I asked our students to engage in some self-reflection this week: think about yourself last August, when school started, and think about yourself today. How have you grown? What’s different?

So, the past couple of hours, I’ve been mulling the same question in the context of my own life over the course of the last twelve months. One year ago today, I left New York City “for good.” One thing I’ve found is that I never really leave anywhere for good.

In any case, this assignment isn’t as easy as I initially thought it would be. I had the urge to text M and V and ask them how they’d perceived I’d grown, but that defeats the purpose of a self-reflection. I reflect all the goddamned time — one perk of an anxious mind — so what is so difficult about this? Here, in no particular order or structure, is what I came up with:

One way in which I’ve grown is I’m even more comfortable in my solitude. I’ve always been good at being alone — a perk of being mostly an only child — but with my grandma gone, I feel disconnected in many ways. Being alone in my car, and often also the only car on back roads winding through countryside, was isolating, but nurtured me at the same time. I wasn’t concerned with what other people thought, wasn’t concerned with how far behind in life my brain likes to tell me I am. I was learning things, seeing things, absorbing things. I was detoxing from the city, re-engaging my love of slowing down, and taking in.

I was reminded, as I tried to out-drive a cluster of tornadoes in South Carolina, that I do not know as much as I think I do, that confidence cannot override the weather, that humans are fallible and mortal. It’s easy, when you get to know the rhythm of New York City, to think you can conquer anything. I was reminded how batshit terrified I am of tornadoes.

I was reminded that, regardless of how much experience you have, sometimes shit just happens.

I learned, more saliently this time than in 2010, that you can’t run and hide from your failed relationships.

I do miss moving water. Some days all this land feels claustrophobic. The smell of dry grasses is also a constant reminder that water is a precious resource and there isn’t enough of it; that less snow in the winter means less water in the summer, means drier land throughout the year which makes for kindling in hot temperatures.

I learned that I have enough family, and I have plenty of parents. My dad and stepmom, yes, but there are also my friends’ parents, chosen siblings, aunts, grandparents and cousins. I’m good on parents, especially, though — I’ve been racking them up.

Related: I can trust my instincts, my judgment, and, overall, myself.

Perhaps the most surprising is realizing I have a lot more patience than I thought I did. That keeps coming up; the patience I exhibit with mercurial toddlers and teenagers. Me, the eternally impatient and irritable, finally able to shrug off the sometimes hourly snubs and attitudes that are germane to both age groups. This might be another indication that I give many fewer fucks about what people think of me.

Somewhere along the way I realized I need time to process my thoughts. I’m not an on-the-spot debater, replete with statistics and ready to spout numbers at a moment’s notice. My best form of communication is through writing, when I have the opportunity to draft, collect and organize my thoughts, and edit.

“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” is a little misleading. New York runs by its own philosophies and rules, is too big in too small a space to reliably regulate every last detail. So when one relocates to a place that has structure, rules and regulations, the adjustment is discordant and jarring. There’s so much more open space and open sky here, the light is incredibly brighter, but the city can also be frustrating and restricting. What price freedom? Eight million people around you at all times, I guess.

I was pretty terrified in the week leading up to my departure. My anxiety was off the charts. I was afraid to drive through the city, scared I’d get into some kind of accident or be pulled over, dreading rush hour traffic and tolls and bridges and convinced it was entirely possible I’d never get out.

But I did. I slept at 3:30 a.m., woke up at 7:30, and debated leaving right then because it was rush hour and one of my nightmares, but I knew if I didn’t leave right then, I wouldn’t. It took me three fucking hours to get out of the city but I did it.

When I got to Virginia, I had such a nice time I extended my trip by a day. At midnight, after making out in a parking lot with an extremely attractive recent acquaintance, I realized if I didn’t leave then, I never would, so despite being totally exhausted I drove an hour away, over a mountain range, before I let myself sleep.

I learned the anxiety won’t go away, so I just need to fucking do the thing I need to do because I can do it, and I will be okay, and I’ll probably come out of it with a good story or 60.

People can be incredibly kind and incredibly cool if you give them a chance. Related: Americans, and white women in the U.S., in particular, are conditioned/ indoctrinated to think of the world as a very scary place. But with the exception of maybe five men I came into contact with across the 10,000 miles and 19 states I traveled, I didn’t find cause to fear other people. I was afraid of beasts and breakdowns as I hauled my power-steering-deficient car around the switchbacks in the mountains of coal country in West Virginia at night with no phone signal. The aforementioned tornadoes in South Carolina were extremely troubling. Flipping my car on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere Colorado, with lightning in the distance, was AWFUL. But those were events that didn’t involve other people. Overwhelmingly, the people I met were lovely — and left me alone. Again, this applies to white women — I’d never counsel a woman of color not to be afraid of strangers in strange parts of the country. I was wildly uncomfortable and filled with rage as I drove past Klan signs in Georgia, but any fear of looking and sounding like one of those liberal elitist northerners was mitigated by the fact my northern license plate was not from New York but a state that’s been taken over by racist trolls.

Which also reminds me: The south was both as bad as I’d thought and not as bad as I thought. But owning the north’s shitty history is important, too, and owning Wisconsin’s shitty present is necessary. Tl;dr: I won’t tell WOC to go forth with less fear of the unknown, but white ladies need to chill the hell out because no one is out to get you, and ISIS is surely not headed for Monroeville, Alabama.

One other thing I’m just coming around to, and am unsure how to articulate: My relationship to the news is different. I’m unsure how and why, but there’s something about being away from New York specifically (and I’m guessing the East Coast, in general, and likely parts of the West Coast) that makes news less immediately urgent, and almost less relevant — at least as it’s presented by the coastal papers. So I’ll echo what journalists have been saying, that local news and local news coverage are more important out here, and really anywhere that isn’t a major coastal urban center. Still working on this one, though. I’m still very much interested in the things I’ve always been interested in, but maybe it’s that I have less time sitting at a desk reading about everything.

I feel older. I feel wiser. I feel so much more comfortable in my skin. I’m broke af and panicked about money, my hair’s turning silver and still, somehow, I’m happy. And I really, really love that.

Oh, and Denver as “Men-ver”? I haven’t really explored that scene, and tbh, don’t really feel like I want or need to. I’m a merry spinster, and quite content with that.

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