Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Awesome. Columns.

I went to Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon. Andy had been at drill for the weekend, and I was tired of feeling lonely. I decided to travel the twenty miles South so that I could surround myself with the other lonely Austinites trying to drown their problems at the organic juice bar.

While I was there, I saw a guy in shorts and a t-shirt. He had a neatly groomed beard that was slightly gray. He looked clean and relaxed, but with the appropriate earthiness requisite of someone who hangs out at Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon. On his t-shirt, in a font that looked reminiscent of an old typewriter type face, I read the word, "writer." I caught his eye for a moment and held it, transferring both pity and envy in that one look. "Me too," I thought.

The envy- well, I reason that if you're brave enough to go out to Whole Foods in a t-shirt that says "writer" then you must be a very legit writer. Meaning that, someone has actually paid you actual money to write words that other people read. And, in my world, nothing is really very much cooler than that.

And the pity- well, writing is somewhat of an addictive affliction for me. But, like any addict, I enjoy every moment of it. Sometimes I wonder what it's like to experience something, like, say, a trip to Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon, without writing some sort of essay about it in your mind the entire time. Like, there have to be people out there who see the tomato display and think, "Oh, look. Tomatoes! I bet they taste good!" and never once think of how they look like the North Carolina mountains in the fall, or have the same pallet as a Manet painting you once saw in a museum in some city you can't remember the name of. I've been like this since I was 13. Ever since the Diary of Ann Frank. I was probably like it before Ann, but she was the first person I ever connected with verbally. I can remember re-reading her Diary and thinking, "someone like me." Words do that. They connect Holocaust victims with middle-school losers. It's a beautiful thing. But, sometimes it drives me a little crazy. Or a lot crazy. I think that Jeremiah the prophet put it beautifully when he said, "his word is on my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." (Jeremiah 20:9) Of course, Jeremiah had really worthwhile things to say because he was repeating what Jehovah had told him. Not quite the same as my urge to alliterate about the tomatoes at Whole Foods.

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out what to do with this identity as "writer." I am not yet confident enough to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my hobby/job/personality to the entire population of Austin tree-huggers, but I'm trying to own it just a little more. So, I'm branching out and trying to write as much as I can. Both because I want to, and I feel like I have to.Maybe one day I will write an entire essay on how I never should have felt obligated to write anything- but hopefully that will come after I got paid for some of this dribble. For now, I'm crawling, not walking, so branch out, I must. I had an offer a while back to do some writing for the Fayetteville Feed magazine. The Feed interested me because it's a local publication that's trying to give Fayetteville residents a source of edgy information about local events. It's the best attempt to try to keep Fayetteville hip that I've probably ever seen- sort of the verbal equivalent of Ikea, if you will.

Anyway, I was asked to do a "local" piece, so, on Sunday, before the lonely drove me to the Whole Foods, I punched this into my computer keys.

Pick a Point and Breath
By Meredith Mitchell

I confess. I flocked with the masses of middle-aged women to opening night of Eat, Pray, Love. I had not planned on being so fanatical about this movie. I had seen a lot of hype building up on Facebook and some of the blogs I read when I am trying to forget my own self-loathing and half-mock, half-envy other people out there on the internet whose lives appear somewhat more interesting than my own. Even so, I make it a point to at least attempt to not completely give in to hype. It's a matter of principle. I'm not sure what that principle is, but I try not to worry about that. I'm too busy trying to be independent. But my attempts to not act like a teenager desperately counting down seconds until the midnight showing of the next movie in the Twilight series desperately failed. I blame Oprah.

I clean on Fridays. I always clean on Fridays because I am completely manic and cannot enjoy the weekend if there is anything out of place in my apartment. (Go ahead and judge) Four PM is the apex of the day. With the rest of my living space spotless, I begin my cleaning cool down by dusting my living room and watching Oprah. (Judge again).

Well, this past Friday, as I was winding down my fervor for flawlessness, I was held captive on my sofa by Oprah's interview with Julia Roberts discussing her latest movie, Eat, Pray, Love. I know I'm totally sucked in when I can only dust on the commercial breaks. Such was the case with Julia and Oprah. So, dust rag in one hand and Pledge in the other, I was mesmerized by the true tale of Liz Gilbert's global journey that introduced her to gluttony, God and guys from Brazil. Gilbert's book, which bears the same name as the movie, has captured many hearts since it was first published in 2006. Devotees have waited with baited breath for this movie, which, Oprah assured us would not disappoint. And, even though I had not read the book, I found myself just as entranced with the story as Oprah, Julia and every other eater, prayer and lover out there. By 4:45, I was on Fandago.

