My mother is the first country I ever left. My childhood, the second. Geographies of the mind are as real to me as geographies of the earth. Now, I am on the verge of another abandonment, and it is difficult to face. Expatriating means growth or tragedy, usually both. One is rarely without the other. I have outgrown myself. Or at least the strategies of stubborn skepticism and deep contrarian behavior that saved me from becoming a good Christian woman and early mother. Those fates are no longer a danger, and I have found that as I have made a new community of peers and a life of other ambitions, my old habits have become as much a hindrance to my own thriving as they were once a help for the same. I want to be able to believe in something again and end this all-consuming wariness.
I have been depressed. The severity waxes and wanes, but the last year has been harder for me than I have said to anyone. I don’t talk about it because I dislike the way we talk about depression, as though it is either a matter of will or a matter of disease. In my experience depression is more complicated than that. It is the word we use for that feeling of chronic incongruence. It is a grieving for what we cannot be, even though it seems that if we could, we might thrive. For years I did not call this feeling depression because depression seemed to belong to other people. But I have learned to claim it as my own, like any label that offers a shorthand to communicate a shared experience. Perhaps it is strange, but I do not think anything is wrong with me. My depression this last year, and other years, has been to me a sign of sanity. I believe it is our culture that is sick, and my reaction to it is a rational one. I do not fit very well in an America that believes the quality of my character should be dependent on a robust faith in God, a commitment to hard work, and a willingness to restrict my sexual activities to the confines of marriage. My priorities are more hedonistic, more heretical, more free. While I know I am not the only one to feel a misfit, I believe everyone’s version of feeling other is particular and individual.
And so my longest running and most successful commitment in this life has been to myself. When I have had no faith in my country, in our culture, or in any place I have traveled or lived, I have had faith in me. When I have not believed a partner could walk beside me anymore, I have still believed that I could keep walking alone. This commitment has saved me from self-destructive habits and total self-destruction. It has given me the courage to take great risks with my livelihood and career, and enabled me to persevere after multiple set-backs and failures. It has given me the ability to love myself, despite the ways in which I may not be understood or validated by others. When I am at my worst, it is because I have forgotten that I am my best keeper. My desire to please the people I love has always competed with this truth, but after a time I always rise again and admit before the mirror: my life is my own and I know what is best for me.
What I need is the plain nurture of time and stillness. The life I have lived these past 8 years, even 15 if I am being honest, has been frenetic and full. I regret none of it, but I am ready to be more deliberate. Mania assuaged by solitude and boredom. Meditation as reading and then staring into the middle distance. I crave slow evenings, the incremental growth of plants, long walks, silence. These are my heavens, and too rarely have I visited them. Instead, I have thrown myself into discomfort so that I might learn the contours of noise and ambition. I became a mistress of dark bars and drunken laughter. I fell in love with the way that people who are different than me find themselves and thrive in the boundless energy of Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens. And in those places, I learned especially that there is no one way to live, no right path, no best narrative. My time in New York has been a liberation and an extraordinary adventure, but like Joan Didion, I find myself thinking: goodbye, to all that.
To be usually skeptical and contrarian is to be in the habit of distrust. And while I am not at a point where I can subsume my identity or desires to become more palatable to someone else’s idea of respectability, I have finally gotten comfortable enough with who I am to no longer define myself by what I am not and what I don’t believe in. The difference is not slight. I feel a turning, an opening up to what a life—my life—might be. I want to grow roots and believe in magic and cry when I see something beautiful. I want to give up the guilt I have carried for the ways I have been blasphemous or selfish or unable to conform to other’s expectations. I don’t want to be angry anymore. My suspicion has gone stale. For my future I choose an attitude of abundance and hope. Acceptance in place of rejection, appreciation in place of resentment. Already, I am relieved.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore
- Before and After
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love