The intensity of my friend’s voices increase and decrease as the conversation vibrates between gossip and the weather, the music downslides and loses meaning, and the snapshots and the flash from cell phones continue to light up the darkness in greater numbers as another night to remember wails on. I’m sitting in my lawn chair, staring into a fire that’s dying out, not really involved in any conversation except to reply yes when someone asks me to take yet another picture of them. I catch myself checking the time, yearning for someone to say it’s time for bed, for the drinks to stop continually pouring, and the fire to trickle out to nothing. I ask myself for the thousandth time why I chose to go to a party when I could be at home with a book filled with the power to light a fire in me that I don’t want to put out; filled with a million conversations that hold meaning; filled with pictures to create yourself with the aid of words.
But once I choose to stay home and at last I’m drowning in words, I still have a wisp of air reminding me of what I’m missing out on just a short drive away, my youth. I can read all the books I want when I’m retired. I’m missing out on my time to be careless and make mistakes without repercussions from the “real world” chasing after me. I’m missing out on loud music, mixed drinks, and so much laughter. I ask myself for the thousandth time why I chose to stay home when there is party I could be at, making memories, gossiping about the petty things in life, and staying up till the sun rises.
So what is it that I really yearn for?
I really couldn’t figure it out until I hung out with people that were older, wiser, and more experienced than I. I packed my bags and went alone to Yellow Springs, Ohio and was among the youngest people at the writers’ workshop by a couple of decades. When my friends asked if I was miserable and bored hanging out with people who were older than I am, I realized it was quite the opposite; I was having the time of my life.
Older people at The Antioch Writers’ Workshop also gave me the answer to what my subconscious was looking for while I was stuck between the “I want to go out and party every night because I’m young” attitude and the “I want to stay home and study all night because someday I am going to rule the world” attitude.
I yearn for conversations that don’t involve cell phones. I’m not going to lie; I was reluctant to agree to go out for a meal with a group of older people. I was debating going alone for a long time until I was suddenly riding shot gun in a car with a driver whose name I didn’t know and another woman who wouldn’t stop talking about murder. We chose collectively a place to have lunch and when we were seated, I took my phone out and started checking my messages without thinking twice. It was scary, really, how it was routine to take my cell phone out to avoid awkward conversation with these strangers. It was even scarier that the only reason I noticed was because they were waiting for me to put it away, with careful eyes. One of them asked in a very gracious tone, “Is everything okay?” It was so foreign to these ladies to have a phone out during a meal that they were truly concerned about my well-being. I didn’t dare touch it the rest of the meal, or really at all, the rest of the workshop. I didn’t realize how much important conversation and life that I was missing out on. I started to learn so much more, see so much more, and live so much more without my cell phone. I wouldn’t have seen the beautiful deer grazing through the car window, I wouldn’t have heard one of the ladies say she took her dog to a pet psychic, and I wouldn’t have been invited to remain life time friends with these ladies if I didn’t put my phone away and live.
I yearn for the understanding that you can learn something from every single person you come across. Each person was intriguing in their own way, each having an experience to share that the other didn’t. I met a woman from Tennessee that climbed Mount Everest and told me the only thing she cared about was that she didn’t break a nail the entire time. I met a retired travel agent that has been to every continent except Antarctica and has said yes to almost everything that you would see in a Taken movie and is still alive. I met someone who refers to themselves as the “ex-librarian”. I met a woman with lipstick so bright she left an imprint on all of her water bottles. I met a woman who left Singapore after her mother was killed by a truck while crossing the street to come to America to write a beautiful story about it. I was finding so many small facts that shaped these people’s lives. I have a notebook full of things these people would say and do and I would look at myself and think, “What could I possibly say to make them want to take notes on me?” But as they held so much valuable information for me to store in a special file in my brain, they found even the smallest piece of advice (the only piece of advice) I had to offer to them in return. They all wanted to know how to blog. I taught all different sorts of humans with gray hair how to make a blog and they loved it. I want to hug them forever for not only teaching me so much, but also finding the one piece of information they could take away from me without trying.
I yearn for conversation that has meaning. There was no gossip, there was no small talk about the weather or sports. There were people who weren’t afraid to ask questions. There were people who were determined to find the answers. They didn’t care if it was 90 degrees and sunny outside; they cared about who you were and what was really on your mind. They knew underneath the rain outside, there was a puddle in your brain with something deeper sloshing around inside it.
I yearn for a collection of business cards and e-mails. I was ready to jump the gun and give out my phone number to all of my newly made friends, ready to recite each number as they typed it into their phone. But, it didn’t happen this way. They each had a stack of business cards with their e-mails on them that they were passing out like candy. They would look at me expecting me to hand them one in return but I was a deer in headlights. I felt stupid, vulnerable, and ignorant as I ripped a piece of paper out of my notebook and scribbled out my email a thousand times. I figured they wouldn’t take it seriously, lose it, or would be incapable of reading my handwriting. When I got home my inbox was flooded.
I yearn to not be afraid to be alone. I tried living alone and every night I would have a different friend over to avoid the silence and awkwardness of being by myself. I would have never admitted that then, I would have sworn a million times over I was just having fun and partying my life away every night. But the truth was, my worst nightmare was being alone. Everyone I met at this writer’s workshop loved being alone. They wanted to be alone to write, to think, to do anything. The travel agent would casually say that she would buy a ticket to Asia and stay there for weeks alone. I couldn’t imagine having the bravery to tackle a trip like that. That is until I was left alone in my room I was staying in for the week, with nothing to do because everyone else had climbed into their cocoons to do whatever you do when you’re alone. It was awkward at first, as it had always been for me, being alone. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried watching TV, I tried eating pointless snacks to pass the time, I tried falling asleep, but I always ended up writing. I fell in love with not only writing, but writing alone. I’ve gained a sense of independence that I don’t want to lose.
I yearn to never quit. I have heard “never say never”, “I will not quit till I get what I want”, and “I will chase my dream until I catch it” countless times. The difference I found while I was living in Yellow Springs for a week was these people actually meant it. You see it in their eyes, you could hear in their voices, you could feel their passion when they spoke about their dreams. I will never use those phrases, as cliché as they might be, again without entirely meaning exactly what they are saying.
I yearn to keep my older, wiser, experienced friends forever. These are the people that drove me to conquer my fears and help me create dreams bigger than I ever imagined. These are the people that taught me that enjoying your youth does not mean you cannot be productive.