“I had to decide what I was going to do, and what I was going to be. I was standing there, waiting for someone to do something, till I realized the person I was waiting for was myself.” -MZ
this was my first trip back to joshua tree since june.
between december of 2016 and june of 2017 i had been staying with a friend. and by saying the word “friend” i’m not sure what i mean any more. i suppose that was part of why going back seemed so important and also so bittersweet. disjointed. i needed to go back to regain what it meant for me to be there, but going back differently.
i was used to that long dirt road, a key to let myself in, a familiar face to meet me there, a familiar bed to sleep in, a familiar body to be with, a familiar voice to wake up to. and inevitably, always a goodbye as i traveled the six hours back home.
and in the comfort of what i thought felt familiar, there was a mountain of uncertainty, disillusionment, and disappointment. what could have been simple, was not. what should have felt good, no longer did.
and so, the circumstances changed.
the familiar was no longer familiar.
this time, i rented a little cabin clear on the other side of town. so far on the other side of town i’d never actually been over there before in my dozens of trips out. the dirt road this time was short. there was also a key to let myself in, and all of the cozy amenities i would need.
but i found that what i needed, besides the temporary home and the incredible beauty that the landscape provides, was a reminder that no place (no matter how beloved, as joshua tree is for me) will do the emotional work for you.
the place is my home away from home, my soul place, my heart place, my happy place. how many times i’ve been over the years, in varying states of happiness or sadness, excitement or grief – and the place does not change. it is all just as i left it. instead, it is me – i am the one doing the changing. the letting go, leaving behind, dragging along, remembering, and healing.
it felt strange to be doing things differently this time. as if somehow i had forgotten all of the dozens of times before the last year, that i had been alone. adventuring on my own. staying in hotels and rentals. visiting my favorite spots. there was no one destination before last year, the entire place was my destination. and i had let something that was so unsteady and so undefined and sometimes uncomfortable become the destination. in hopes of what, i am still not sure. change, perhaps. and don’t we all know that we cannot change anyone or anything but ourselves.
it felt good to be back.
it also felt overwhelming. as though i had a thousand things i wanted to do but only had time for a few. as though i had to start over. as though i had to instantly and magically create something special for myself to erase mistakes.
i am hard on myself. i am not nearly as hard on others. particularly when maybe i should be.
i am hard on myself in a way that had created 6-8 months of depression that i hid from most everyone. instead of sleeping, eating, and showering, i spent most of my time sewing and trying to maintain a facade that i was okay. that everything was okay. i got up for work every day. i quilted until my hands wanted to fall off. i got shit done. but on the inside i was battling what fluctuated between numbness and panic attacks. every single minute. this also opened a door for old grief and loss came back to visit. but the initial trigger had happened out there. in my happy place. months before. i’m not sure i knew it at the time. but retracing my steps, i see it. a moment that should have been fun and joyous and celebratory and sexy, was instead a moment of shame.
and it was no one’s and everyone’s fault. and just the beginning.
i did see familiar faces, but they were of girlfriends i’ve known for years. a small visit each time is all we need to catch up. we don’t dive into life and its issues, we just hug and chat and play with dogs and talk about our art. its enough. and it always makes me happy. a small lifeline. i stopped at my favorite thrift shop to pick up some vintage sheets to use as quilt backs. traveled around town to a couple of other little shops to pick up little goodies to bring home. trinkets instead of things that i can’t explain.
i photographed quilts in all of the different landscapes i could find. and one of the three felt so incredibly perfectly placed in both spots that it was photographed in that i choke up a little just looking at the photos. after all, this place has inspired so many of my projects over the years and will continue to do so.
looking up at the stars from the front porch of the house on the unfamiliar side of town sparked an old memory from a couple of years ago. an old conversation. that old loss. that old death and grief. i sat as tears streamed down my cheeks and remembered hearing, “he never would have been with you. he didn’t love you. i’m sure he made you feel like he did. but he did not.”
the thing was, he did love me. i don’t doubt that any more. after the loss, at first, i did. and now, i don’t.
but this past year, these people, that place. it was so different. it wasn’t about love. i never had to question that. i knew. and so why continue to go? why go where you don’t feel loved? when you know what love should look and feel like, why keep going back to where you know it is not? is anything less still worth it?
i had hoped this trip would reconnect me to my place.
i believe i was able to do that.
the place had never left me.
it was i who had left it.
but it felt shaky. i felt emotional for things from a long time ago. i confessed that i felt cheated out of time i should have had when E died, that i felt jipped of things that hadn’t happened yet. i started to understand that brushing off an apology i received recently from someone else, that i said had been unnecessary, made me look like i wasn’t worthy of an apology. and i confessed that in the house down the long dirt road, i most often felt insignificant. i could have been anybody. maybe i was.
i am a true believer that our special places hold space for us in their beauty. that they are not always meant to be magical, but sometimes simply a place to be able to let ourselves just be. for me, this meant i couldn’t fight or hide some of this stuff anymore. after focusing on nothing but sewing three quilts in three weeks while i avoided holidays, the Exhale was inevitable. and it was neither good nor bad, it just was.
i did not set resolutions for 2018 at new year’s, instead making an ongoing list of things i want to accomplish as they fit into my life and my business/art.
but on that list is: should i find someone to spend my time with again, please let them be present. let them be focused. let them be trusting and trustworthy. let them be open and respectful. let them choose to stay. let them choose me. and let me let them.
and someday let me bring them to this place where i have felt the whole spectrum of life happen. where something as simple as an abandoned old cabin sparks inspiration in me like lightening. where a boulder sparks a memory that makes me both smile and tear up at the same time. where everything is easy and simple and uncomplicated. where i can just be weird and comfortable and joyful, even in my mess.
it is the only place that feels like home.
but unfortunately it is not home. maybe someday it will be, but not yet. (i’ve been saying this for years.) i still have things i need to do before that can happen. a lot of things.
and those things are everyday things.
but also a lot of work.
i still have a lot of work to do.
to feel at home in myself.
this year i’m working on keeping myself safe. keeping myself successful. and keeping myself healthy.
i’ll hopefully go back to joshua tree for my birthday in april. i don’t think i’ll make it out again before then. but until then, i’ll be working. on everything. and i imagine that each trip, as they have always been different, will continue to show me something i need to see.
and this time i needed to see that no matter who leaves, no matter what the reasons, no matter what you think you had or didn’t have or wanted or never wanted – you YOU you are the only one who can give you what you need. we are made to feel more than the things that cause our pain.
stay with yourself.