#177: On a Trip to Ikea

Stairs leading down to Ikea marketplace. Employee wrangling carts.
Canton, MI

CB came along with me to IKEA this week. There’s only one in Michigan, and though it’s only a half hour away, getting there always feels like a trek. I had to return a couple things and get legs for a desk; CB didn’t need anything in particular. I know I’ve met a real friend when they’re willing to go to IKEA for fun.

CB’s a writer too. On the drive back we talked the crossroads she was at – is at – in her writing career. She’d had success as a freelancer – she’d won awards for her literary non-fiction, and had been working on a couple different book proposals with her agent. But over the past year she’d become more and more spiritually-disengaged with her usual work (I hope that’s not too far off a characterization, CB).

With the election, she said, large swaths of her particular field suddenly felt less of the moment. Less essential. She’s been toying with a novel in her spare time and working on a podcast, too, and while she’d continued to pitch freelance projects she was no longer excited about them in the same way. Her struggle, she said, has been letting go of the ego reasons behind wanting to do more of what she’s known for yet is no longer interested in.

I’m at a crossroads too, both different and the same. As the new novel goes through the final months of the publishing process, the question turns to what the next novel is going to be. I’ve done sketches for two different directions already, but neither has quite clicked yet; I haven’t quite found the voice. The desire, also, is so strong, to write something relevant for today – for the world after November 8, 2016.

But I know this desire, for me, is unproductive. It might be a start, but it doesn’t serve the art. The art only exposes itself when the ambition falls away, when I’m concerned less with making an impact than I am in communing with the art. In ways it’s like the difference between campaigning and governing. Between having ideas for what a thing could be and dealing with the realities of working with the legacy systems – of personal history and psyche and cultural environment.

In the car I joked with CB that maybe our indecision was related to the collective uncertainty in the country right now, that come January 20 when the president-elect is inaugurated, she would know her new career path and I would know what the next novel is going to be.

I turned thirty-three on Thursday. I’m living by myself for the first time in over a decade. My parents and brother came over to see the new apartment last night, and we had cake and went out for dinner (in that order). I set up the Amazon Echo that Charlie got me as a gift and we had a good time trying to get Alexa to understand my dad’s accent. And It turns out: she sings a pretty good “Happy Birthday”.