My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Things They Didn’t Bury was still in the Scraps of Incoherency stage by the time my first year of college rolled around. I sat down to work on it every once in a while, but the truth was, it was the idea of it that excited me most of all. Putting the pieces together was fun but using those pieces to build something with depth and meaning and, oh yeah, words, was hard. Writing was hard and even though every time I did it, something surprisingly good came out of it, I was still treating it as a hobby and not my life. I’d discovered this passion but there was still this part of me that was afraid to follow it. And it certainly didn’t help when everyone and their mother had the same opinion about majoring in the arts. That it was a waste. That it would lead nowhere. That it was only for self-indulgent hippies (even though most college students are self-indulgent hippies). So I was afraid. I was afraid of so many things–being vulnerable, being honest, being a failure. And I delayed the inevitable, keeping my consideration of majoring in Creative Writing all to myself, and even more than that wishing it would just disappear. But it didn’t. Even when I almost did.
November of my first semester of college my father was diagnosed with cancer. After six months of misdiagnoses they finally found the thing that was killing him and it was too late. It gutted me. For a year I watched him dwindle down to sharp edges and pale skin, my giant amazing father suddenly smaller than me in every way. And there was nothing I could do about it.
My first semester of college was a blur. I dropped out of every club and missed every game and wandered from class to class without speaking a word to anyone. And when the spring semester rolled around I took the bare minimum, torn between wanting to hide at school so I wouldn’t have to see him hurting but knowing it would hurt me more if I didn’t. So I stayed home with my father while my mother worked, making him toast and eggs in the morning and fixing him lunch and showing him how to work the laptop, all while swallowing glass. Choking on it until I could be alone in my car, parked in some grocery store parking lot or waiting for the gas nozzle to click off, strangers staring at me as I screamed into my steering wheel.
But in the midst of all of that there was a bright spot. Just one. I took my first Creative Writing class that semester, the roll call only six deep, my teacher the spitting image of a girl laying on the grass at Woodstock, and I loved every second of it. We focused on short stories and the first one I wrote was about a single dad who lived with his two kids in some imaginary town in South America called Paloma. It was uber-literary, full of imagery and run-ons, and totally pretentious. But even through all of that muck my teacher still said it was good and the most revolutionary part was that I believed her.
When they moved my father to a hospice facility it was right down the street from my school and I would curl up in the chair next to his bed with my moleskin notebook and just write. For hours, for weeks, that’s all I did. I would sit and write about these strangers who were feeling what I was feeling or feeling what I wanted to feel and I could see every heart like it was my own. I could see the world in all its mysterious connectedness, the threads between us all growing slack and taut. I could see the world, ugly and broken, naked and beautiful. For the first time I could see the world. And for the first time I didn’t feel so alone.
When you watch someone you love die everything has more meaning and everything has more urgency. And I was filled with this sense of urgency to make a declaration–about myself, about my words. That I was full of them. That there was nothing in the world that made me feel as free or whole or brave or alive. So I made that declaration, choosing the arts when everyone said not to, choosing to follow my gut even when I was terrified. But I had grown so much in the past year, I’d seen so much, done so much. I’d sat by my father’s death bed and told him goodbye. Something I still can’t believe I survived but something that made me strong. And in that moment of standing in my truth, I needed to be. Because I’d seen my place in the world. I’d seen the world and I knew that I was never meant to stand apart, alone. I knew I was never meant to be one tiny blip, a place marker, a point of reference. But I was meant to be the thread between those points, weaving words into the holes and empty spaces between us. I was meant to be a writer. Because that’s all writing is at its essence, a declaration to the world that says, “I am here and I am with you.” And even though it doesn’t always feel that way, when I am writing I know that nothing is more true, for all of the people I’ve met, all of the people I’ve had to let go, and all of the people still waiting, I am here and I am with you. Even when our hearts are broken we are not alone.