The rideshare I eventually ended up taking was with a photographer and an artist. The photographer ended up being Brett from San Francisco, who is the photographer of the political blog 538. (I could never get into 538 because I don’t process statistics very well without a great deal of feeling behind them, but Brett is very cool nevertheless.)
And the artist was Beth Ann Shannon, sister of one of my favorite Pandora artists (these being the artists I would never have heard of without Pandora), Sarah Shannon. Post War Hope is one of the songs I find emblematic of my thesis revising semester in fall 2007, when everything – apart from my uncomfortable living situation – was so bright, I had to wear shades.
I loved driving when I first started; there is so much possibility inherent in being on a highway with changing landscapes rolling out in front of you like time itself. When I was demoted from the Land Shark (my name for my parents’ 92 Mercedes 420 SEL) to my first and last car, a stick shift Toyota Corolla, that joy was lost in worries about whether or not the car was going to simply stop in an intersection and the constant threat of getting hit by another car because I was simply so much smaller than they were now.
My anxiety has not been lessened in the past year by Zipcar expeditions – which added temporal and monetary penalties for dawdling or getting lost – or the singular terror of taking nearly all of my driving trips in Portugal with someone who thought nothing of rolling a joint (hash, not pot - even worse!) from scratch while piloting a service van through the fast lane. This trip was the first time in a long time I’d felt the satisfaction of all that space and time and story and history scrolling forward at every moment, so conscious of my position in the nation now, and now, and now now now now now.
Beth Ann was fun, if excitable, and her slightly ramshackle life was exciting to hear. But I found Brett really inspiring, in a very quiet way. Brett is 25, and yet his photographs have gotten national exposure. He went a long way towards finishing a degree in English Lit before switching to photography, but his latest project has nothing to do with any of that – he just made a documentary about Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I frequently struggle with the fact that my life, my career trajectory and what have you, doesn’t make much sense. And I further struggle with a vague but pressing and dense sense of failure that I haven’t lived up to the predictions of those who knew me when I was five years old and precocious, that I’m not one of those kids who gets a PhD or owns a restaurant or writes the great American novel by the age of 25. I feel like a haphazard drifter, with lots of potential but not much focus. But the fact is that 25 is not here yet for me.
And the biggest thing holding me back from throwing myself passionately into those things I’m interested in and seeing where they lead (like Brett, the bulk of whose photographic portfolio outside of 538 stems from a trip he took after graduating from college wherein he simply drove from San Francisco to Argentina, documenting things along the way) is fear of committing – and of failure.
Part of the reason I love being in Genova is the way that all of my friends are passionately doing something. Acting, writing, directing, singing; chairing their own radio shows or gaining prominence as stand up comics, and even bringing surfing as a serious competitive sport to the rocky, lonely beaches of the Ligurian Sea. They all scoff at Genova and bemoan the lack of opportunity and infrastructure, the dearth of resources – when the truth is that they are the resource, and precious. Amid all of the difficulties they face, and that I would face if I wanted to move there and make something of myself, learn to believe, no one ever tells anyone he or she can’t. And all of them are constantly telling me that I can.
I think it might be that support and unconditional belief in my strength that has forged my bond with that city; it is as important as the narrow winding streets, the darkly foreboding romanticism, the gruff embrace of its tall grey stones and the enigma of its homes retreating into the mountains even as its businesses and famous port slope down into the sea.
This drive with Brett felt a little bit like that. I never identified myself as a writer, and certainly not as a photographer; I have a crippling shyness that stems from not wanting to be seen as a dilettante, even though it cuts me off from many things I love (this is, in some ways, the story of my life up to this point, and it’s one I’m trying to tear from its foundations and throw down). But his quiet statement of his interests and past projects, his confidence that was neither brash nor desperate in fields that are largely talent driven – and therefore have a certain “Mother, May I?” quality to them that I’ve always been too self-conscious to claim – was a salve.
It is, in fact, a new day, for me as well as for my country. And one of the most poignant lessons from this coda is that we choose, every day, what the shape of the morning and the lowest lows of the nights will be. This shaped up to be a trip that was shattering in the simple and life-changing way that it made me fully conscious of the fact that while I sit or stand, the earth is moving. I felt every rotation in the axis, was conscious of each degree we moved around the sun.
I hope to keep the clarity I gained in that quiet car, as we wandered from Maryland through Delaware and Pennsylvania, through the snarling tangle of New York by way of the mismatched brackets of prim Connecticut and the Dirty Jerz. We dropped Brett’s photos off at Harvard, and then he walked me up to my door. When he put my suitcase down and left, I unlocked my apartment door and opened all the blinds as the sun set on this last day outside of time. Hello, apartment – my daily litany.
I was overjoyed to see it, missing all its little unfinished quirks and the ways in which it smiles to greet me after some wide travels. Whatever came from this weeklong journey, through the crackling and inspiring messiness of it all, I’m eager – and rejuvenated, and ready – to dive back into the raw fabric before me and shake it out, stitch it up, turn it into the shaped honesty of a life.