Em Dash Diaries, Vol. 1

September 9, 2022

We’re driving out of Richmond toward the tiny house in the woods where we’re staying for a few days to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The song playing in the car says “be here right now, be here right now.”

So I’m here, right now, in the passenger seat, gazing out the window, as strip malls and parking lots and skinny urban sidewalk trees speed past. My heart swells and the moment feels big, even if only because of the small amount of alcohol I had earlier—a frozen margarita on the patio at Stone brewery, sun filtering through trees over the elevated train tracks, a small group of people with a sweet pit bull sitting nearby.

I’m thinking about where I want to be, not right now, but in future nows.

Earlier this afternoon, we browsed a bookstore downtown, and I bought a novel called Girl by Camille Laurens. I’d never heard of it before, but it has a gorgeously simple pink cover and a bookseller named Grace really loved it. Based on Grace’s other shelf talkers that I saw scattered through the store, she and I have overlapping book tastes and would probably get along well.

My mind wanders to a hypothetical future, one where I’m working in a bookstore writing shelf talkers of my own, hyping up obscure literary fiction in translation to anyone who will listen, befriending people like Grace who love the same novels I do. The days would be long, maybe, but a bit slower-paced, full of ideas and creative conversation.

And then the fact of my current reality comes crashing in: waking up before the sun, serving pastries to a never-ending line of people three mornings per week, skillfully but sometimes reluctantly navigating small talk with friends and regulars and strangers, my feet and back screaming by the end of another hour-and-a-half-long coffee shop close. I’m in constant physical motion, often without a break during the work day, but metaphorically I’m standing still, getting older while an always-changing and ever-younger parade of coworkers passes me by. They stay a year or two, then they’re off to new cities, new schools, new jobs, exciting opportunities. And I’m still here.

The inertia is strong and crippling. I keep going, because I’m good at what I do, and I’ve been doing it so long now, and to make a change would require making a change.

But I desperately want to find the thing that gives me this big, pulsing feeling in my chest, all the time. The thing that energizes and excites me, that propels me forward. I just don’t know what that thing is, or if it even exists, or if I will always have a nagging sense of longing no matter what I do.

I am horribly stuck in the not knowing.

And still, “be here right now, be here right now.” So I’m here right now, gazing. The trees keep passing and the sun starts to set, the sky lighting up orange as the clouds fade to purple, and we keep driving, somewhere on the back roads of eastern Virginia.

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