May 16 2017

My Second Cali-versary

I have a confession: when I was a teenager, I told my parents I was going to move to California.

Back then, I wanted to act. Still kinda do (minus the whole stage fright thing). I’d performed in school plays (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), community theater (Anne Frank in The Diary of…), and landed roles in TV and radio commercials through a local Michigan agency. My SAG-AFTRA card has been firmly in hand since I was twelve, and for many years, I openly dreamed of leaving Michigan.

“Mo-om, the weather is, like, SO MUCH BETTER there,” I said on more than one occasion. “Why would anyone choose to live in a place with so much snow?” I went on and on about it, actually, much to my parents’ chagrin. I swore I would get out of Michigan and give acting the ol’ college try right after…you know, college.

I was a homebody even then, so I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. I really had myself going for a minute there.

Fast-forward twenty-ish years, and here I am. IN CALIFORNIA. It’s all very The Secret-y, but man, be careful what you put out into the universe.

It sometimes happens with a twist, though, doesn’t it? We’re a looong way from Hollywood, and Silicon Valley isn’t quite what I imagined when I thought about moving to the West Coast.

It seems like I wrote my First Cali-versary post last week, not last year, so a lot of my 2016 sentiments are kind of the same. I’m still mesmerized by the mountains. I still have visions of Michigan places and things as if they’re right around the corner. And despite its drawbacks, I still miss teaching immensely. How has it been two years already? It doesn’t seem like enough time has passed for anything to feel different.

Our living conditions have certainly been different, that’s for sure — after the falling-apart rental debacle, we are totally in love with the new house (which is almost a year old now…what?!). Al’s commute is still a big-time issue, as we suspected it would be, but the jury’s still out on whether or not a longer drive is worth such a breathtaking view. Either way, I’m incredibly grateful for it.

How is this my backyard?

Some of my Michigan relationships feel a little different, too. In our first year out here, just about everyone regularly kept in touch — they checked in to see how I was holding up, I checked in to hear about all the awful and wonderful things I was missing, and connections stayed strong. But throughout the last several months, it’s started to happen less and less. I still miss everyone just as much, but with some people, I can feel myself slipping into the nebulous blur of their past. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.

If my first year in California was a time of booming, explosive change (moved a million times! Had a baby! Made new friends! Went to conferences! Achieved some writing goals!), this second year has been a time of comparative stagnancy. It feels like I’m on a massive plateau, or in a raft on an endless, waveless ocean, and there is a long stretch of unexplained nothing no matter which direction I look.

This doesn’t apply to motherhood. My children are the things that keep me afloat even while I sometimes feel as though I’m drowning in banality, these kaleidoscopic beings blooming and learning changing right in front of me before I can even process it has happened.

No, the terrifying expanse of nothingness refers to this whole writing thing. Although, to be totally honest, the past year hasn’t been COMPLETELY stagnant in that regard — there was that post that went legitimately viral back in August, and I cannot believe this, but I just found out that I won a personal essay contest forThe Writer magazine (my second time published in print! I was so excited I cried). It’s just that I’m not sure what my next steps are meant to be. Maybe there aren’t any. Maybe I’m just supposed to write blog post after blog post for all eternity and that will be enough. (FYI: Since I don’t run any ads on my blog, this site of mine isn’t a money-making venture — which is probably a poor business decision, but I just truly enjoy the communication and the connection. So thank you for being here.)

Or maybe I can imagine a few “next steps” — query dozens and dozens of literary agents? Look into self-publishing? Attempt a second manuscript? — but maybe I am too afraid to do any of those things, because what if I’m wasting my time? The thought of squandering any of my minutes is the scariest thing of all. I don’t want to do that — not ever, but especially not while my children still beg to build blocks with me. Not while they’re still captivated by snails or excited about rain or curious enough to ask things like, “Mom, how do trees breathe?”

I don’t know if I’m doing enough — for them, or for me, or for the family. I don’t know what I’m doing, period.

So that’s where I’m at. I can’t decide if I’m peacefully, comfortably still or just…standing still.

I’m not super into publicly announcing goals — because if I fail, everyone knows it, not just me (hello, humiliating) — but I guess putting them out into the world is ALSO very The Secret-y, so here it goes: by my Third Cali-versary, my goal is to be able to tell you that I have a literary agent. Preferably one who loves me and believes in me and can effectively guide my career toward book authorship. So anyway. There it is, all laid bare.

When I first embarked upon this writing journey two years ago, Al warned, “At some point, there will be a sophomore slump — there always is. How you handle that will determine the outcome of your writing career.”

Well, our second year in California is up, and that means sophomore year is officially over. Hopefully the “slump” is, too. It’s time to be a junior now. I don’t really know what that looks like, though, or what it means, so I’m not sure if I’m going to “handle it” correctly.

For now, these are my best guesses as to how to proceed: Keep praying. Keep parenting. Hopefully, keep writing. And keep gazing at those magnificent mountains, so that if we ever do move home, they will have burned like sunspots into my memory.

