Poetry, dates and coming home

I took myself on a date tonight. Make up, clean pants, brushed hair, favorite lipstick color and all.

It is part of my effort to be more comfortable doing things alone. Too often I skip out on things because I don’t have anyone to go with, and I don’t have anyone to drag begrudgingly along anymore.

I’m learning to enjoy my own company. It is uncomfortable don’t get me wrong, but I’m actually really glad I went out by myself tonight.

N.C. poet laureate Shelby Stephenson was speaking at the coffee shop downtown so I figured I would go listen toΒ what he had to say and hear him read some of his poetry.

There is something magical about listening to a poet read their own work. He read with such enthusiasm and confidence. I hope one day to write things I am that proud of.

I’m not used to doing things alone so I assumed I would end up a wall flower among the gallery portraits in the crowded cafe. Attendees included groups of old friends, fellow writers and creative writing students from local university, obviously there out of a class obligation judging by their discussion of ‘the assignment’ on the evening.

Right before the event began, a table in the very center opened up. Quite the juxtaposition from the position I thought I would occupy. I sat down and was shortly joined by an older couple rushing to snag a table before Stephenson began to speak.

The husband was a fiction writer and an old friend of Stephenson’s. Ironically enough, my table mate wrote fiction because he couldn’t find his rhythm in poetry. I told him that I gravitated toward poetry because I couldn’t find my voice in fiction.

We chatted for just a few minutes, but it was nice. It was interesting having to define myself to a stranger. This person knew nothing about me, had simply sat down with me for lack of another option.

I didn’t quite know what to say when they asked even the most basic of questions. I have spent the past few months rebuilding and regaining my sense of self, but this might have been the first time I had to introduce myself to and make small talk with someone who had no background knowledge of me.

It was fun being able to tell them I write. Maybe if I say it enough times to enough people I will start to really believe it’s true. Lord knows I’ve been working hard at it, submitting all over the place and surely developing a case of carpal tunnel due to my incessant need to write everything by hand the first go round.

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The woods will always be my happy place.Β 

Stephenson started out talking about the idea of “home” or where you come from. He stumbled over his words as he tried to sum it up, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in response. How does one sum up where they come from in a meaningful way?

I have no idea. The concept of home is one I mull over quite often in my writing but don’t know if I share often.

I was struck by his words, or lack thereof, in that moment. All I really knew was that I felt a strong connection to this place. This tiny little town that we all couldn’t wait to leave, yet many of us returned to even after we spread our wings a little.

There is a force as strong as gravity that pulls us back. Maybe it’s toxic, and we are all just crazy, as one of my friends so often says. Or maybe there really is something magical about this place, something deeper than the surface that can’t quite be explained.

My heart hurt as I thought about leaving it. Hickory was the only place I wanted to come back to when I left Germany. I couldn’t imagine finding myself and rebuilding anywhere else. There was a pull to this place I couldn’t deny even though my family left years ago.

I’ve been back for a few months now, and despite the love I have for this strange place, I know it is time to go.

I rediscovered myself. I cut ties. I picked up the pieces of myself that I left here, and I claimed them as my own. I learned how to be defined by my values, strengths, weaknesses and interests rather than by my ties to another.

I cultivated friendships with people who were quick to remind me that I don’t need them. That while there is a lot of love, it isn’t a love of necessity. It is a love that is not conditional to my geographic location.

I needed to come back here to collect myself, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay.

Sophie and I are off to the next adventure in a few weeks. Packing up and moving and uprooting our lives yet again is terrifying, but it is the right thing to do. The sunshine state is calling us, and good things are coming.

I can feel it.

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