My writing group met up tonight after a too-long hiatus. We tried to figure out when we’d last met but couldn’t grasp it, the memory. We said things to each other like, It was at the Tick Tock. I think it was cold? Is there outerwear somewhere in this memory? We didn’t know too much for sure. It’d been too long, we agreed. Admonishing ourselves slightly.
Returning to a group of people that are an established part of your life but are for a moment estranged, even by the most innocent lapse, is interesting. You almost don’t know what version of yourself to present—don’t know the level of granularity to dive into about the goings-on in your life, which story to start with to help catch everyone up. There’s too much to say, so you say nothing, or nothing specific. Good, good. Everything’s good.
But then you pick something at random, because of course you do; you have to start somewhere—something top of mind, top of the pile, low hanging fruit. My furnace is broken. And I had a tetanus shot on Saturday; I had a wound cleaned and almost fainted in front of my kids while the nurse practitioner said repeatedly, “I was not expecting this to happen.” This is the version of myself I put forward tonight.
Perhaps the “me” part of it all is the way I tell my stories as much as the stories I tell. I certainly feel that toward the others as I listen to them unfurl moments and facts from their own recent lives. It’s their laughs, their expressions. Their faces. It’s almost not at all about what’s new but just a confirmation that the signs and signifiers of before are still the signs and signifiers of these lovely people.
Since our last writing group, however many months ago it was, I have been to Moab and returned—I think I was just planning the trip when writing group last convened. (See, I am getting closer to the truth; we will figure this out.) I don’t know why the trip wasn’t what I first mentioned when I started unfurling answers to the “so how are you, Jackie?” question–perhaps because everything about its conception and role is counter to the idea just posited, that the stories of our lives are just vehicles by which we confirm we are still ourselves, not changed too much.
There’s something about a trip like the one I took to Moab that is supposed to be revelatory, ipso facto. Just do the thing and it will beget something in or to you, just by virtue of ticking it off, perhaps. I think I do believe that to a point, as it only takes me relaying the fact of the trip to others to have their faces morph into certain sorts of responses: impressed, curious, surprised, whatever. They need to know nothing more than the thing was done to understand something about me, and I get credit in their minds as A Person Who Has Done That Sort of Thing.
But then there is what’s beyond the point of fact of it, the just-doing-it credit. There is the part of me that is different—and I need to get to the bottom of what that is, and what its artifacts are, and what it all means. For example:
Why was I compelled to tears the moment I arrived in Utah?
Why did I weep the moment I drove away from Moab?
Perhaps there are borders around the event itself—the threshold into it, for my mind—and for whatever reason, this threshold was the literal border of Utah? Even the spirit needs something to grasp; the mind needs something to fix itself to. Borders as delineators, organizers. A frame for the unframable.
(I have always been resistant to the traditional markers of time—dates. I don’t think the self is so governed. I don’t think the soul reads a calendar.)
In recent years I have suffered for the joint memories I have made. When you share your life with someone you stake simultaneous claims on experiences and hope never to have to acknowledge this co-op model to life’s scrapbook.
Moab, obviously, was mine, and that is perhaps its greatest and most obvious virtue. And complete physical solitude wasn’t necessary for it to be such because the actions comprising the experience were mine to make. Undiscussed if not entirely automatic. Unaccommodated. Accommodation is perhaps the hallmark of partnership. Unpartnered, I considered no one but myself.
Arguably, this is my everyday life. I make my own decisions. Much of how I spend my time requires no accommodating actions. It’s what I want to do: stay home all evening, watch The West Wing, eat chicken nuggets, who cares. I should be comforted by this, realizing that my life comprises this unaccommodated mode of being; that there will be no one showing up later forcing me to divide my recent memories.
What, though, is the difference, between Moab and my everyday life?—because I assert there is one. Something about the leisure aspect of the trip. Something about the set-. And something about the expectation.
People may be satisfied or impressed to a degree by the simple fact of a trip like the one I took to Moab, but after that registers, expectation sets in, even if unspoken. Was it great? We ask things like this of people who go on trips. We expect answers: yes, it was great. Marvelous. Remarkable. Nothing like it. I have said these things, and they are true. They are the gate around the city that is the experience. The gate, because there is a city; there is something that happened to me and knowing about the gate tells you there is more, even if you, random coworker, friend, person inquiring about another person, don’t ever learn exactly what it is.
But there is usefulness in sharing that there is a gate. I may have the opportunity to say more about what lies beyond. And even if not, I know, in and for myself, there are streets and structures inside to remember and explore.
I don’t know if that means I’m different that I was, because I have this gated city inside me now. I think my writing group would say I seemed very much the same, very much the person they expected to see, even after a 6-9 month hiatus. But happier, perhaps. Satisfied. The same self, but with a different aspect under increased magnification.