"Just me," I'd say.
"Wow. That's brave," as they handed me the keycard.
My solo trip wasn't so much a product of bravery as it was bad timing--I was accepted as Artist in Residence in New Mexico for the month of September, with only about a month to plan. It wasn't enough notice for my best friend to get the time off, and I work with most of my other good friends in San Francisco, which meant that if I wasn't in the bakery decorating cakes, they had to be the ones to do it. I didn't feel comfortable asking my friends in other parts of the country to spend their money on air fare so they could be cooped up in a car for five days. I also invited the photographer I'd been dating for about three weeks, but he couldn't come, which was probably a good thing. Yeah, he would have shot some bitchin' film, but he probably would have ended up buried under a cactus somewhere. Travel is not easy on relationships of any kind, and you need to have that solid trust and love so you can bounce back when someone (me) starts using her high-pitched, hysterical voice because someone else (you) didn't mention that 48 was the exit we were looking for until we were upon it and now it's too late to get on the ramp and it's five miles until we can turn around. Or maybe someone in your traveling party refuses to eat at any fast food joint other than Wendy's, which are not as numerous as McDonald's or Burger King, and you end up driving for hours, cranky and starving, all for the sake of a square burger and frostee.
Anyway, I started thinking about the other times I've been congratulated for my bravery--driving from Chicago to San Francisco by myself, moving more than once to cities where I had one or two acquaintances but little else, sometimes not even a job. Daunting to some. Maybe even most. But for me it was easy. I've always been a solitary person. When I was a kid I preferred to play alone, with my dolls in my room or out in the woods with the creatures of my imagination. I had a hard time maintaining friendships because I would rarely seek out companionship--if someone wanted to hang out with me that was cool, but I was never the one extending the invitation because I was perfectly content to be alone. Inviting someone to do the things I wanted to do with me didn't even occur to me as a possibility. (To be honest I still have trouble with that.)
I'm not saying all that to boast about my courage. Quite the opposite. Being alone is comfortable and easy and safe. I control my time and activities. I don't have to compromise (unless it's with something within my own self, like my nemesis fatigue). It doesn't take courage for me to up and start a new life in a new city, or to travel alone for days at a time. What is brave, to me, is staying in one place and working on friendships and a career, making myself vulnerable to rejection or to things not working out just as I wanted. I do a lot of things with one foot out the door, looking ahead to what's next. In fact, I've noticed that I experience the itch to move to a new city precisely when I'm putting down roots in the current one, when I'm starting to have meaningful relationships and my boss starts talking about a promotion. That's the hard stuff for me. That's when I get scared, when I want to run. When staying would be an act of bravery. It's just a matter of perspective, really.
All that being said, this residency is very frightening to me. It's a month-long commitment to doing the work I want to do, and it's no one's fault but my own if I squander this time. I've always had plenty excuses for not writing--working too hard, too tired, too depressed, not enough time, to obsessed with a relationship, too busy LIVIIINGGGG!!!--and this eliminates all of them. It's just me vs. the word. It's like a final face off, like that time I heard about Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake having a dance off when they ran into each other at a club after they broke up. But am I Brit-Brit or JT? Am I going to be shaving my head and attacking cars with an umbrella or am I going to be golfing with Jay-Z? If I can't do it here and now, I won't ever be able to do it, not for real. I see this as my big shot, and I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself, but I need to. I need to stop fucking around and either make this happen or give up the dream and move on. Man, that's like every Bruce Springsteen song ever.