I moved to Lexington, Kentucky 19 months ago. It shouldn’t have been a big deal – I was still close to my family, had a lot to do, had a job, girlfriend, etc.
But, I must admit that for the first year, I hated living in Lexington.
I had a hard time feeling settled, had clashes with one of my roommates, never felt like I found my “spots,” felt busy, felt uncreative, felt stretched. Because, after all, I was stretching my life between Lexington and Richmond and Berea – a feat which I couldn’t uphold for long.
I moved when the University of Kentucky lost in the national championship game; when a breakup was eminent; when work was in transition.
I moved to a city where daily, a homeless person may need something from you, or otherwise you face risk of being scammed. To a city where I had my tips stolen right in front of me by a guy coming in and taking our tips directly from the jar. I had to face my own idea of what compassion really looked like, because I didn’t like “those types of people” for a while.
Lexington felt different, it felt like I was swimming in someone else’s pond.
But then, I started taking walks.
I realized that my apartment is on the cusp of downtown – and the majority of the people I talk to every day live and work just a few blocks away – perhaps I could understand the city more if I’d go out and explore it.
So one day, I armed myself with podcasts, and set out my front door.
See – my theory is pretty simple in its naivety: normally, I pass my surroundings at at least 35 miles per hour. Perhaps if I took it at 4 miles per hour instead, I’d have a different appreciation.
Sure enough, I fell in love with the city real fast that way. I discovered that I love Mill St – from where it starts just off Bolivar all the way to where it ends at Gratz Park, just off of Third Street, about seven blocks away. I realized that the houses on Mill remind me a lot of Berea. I realized that the First Presbyterian Church around Second Street is a joy to behold. I always check the Little Library out in front of it for a new book.
And I love Gratz Park, which sits behind the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, a place which basically embodies the idea that I can know a place nominally but have no idea where it is, what it’s really for, or who works there until I slow down. I spent many an afternoon at Carnegie when I had a friend work there, and I’d bring afternoon coffees and we’d sit and have a chat.
The walk became very sacred, because it meant I had a block of time, it usually meant I was getting out of my head, and it forced me to come to terms with and accept where I lived.
Last night, as I was trying to work on this very entry, I took a break and went for a walk. I was going to beeline straight to Gratz park, but that’s when I realized that for several reasons, I couldn’t do that. First of all, I wasn’t inspired. I took a walk so that I could get into a writing space mentally, and after a few blocks, I realized that I had quite a ways to go. My breaths were short, my mind was everywhere, and I couldn’t even think of how to start this. So I walked.
Past Tolly-ho, the 24-hour diner at Bolivar and Broadway, where I’ve never eaten but everyone calls it “drunk people food.”
Past the HVAC installation headquarters. Onto Mill and past the first set of townhouses, where I always dream of living. But then, I decide to turn right, down Cedar St. Snap a photo of a beautiful lamp-post hidden behind a few branches. Take Upper past the hair salon and barber shop where my brother got me a steam shave for Christmas. Past the tattoo shop where I’ve gotten three tattoos and I’m getting one more today (more on that later,) past chipotle where I’ve eaten 100 times. Past the bike shop where I bought a lock when I first moved here and borrowed a bike for a time. Then, back onto Mill via Maxwell and continue on down the line. Past Sabio, where a friend works. Fall in love with the trees wrapped in Christmas lights. Ehh, what the hell, take a right down Vine and we’ll cross main by the library, because this walk still isn’t long enough. And I want to see more trees. Walk past Sunrise Bakery, where the shop gets their bread for sandwiches. Past the old Skullers sign, which reminds me of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg from The Great Gatsby – a favorite novel of mine.
Back down Mill. Past Goodfella’s, where my friend Bo and I ate before I even moved up here. Past the art center, where my friend Meredith and I did the gallery hop. Past the gorgeous church (is there a book in the little library today?) then we stop in the park. Reminisce about the play that the kids put on at Camp Carnegie. Remember reading Dracula on a bench by the fountain. Remember laying down on the bench, looking at the sky, and stargazing on a warm summer night, when I heard God’s voice for the first time in what felt like forever. Tonight, that tree is stripped of its leaves and the wind isn’t blowing it around, but it’s still there. Then back down Mill and hook a right onto main, around to Triangle Park, where I have so many memories I can’t even start. All the while, my creativity still stifled.
“What does this all have to do with story?”
I spit in the direction of the fountain, which they turned on again for a little while longer before it gets too cold – and it falls into the cracks and is washed away, an inconsequential little mass of saliva. And that’s when I realize.
I love the walk because now, it stirs up memories. And memories are signs of a story that exists to be told. How each landmark makes me think of something: the gift, the treat to myself, the meal with a friend, the fight, the breakup, the time my roommate came into the living room effectively naked, the summer, the spring, the dream, the book, the play, the graduation, the basketball game, the morning cup of coffee, the journal session, the panic, the comfort, the tension, the release. The laughs, the tears, the frustrations, the shortness of breath, the confusion, the clarity, the sentiment, the resentment.
I love the walk because it tells me I’ve written a story. And I’ve only just begun.
I have three tattoos on my arms, and I’m getting part one of the fourth later on today. Whenever I see someone with tattoos, I instantly feel a sense of camaraderie – we’re both brave and stupid enough to go through pain to get a really cool image or phrase on our bodies. I’ve found that I love [most] people with tattoos for a number of reasons, including
1. They have a story
2. They’re willing to tell that story
3. They’ll literally go through pain to tell the story
4. Even if it’s not their story, they’re thoughtful enough to have an image or a phrase that means something to them.
I know there are exceptions, but by and large, I find this to be true.
And this is the grand reality I find myself living in: we are all in a story. Across time, space, and all of human history, there’s a story being written, and it’s going to include you whether you like it or not. So will you own it? Will you embrace it? Will you confront the joys, pains, highs, and lows of your own story? Will you own the choices you’ve made, some of them accomplishments, others mistakes (which, I suppose, is a form of accomplishment,) and own them accordingly?
This is perhaps the greatest lesson of my life in the last few years. Be present. Be mindful of the story. Be mindful of other people on a different journey, but within the same confines of time and space. Tell it. Tell it. hold high your mistakes, lest you repeat them, and lest you fail to realize they’re mistakes. And be proud of your accomplishments, but hold them with an open hand, lest you define yourself and your story by them. Hold the story high.
As for me, I’ll tell you my story. I have no qualms with being open. I’ll tell you about the summer camp, the embarrassing crushes in high school, the addictions, the night I got way too drunk(not related,) the seminar that led to a career dead-end, the ambition, the laziness, the breakup, the summer, the fall, the time I embarrassed myself in front of my boss (although you’ll have to specify which time,) the time when a tweet led to me being asked to move along from my job, leaving the church (although you, dear reader, probably know that already.)
What about you?
Tell the story. Tell YOUR story. Even if you have to start by telling it to yourself. It’s grand. It’s glorious. And it matters. Don’t ever think it doesn’t.