoying the moments I spend in the pursuit.
* * *
It's windy today. The buckeye tree outside my office window is almost fluorescent yellow, and the sugar maple across the street is a shining sort of scarlet. I always think of my man Shelley at this time of year:
O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's beingThou from whose unseen presence the leaves deadAre driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.
Shelley also worried about losing his work to fear, so he implored the wind for inspiration:
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'dOne too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.
My own metaphorical wind remains apart from me. Tornado season's over, I suppose. So I'll have to content myself with this new autumn wind and hope that it's enough. But in the process, I'm going to try casting off what Blake called "mind-forg'd manacles."
The road's always been a good place to start. Imagine what's around the bend!