A Sudden Stop

What’s this? What is this place, this space, this empty screen, this blank white canvas with no words defiling the stillness? What is this writing, these words that appear directed by the sure and steady rhythm of keystrokes? This stream, these thoughts, this form where there had been none for so very long?

It’s called a blog, motherfucker. You click, pour yourself some coffee1or whatever, I don’t judge and you read. Don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike. You only fall off when you hesitate.

To say that it’s been a while would be short-selling the concept and minuteness of “a while”. It has been far more than a minute, which is what the kids are wont to say these days. No cutesy understatement can be applied here. It’s been almost two fucking years. Lives have changed directions, taken on new facets, lost previously held connections, and indeed, some have even ended.

In fact, the whole idea of writing had hit a sudden stop, a slam on the brakes and the resulting skid produced only vapors of words, ephemeral and feckless sentences. Ghost towns of paragraphs haunted my Evernote account, which too, lay still, collecting metaphorical dust. It wasn’t my life that had ceased to move, but rather, at first, a fictional life. My heroine, my protagonist, fell into a drunken stupor somewhere and her story went untold as I began to struggle, and then accept, writer’s block.

It’s like riding a bike. You only fall off when you hesitate.

Of course I have an excuse. I trade in them, I revel in their creation. I am a writer after all, an inventor of stories, and don’t even think for a moment that I am incapable of inventing said fiction in reality, that wonderful juxtaposition that we call ‘lies'2or alternative facts if you’re a fucking idiot. But, fear not, my excuses are far from fiction, and the truth of the last two years is in that most over-used cliche, stranger than any fiction I could dream up.

My life fell apart.

I don’t mean that in a “I hit rock bottom” sort of way. Far be it for me to be so melodramatic3I mean, perish the thought. But I mean to say that even for a recently repatriated fella, things did NOT turn out the way I had thought they would.

One of my last entries before the sudden stop involved a break-down right in the middle of the supermarket. I wrote regarding the difficulties of mentally coming back to a life you’ve previously left, and thought myself — not prepared — but equal to the task of reintegrating back into the society from whence I had come. And in that belief, I wasn’t wrong. Though the United States I had returned to was quite stranger and more hostile, though I had grown and was counting myself as a world traveller and all the while plans were being made, something else lurked in the background. Something we had sort of known all along, a fear neither of us did not truly care to face.

Our marriage had failed.

It wasn’t a big blow up or any such dramatic event that caused it. Eventually the tension and fear become too palatable for us to ignore any more, and just under one year back from our grand adventure, we mutually decided to part ways. The process was strangely smooth, natural even. I moved out, found an apartment. She bought a house and we sold our own. We promised to keep up with each other and we did for a time.

Until the next, terrible shoe dropped.

The astute reader will note the reference to a life ending. That life was our dear First Class Pooch, who a few months after our return, began to exhibit a series of debilitating symptoms. While the initial diagnosis was the fairly benign and treatable Cushings Disease, after eight months or so, it was too impossible to ignore something truly terrible was happening to my little girl. She began thin and ate less but stoically went about her business. Finally in early June, with my ex out of town and only available during a layover in Minnesota, things had progressed to the point where we were left with no other humane choice, and barely able to see through the fat tears, I said goodbye to Mini, my beloved little pooch who came to be the constant in our lives.

I drove back to work that day in a haze. I tried to focus on the mundane, the database and the code design. I numbly met with a realtor that night, determined to not let that moment of hesitation trip me over. It took days to finally process the grief to the point where I wouldn’t just stop mid-action, hesitate, and watch everything come to that complete crash.

It’s just like riding a bike. You pick yourself up, you brush the gravel and dirt away from the wound and soldier on.

It does seem odd in retrospect that I wouldn’t dive right back into writing. And to be fair, I did try. The writer’s group I found early in 2017 turned into solid friendships and for a few weekends I did a lot of background work on Jest, trying new ideas. But what had driven me past my grief was the decision to root myself back in Portland. I mentioned meeting with the realtor. By then, I had decided that I was going to stay in this weird little town.

After the split, and during the divorce, I lived in a sort of decent sense of suspended animation. I was back on unfamiliar ground and reveling in certain aspects of that. I found an apartment close to where Beverly and I had lived for a few weeks when we first moved back. I had fallen for the neighborhood and its easy access near downtown and thought it a good halfway house — a sort of reset point back to when life was last in transition, before Mini had got sick, before the weight of reality crashed through my marriage. I made new friends, I reconnected with old friends. I tried new experiences and explored more of my city. The entire time, however, I flirted with another idea, one I kept in the back of my head as an escape plan.

I was going to expatriate again, this time down under to that amazing island country that I had fallen in love with a year before. Australia called to me, and I booked a trip first to Brisbane and then a return from Sydney. The first was to meet up with a dear friend from Singapore, from there, road trip down to that famous and beautiful city on the harbor. The trip was amazing, and as I met with friends in town there, I confessed — I wanted to move to Australia.

Back Stateside, I wavered on the question. How long did I want to stay in the States? Surely at least another year as I had grown tired of moving. Still, no plan had reached out to me until Mini’s massive downturn. I had told myself that I should buy a rental, invest the earnings from my old house in a new one. But as I started to look at homes, think about the neighborhoods I was visiting, a feeling began to grow in me — a craving, really — one of stability and grounding, and I reflected upon that feeling.

I was growing tired of being a nomad.

I started to do the math. Move to 12 Holland Hill. Move to Robinson Quay. Move to the Burlington Tower. Move back to 64th Ave. Move to NW 12th. I did all that starting in March 2015 to September 2017 — five times in two & half years,  and two of those residences comprised a grand total of seven weeks. I looked at my meager holdings, a pare-down comprised by necessity4and as I would find out later, a bit of malice — I call it my asshole tax. I suppose I got off cheap compared to some., but also out of impending flight. I was ready to shed feathers once more, but every day I would wake up, look at my apartment, imagine packing everything up once again, house hunting in a foreign country, move once, then again perhaps? Would I start looking for a new job? I really began to like the current one…

When I met with the realtor5hi Rex! Seriously, do please feel free to reach out Rex Buchanan he is an amazing realtor and a massive dork and I love the dude for it. the first question he asked me of course was what was it that I was looking for. I smiled, and sure as the idea birthed in my mind, I spoke.

“A porch,” I said. “I want a house with a front porch where I can watch the neighbors go past, maybe stop by, say ‘Hi’. I want to sit out there with my good friends, sip bourbon.”

I want to slow down.

The day before my 41st birthday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the September edition of  Sunday Parkways was running the NE park loop, with a corner of the loop not a mile from my new house in North Portland. Though I hadn’t really got much use out of my bike in the previous years since the Worst Day of the Year, it was in good enough condition to ride. I had at least got new tires and a new saddle, good enough for a 15 mile loop around north east Portland. It was slow going, alone and unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, dodging children. I had done the loop once, years ago, with my ex, and there was a definite moment of longing for that past, before the left turns and new pathways my life took. I sat at one of the parks, enjoying a dollar apple juice from one of the neighborhood kids, melancholy for a moment, frustrated by the slow pace.

But I didn’t hesitate. The thing about riding a bike is, well, you know already. You just keep going.

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