About Melissa

Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA actress and former high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when she was six months pregnant. She is the winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and a past winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize (selected by Susanna Kaysen, author of Girl, Interrupted), the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer's inaugural personal essay contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. She has been shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was recently selected for The Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

14 comments on “My Second Cali-versary

  1. I totally relate to this on so many levels! From losing contact with friends (although I still have one good Michigan high school friend I keep in contact with weekly and a few Florida friends too), to announcing when I was in high school that I would move to Florida…yep, that happened right after we had our first baby. I also told my husband not long after we got married that someday I was moving to Virginia. We are about to be “freshmen” again…this time we’re moving to Virginia 🙂 Life is a beautiful, if not crazy ride sometimes!

    • Okay, you’re way beyond just putting stuff out into the universe…you have straight up ESP. 😉

      Best of luck in Virginia! How exciting — especially since it sounds like something you’ve wanted for a while!

  2. Dream BIG then put it out there and see what happens….Love that…. and the universe is listening and you’re absolutely right it gets less and less so you have to build more and more… don’t be afraid to let your roots grow deeper in the third year Xo

  3. It’s been so, so cool to watch your writing successes this year! For what it’s worth, it’s been a little hard to watch, too, because your (multiple, awesome, absolutely deserved) successes have made ME feel stagnant, in terms of writing. The good thing is, they’ve also left me feeling inspired, so thank you for that. 🙂 Congrats on winning the essay contest. I’m legit excited to see what you do next!!

    • Well, you’ve been busy doing a whole lot of really unimportant things, like growing a human and holding down actual, paying writing jobs.

      Cannot wait to hear the good news!

  4. Many months ago I stumbled upon your blog and I’m so glad I did. I’ve enjoyed your writing and admire your talent, written word isn’t my strength. Your blog posts keep this Silicon Valley girl now living in northern Virginia in touch with home.

    Speaking of home, I might just be in the Bay Area for a couple of weeks in July and would love to meet you! Send email if you’d be up for it.

    • This made my day, Stephanie! I hope you’re loving Virginia. I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s where my husband is from and he says it’s pretty great.

      We’re headed back home to MI for most of July, actually — but I hope you have a wonderful time on your return trip to the Bay Area! 🙂

  5. Relate to your writing issues….and Ihave time on my hands to do it. My niece self published and her second novel comes out very soon. She highly recommends it. An online friend self published and travels author/book conventions selling her four novels. Wish I could get on the ball.

    • Self-publishing is supposed to be a pretty viable option in this day and age, for sure. It sounds like you have some amazing contacts in that area! If you end up going that route, please let me know how it goes!

  6. two years! congrats!

    first, the relationships changing/drifting. totally hear ya. however, comforting…the people who you were close with will always know you in your bones. exhibit A, notice what happens when i see you this July (and we WILL). although ive not yet met the second child you birthed, we will zip right into our comfortable friendship as soon as we see each other. the core is there, no matter how much distance and time separates. would it be great to be on day-to-day detail-to-detail moment-by-moment contact (well…did we ever do that?), sure, but while you do miss those things living farther away, you dont magically change into a totally different person. your core is your core, and your core people will always be there. but feeling and seeing the shift in those relationships can be jarring, i grant you. have faith though, they arent going anywhere. not really.

    and as for the feeling like you are stagnant/not ‘producing’ some result. you do realize you have a small, small, child right!? right!? but i know us working women and you creative types are always pushing ourselves, always providing the barrel of guilt and worry. but, you are smart, you are talented, you are driven (when you have a goal), you have survived 2 years outside of your comfort and you havent yet caved and called ‘Uncle’. you got this. as you let opportunities and life wash over you and the children get bigger you can see what is left when the tide starts to go out. im sure there will be lots of terribly exciting shells to overturn. and you are brave to overturn them. and you WILL succeed at whatever it is. but, i do completely get the feelings you are feeling now. i just barely came out of them. it was hard to try to get situated her only to wind up pregnant and telling myself it was okay to take 1.5 years off when really my brain was screaming ‘find a job! find your place here!’ well, now i have 3 jobs.

    you got this. you got this.

    sending love and thoughts. and hoping to see you soon. <3

    • You’re so right. There are definitely those friends who just know you to your core and you can pick right up where you left off.❤️ SO excited to see you in July and hear about your life and travels and three (!) jobs.

  7. Good for you! I hope you achieve your goal. Meanwhile, keep writing for us! I like your blog because I can relate so much. My 24th Cali-versary will be Memorial Day weekend–oh, those were the days. My husband and I had a rental apartment, no kids, and spent every weekend at the beach. Fast forward to four kids and a house and things look a lot different, but I finally feel like a true Californian. I am finally to the point where I wouldn’t choose to move back to Illinois. It took about 23 years though.

    • It makes me feel so much more normal that it took you 20+ years, Bethany. I often berate myself for not fully embracing this as “home” yet. Thank you!

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