This is not a movie review (Fandango yourself) so I'm not going to get into the story, and I cannot confess to some sort of supernatural spiritual revelation. I also am not obsessed with Edward Cullen (anymore) so I guess I am just above all of that crowd-following trendy nonsense. But, I must own up to the absolute truth that even a rebel like me could not escape from absorbing after watching this movie. Slow. Down.

This summer, while in another city, I went for a run on a really hot day. Just when I thought that I would sweat myself into a puddle somewhat reminiscent of the “I'm melting!” Wicked Witch of the West scene, I noticed something inscribed in aerosol on a train trellis. It said, “Pick a Point and Breath.” Wonderful advice. Not only because I was about to go into some sort of heat-induced stroke thing, but also just in life in general. And that's basically the point that I got out of Eat, Pray, Love.

Look, Fayetteville, I know what you're thinking. “If I'm picking a point to breath in, it's not going to be anywhere in Cumberland County.” You make a good point. Especially since most local spots are traffic-infested and breathing can feel a little more like drinking when the humidity is this high. But how many of us can just hop a plane to Italy, then skip on over to India and Bali for, like, a year while we pull our crap together? I'm not dogging world travel, but, in case Bali isn't in your budget, I am here to tell you, that there are some places around town that are good for eating, praying, even loving. All you need to do is pick a point and breath.

Now, if I tell you my local girl secret spots, you cannot all go rushing there at one time. That would completely defeat the purpose. But, I consider it my moral obligation to convince people that there are other places in Fayetteville to go besides Cross Creek Mall.

For eating, where in the world have you been going if not to Blue Moon Cafe? Eat the CAB sandwich, drink some Riesling and stop complaining about how things were so much fresher wherever you were stationed before Bragg. Or if you're in the mood for something a little more hearty, go to Luigi's and order basically anything. Sop up lots of olive oil and vinegar, drink down their bisque and eat up the fact that you aren't at a chain Italian joint for once in your life.

For praying, in an effort to encourage quiet moments of thought and personal faith rather than push any one denomination, I would suggest a reflective walk through Fayetteville's Botanical Gardens. Or, sit in the shade by the fountain in Festival Park. Pray for the homeless guy who is probably seated on the bench next to you. Or enjoy a walk on the Cape Fear River Trail, especially once the weather has cooled down and the leaves have turned. Or, walk through the lobby of the Special Operations Museum. Look up. Pray for everyone overseas.

And for loving, take someone special to the Poe House on Bradford St. in Haymont. Go at sunset if you can. You'll actually get a little bit of a view of downtown. Sit on the swing and hold hands. This site has special memories for me, because it is where my husband proposed to me.

Whatever you do, if you find yourself inspired by Oprah or Julia or just the idea of taking a break from constantly thinking “When do we PCS?” get away from the mall, Raeford Rd. and Skibo all together, slow down, pick a point and breath.

If you're still reading, thank you. I'll wrap things up here shortly. I sent this off to the guys at the Feed and received some unexpected feedback. It was the closest I've gotten to any kind of constructive criticism as a writer. I've spent the morning obsessing about it with Andy. The editor had given my piece some very nice feedback before letting me know that he hates columns, thinks they are self-indulgent and talk about nothing. Well. Huh. I supposed that's what I am as a writer, aren't I? I'd never really thought of that before. Self indulgent? Talking about nothing? Repetitive? I vacillated on whether or not I thought the same thing, and whether or not this hurt my feelings.

Then I realized that I, in fact, love columns. I only buy Time magazine for Joel Stein's "Awesome Column". Well, that's maybe a stretch. I also want to read the articles so that I can look smarter than other people when we're discussing anything political or global, but, in truth, when I'm at the news stand deciding whether or not I want to spend 5 bucks on a magazine, I flip to the back to see if Joel is in there. (The Awesome Column is only in every other issue) And, I confess, that most of the time, if his column is absent, I leave the political stuff on the shelf.

What does this mean? Apparently it means that I am shallow, self-indulgent, and that I talk about nothing. But so is Joel Stein, and I love him. His last article was about peanut allergies in kids and sticking q-tips too far down your ear canal- fantastic stuff. I loved it.

So, I'm going with this for now- we write what we like. And I like columns. Sorry Fayetteville Feed. I do understand their point. There's something much more sophisticated about being ajournalist
and recording the very serious things that are going on in the world. Without journalists, how would we be able to sound like we know more than everybody else? Columnists do not help at all with that process! What a waste! But, alas, this is what I find fun and entertaining about writing, and I don't know that I can go on without indulging that part of the writer in me from time to time. I'll try to be serious. Promise. But, sometimes you just gotta indulge the part that wants to paint the portrait of the world you see- even if it comes out looking like a kindergartner's finger painting. I know I won't get paid for that stuff, and the whole cool "writer" t-shirt thing will have to wait. But at least that whole burning of my bones thing will subside, if only for a moment- until the next essay arises.

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