It could be fairly said that I’m kind of terrified of new things. I’ve always been willing to go out of my way to avoid having to go into a store I’ve never been in before, finding an address I haven’t visited, meeting new people, trying a new restaurant. It’s a fairly constant low-level anxiety, made worse by the fact that it feels so stupid. All I’m really afraid of is making some sort of remarkably minor misstep, the kind other people wouldn’t even notice: not knowing where to park, not remembering a new acquaintance’s name, not knowing where to find the condiments or whether to bus my own table.
Stupid, like I said. And the only way I’ve ever found to tackle the issue is with constant practice. The more new experiences you get under your belt, the less unfamiliar and frightening each new thing becomes; you might not have done this particular thing before, but when you’ve done something like it, it tends to lose its anxiety-inducing qualities. Which is probably why I’ve overcompensated for my little idiosyncrasy by becoming a change-aholic.
Though a few of my friends have been veritable globe-trotters, I don’t think any of them have picked up their entire lives and relocated quite as many times as I have. It’s a sort of low-budget form of wanderlust where instead of doing expensive things like backpacking across Europe or taking a vacation in Paris, I just relocate myself from one plot of rural America to the next in search of… well, the mission changes with time, but suffice it to say I’ve never found what I’ve been looking for. My family and friends are hard-pressed to keep up with which state I’m living in today, and with each new situation I’ve jumped feet-first into something and somewhere completely new. Most of the towns I’ve lived in are places that I never even visited before I moved there. Sometimes that’s worked out for me, sometimes it hasn’t, but I’ve never landed in that perfect place that I’d never want to leave again. And despite my craving for the familiar, I never thought I’d find myself moving back to any place I’d lived before. It was an unaccustomed sensation when I left Northern California and found myself feeling almost immediately homesick for the place.
So when I found myself contemplating moving back to Salt Lake City — my hometown — even I was taken by surprise. Each time I’ve returned to Utah to visit my mom, I’ve been able to take about a week of the place before I was more than ready to move on. I’ve always said that being around family after a long absence can turn a person into a lesser version of themselves, but maybe that’s just me and my personal issues. One of the reasons I’ve changed so many things over the years — where I live, what I do, what I call myself, who I am — is because I haven’t always liked myself very much. There are parts of my life that, though they’re not exactly shameful, are embarrassing enough that I’d just as soon forget them.
This time though, for some reason, coming home felt like the right thing to do. I’d been living in small towns for so long that I was already looking forward to the idea of going to a play, a museum, a planetarium, or a Starbucks whenever I wanted. Still, my first few days in town all I did was worry — there’s another of my vices — about whether I’d done the right thing, where I was going to house my horse (I had her boarded at an overnight facility but needed to find a permanent boarding situation sooner rather than later) and whether I’d made the worst mistake of my life. I felt I was constantly teetering on the verge of a panic attack. I’d moved into my mother’s tiny spare bedroom, which only months ago I would’ve sworn I’d never do. (I love my mom and we get on great, but there’s something about being thirty and living with one’s mother that the independent soul tends to rebel at.) I’d quit a perfectly good job. I’d uprooted myself again, and for what? I had felt burnt out on my own life, and I’d done something to change it, but surely you can only turn your existence on its head so many times before something goes horribly awry. I felt sure that, like every other time I’d visited, I’d be ready to get out of Utah within the week, only this time I was stuck, with no money and no plan and no particular place to go.
So I found a place to keep my horse (an insanely gorgeous place, incidentally, where she’s happy as a clam and I go to work with her and ride her most every day), and I set about finding work. And for once, since I had a roof over my head and no immediate worry about losing it, I had the luxury of really sitting down and thinking about what exactly I wanted to do for a job. I contemplated the idea of finding the work I wanted to do instead of the work I was able to do. I decided to look for part-time jobs with flexible hours so I could devote some time to my own projects (you’ll be seeing more of those soon!) and to think for once about how I was going to live the rest of my life instead of just doing what I had to do to keep on getting by.
On Monday, I start training to be a carriage driver. I probably won’t make much money, but I’m thrilled to death regardless; I’ve always loved draft horses and driving, and I’m overjoyed to get to do it on a regular basis. I’m looking for another part-time job where I’ll hopefully not to be stuck to a computer all day. I’m thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life and I’m coming up with answers where I haven’t had any before. And I’m finding that coming back to where I started may be the only way to see how much I’ve changed in the years and the spaces between then and now. I was afraid that coming home would make all my old insecurities and memories and anxieties come rushing back, but instead I’ve discovered that I’m just not that person anymore, and that it’s more important to keep working on becoming the best version of myself instead of hiding from the selves I didn’t like so much. And I’m proud to say that I seem to have practiced so much that new things don’t really bother me anymore. I’ve learned to see the opportunities and adventures in everything that’s new… and to see the beauty in my hometown that I was blind to before.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela