taking risks + saying yes: thoughts after a first season in maryland

I don’t mind sharing the hard or ugly parts of life—life gets hard and ugly; let’s talk about it. It’s the middles that trip me up. The space between the unknown and the understanding. I stop writing in this space (as I have these past few weeks) when the questions start to pile up.

We’ve been in Maryland three months now. A whole season. Thursday, it snowed, and I was reminded that there will remain all this space between what’s familiar and what’s not.

When we first moved, I thought about all the roads. My sense of direction is a joke, but I’ve always said I know where I am, I just don’t know how to get to where I need to go. I got here, and I didn’t know where I was anymore. All my history lived somewhere else.

The word I kept using was dislocation. I was dislocated.

Three months in, and we’ve located ourselves here in Southern Maryland. We’ve jobs in local schools that are enjoyable and entertaining (guys, you thought high school was a trip when you were in high school? Return as an adult.), and our weeks have developed their cadence. I write in the morning, we work. In the evening, we swap hallway stories, and on the weekends, we daytrip to museums and national parks and villages established during the Revolutionary War. We’ve even had visitors all the way from Minnesota.

We’ve established our routine, and like they say, ideas bloom within boundaries. Now that my time and energy isn’t subsumed by the details understanding our new geography, I’ve the freedom to explore what this move means for us on a broader scale. A writer I admire wrote about how moving brings the quiet. Remove yourself from the noise of all your former lives, and you’re forced to face yourself.

Remember all those questions you told yourself you’d someday answer? They’re starting to pile up.

It’s interesting to track what’s blossomed while being out here. Career, it turns out, has been one of my greatest preoccupations. What is I want to do with my life? And what do I want to get paid for? How do I measure success if it’s not via a career path? And how do I measure success if I’m not receiving it down other avenues either?

I knew it would be strange and possibly uncomfortable to make a cross country move without attaching it to a career objective, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on work to provide me with a sense of worth or accomplishment until I left it. Turns out, salary and benefits really can be an anesthesia against the bigger pictures you thought you’d one day paint.

I left a job in Minnesota that I’d loved, and traded it in for a position that I didn’t need my college degree to qualify for. My job out here is easy. It’s what I make of it, and while some days are harder than others, I generally get good stories and warm fuzzies, and after 6.5 hours, I leave. Nobody sends me emails, and you know what that means? It means I got exactly what I wanted: the ability to focus my energy elsewhere.

Basically, I’ve removed my own ability to say no to new ideas. My work doesn’t provide me enough satisfaction or occupy enough time to protect me from desires and passions, and the twin excuses of too hard and too scared don’t wear as well out here, because what else do I have to do out here? It’s what have I got to lose, but on steroids, because while the worst possible outcome is still only failure, it’s failure achieved 1,100 miles away from everyone who I’d be embarrassed to fail in front of.

Did you know that I sew felt and sequin Christmas decorations? I’ve been doing it for several years now, making tree skirts for family and friends, updating our stockings, playing with embroidery and beadwork. Remember that old McCall’s pattern for felt and sequin stockings, with the reindeer or Santa applique? That’s what I make, but hopefully a little prettier, a little less tacky, a little more timeless.

I’ve opened an Etsy shop and started an Instagram page, because why not? I love sewing these stockings and tree skirts and ornaments, and I’ve taken enough custom orders to make me think strangers on the internet may love what I make too. So far, I’ve made no sales, but honestly, I’ve been thinking about doing this for four years. Trying is better than wondering.

It’s all about the great cosmic why and why not. Why are we here? And if we have to ask that question, why not shoot our precious shots? It’s uncomfortable, to be honest, to reduce these questions to their parts and ask them of ourselves, but there’s not much else for me to do right now. I miss Minnesota like all hell, but I’m not ready, not nearly ready, to throw in the towel and come home. I love my job, but I’m not sure how to make a career out of a position that doesn’t require of me my diploma or hard won experience (though they do earn me an additional $10k a year). I know that writing is at the very center of my purpose here on earth, but how do I turn it into more than a hobby, and how do I stay in love with it if I never derive measurable or recognizable success?

These aren’t Maryland questions. If I’d stayed in Minnesota longer, I would have had to face them there too. They’re driftless question, twenty-six year old questions, transition questions. Questions that don’t necessarily need answering, but absolutely need attending.

They’re the work questions, the toolshed for the work we do to keep up with our becomings.