I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.
I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:
I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.
I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.
For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).
Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.
Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.
“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.
Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.
I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.
Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown
In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.
When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.
When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window (I am not sure quite who he is – it says San Juan at his base), I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.
For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:
1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart).
2. Don’t hold back.
3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope.
4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.
I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.