Good news can be so unkind
When it's everything you have to leave behind
I'm lookin' forward to lookin' back
On this day
In the taillights
So much hindsight
Telling me what I already know
--Over the Rhine, “Lookin’ Forward”
I circled the weekend of July 23rd-25th on my calendar a couple weeks ago. Well, that’s not entirely true. I metaphorically circled the weekend. The actual calendar where I write down upcoming events of note just says “Lost Imigrants Ft. Worth.” I was having an argument with spelling that day and I lost.
I woke up a couple Sundays ago, looked at everything on my plate, and decided, “I think that it’s about time for me to make my triumphant return to Chicago. Work seemed to have slowed down enough to allow the indulgence of a long weekend. It would be a good chance to head back to Chicago, say hello to the family, bum around Millennium Park, eat some deep dish. You know, do all the things that make Chicago home.
There was also the added benefit that Pat Ryan was going to be at the Celtic Knot on Sunday. This would most definitely assure the presence of any number of storytellers and the opportunity to share some good food, some good times, and some good stories. Dallas, to the best of my knowledge, is completely lacking a place like the Celtic Knot that can serve as a destination and meeting place of storytellers.
I genuinely miss having that sort of place. I really do very little in the way of storytelling stuff down here. Part of that, admittedly, has been my own crazy schedule. But there’s really nothing I’ve found that forces me to incorporate storytelling in to my schedule like I had in Chicago. It was possible to do a different storytelling event every week at least. And there was always Storytelling in the Snug at the Celtic Knot.
The Celtic Knot, of course, is where it all began for me.
Some places act as nexuses in life, I suppose. In myth and legend they’re spoken of as “World Trees.” The world revolves around them, the key events happen in their shade. The Hero’s Journey always seems to involve a trip to, from, or to and back again.
In Norse myth the World Tree is Yggdrasil. It’s roots are in the underworld, its branches in the realm of the gods. It connects the various worlds that comprise the Norse universe.
If I may be free to mix a few metaphors, the Celtic Knot functioned as my Yggdrasil. It was there that I met a lot of storytellers. It was there that I learned about upcoming events. It was there that I learned about storytelling in the first place.
I was excited to have a chance to go back.
Then at the beginning of last week I started planning all of my other Chicago-related travels for the rest of the year. Labor Day. A week in October. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Add to that my parents coming down for a visit during that stretch.
All of the sudden one weekend in July seemed like such a bother.
I wish I could explain. I really do. I try and fail to put in to words exactly how that felt.
It was like the world had ended and I had only just caught up. From the moment I arrived in Dallas I was intellectually aware of the fact that I was far away from Chicago. But it was never that far. I could always go back.
Now I was doing a cost-benefit analysis and Chicago was losing.
The fact that I even did a cost-benefit analysis meant Chicago had lost.
So I did what I do. I went to Fort Worth. I went to Kohl’s and bought a couple new shirts. I played some GTA IV. I watched Doctor Who.
I find it increasingly difficult to hate Dallas. It’s not like it’s Dallas’s fault it’s not Chicago.
And I’ve had some good times here. But I think I’ve managed to muddle through by not having to think about just how far I am from home. It’s an easy enough task when you’re able to occupy your time and constantly working on getting past the newest, most immediate problem.
But, then, for a moment everything falls away. For a moment realization hits home, sinks in.
And, all of the sudden, I realize how far I am from my World Tree.
In the dark, though, in the deep, dark, pushed down bits of my soul, I have to admit there’s something else.
You have to be crazy
To try to hold on to
What we can’t get back
No matter what we do
--Zack Walther & the Cronkites, “Tumbleweed”
There’s one more world that connects to my World Tree.
It’s the world that contains the story of all that was, all that wasn’t, all that was never to be.
I love stories, but at the same time I hate them. Because the best thing and the worst thing about the story is one and the same. All stories come to an end. Each book begins with a moment of hope and a moment of sadness. Each page brings with it joy and mourning. There is a whole new world, a whole new creation. But each step taken through that world is a step towards the end.
You can read the same book twice. I often do. Each journey through the old story tells me how far I’ve progressed or regressed in my own.
But no journey is ever the same as the first. Each time after the story is begun with the end a known factor. The journey is not – cannot – be as fresh and exciting. And even if all’s well that ends well, it still ends. It’s the end that’s the most bittersweet, most unbearable of all.
There’s that one story that connects to my World Tree. There’s that one story where the last painful months played out with the World Tree as the only place where remote happiness could be achieved. If that story could be restarted anywhere, the World Tree is the place.
A dark, mad little corner of my mind tries to remind me of that from time to time. It used to happen all the time. When I moved that voice fell silent.
When I considered going back it started up again, chattering away in the back corners of my mind. It spoke nonsense, gibberish. It tried to tell me what I wanted to hear without knowing that I didn’t want to hear it any more.
At times it was about how the story didn’t end. At others it was a tale of spite and vengeance, saying, “Look at me now. Now go fuck yourself.”
When I decided not to go back to Chicago it was that voice that screamed the loudest. While I spent five months angry that voice had to say very little. While I spent a month realizing the move what okay that voice could get no purchase.
In the moment I realized, finally, just how far I was from the place I still call “home,” the voice realized it no longer has power.
And I’ll take this wheel at 10 and 2
Grip it with all my might
And on the dash a picture of you
And I’ll drive you out of my life
I’ll take you to the end with me
And leave you in the dust
Drive you out until I free
This old heart of memories and rust
--Lost Immigrants, “Memories and Rust”
Friday night I found myself in Fort Worth, a thousand miles from the place I wanted to be.
I wasn’t angry, though. I wasn’t even sad.
The little voice in the back of my head was screaming at me, but I know how to fight it. Music soothes the savage beast, after all. And that voice has had the center stage for far, far too long.
Some stories, as it turns out, need to end.
Some branches need to fall off the World Tree. Especially those that have already withered and died.
See, there’s one great thing about the fact that stories end.
There’s always another one to be found.
You just have to put the old one down and start looking for the next.