This must be the place: Five years ain’t nothing, darling
Has it really been that long?
When I looked at the calendar this week, I realized it said 2017, which means I’m entering my fifth year as your features editor for The Smoky Mountain News. Truth-be-told, when I arrived in Western North Carolina in August 2012, I didn’t think I’d be here much longer than a year. Bank some cash, get some articles for my resume, and move on. That was the plan, or at least that’s what I thought the plan was.
Thing is, these last (almost) five years here have truly felt more like five days, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity and respect. I remember signing my six-month lease for my apartment and thinking, “Well, six months is enough. I doubt I’ll be in this place beyond that.” Funny thing is, I’m still in that exact tiny apartment, with the large porch and view of the mountains right outside my front door. The place has grown on me, with its coziness, minimalist atmosphere and prime location to all things mischief and curious in downtown Waynesville.
For the better part of the last month, I went on a sort of “vision quest” up and down the East Coast. Partly, because I had some unused vacation time that didn’t roll over into the New Year. Partly, because I wanted to spend a long amount of time just staring out the windshield of my old pickup truck, thinking about nothing and everything, as per usual.
I found what I was seeking, which was myself, in the grand scheme of things. I see photographs of myself pre-2012. I recognize the face, and the intent, but I don’t remember being there, at least emotionally. Who was that guy in his mid/late 20s, still chasing some sort of footing in the often-haphazard world of writing and journalism?
Who I am nowadays, that person you say hello to on Main Street or cheers a drink with at a concert, that’s me, folks. The goal has always been to keep peeling back the layers of myself, and also those around me, all to expose the beauty and sometimes flawed (yet poignant) truths that only reveal themselves within the presence of true friends and family.
And just as I write this to you (and you, too), some dear friends walked through the door at 5 Walnut Wine Bar in downtown Asheville. With the weather so nice on this oddly mild Thursday afternoon, I felt frisky, throwing open my laptop and grabbing a seat in front of the large open window of my beloved 5 Walnut.
I say hello to these familiar faces, with excitement to see each reciprocated on both sides of the conversation. If I had left Western North Carolina after that first year, would we have ever crossed paths? Probably not. But, I stayed, and I’m lucky enough to have made their acquaintance. And that’s the thing I keep thinking about as the ole “five year” mark is seen on the horizon these days.
When I was fresh out of college, ready and roaring to become the greatest writer of my generation (the road is long, but bountiful, y’all), I told myself to never set down roots wherever I went. Soak in the essence of a place and it’s people, but never (never!) get attached, for attachment (I thought) equaled complacency and a lack of vision to achieve my dreams.
I wandered out to the Rocky Mountains following college graduation in 2007. And I left less than nine months into the endeavor. I wanted to keep moving, and I did, exploring 49 out 50 states by the time I was 25 years old. But, I realized as I was nearing my late 20s that I was becoming a ghost, to people I befriended, to my hometown family and friends, to women I loved (who loved me back), and to the face I saw in the mirror.
My 21-year-old self would have said “no way in hell” to spending five years in one spot. My 25-year-old self had seen most of the “spots,” with my current 31-year-old self understanding and appreciating the priceless and timeless beauty found in the company of a place and a people by which all parties involved have invested time (and friendship and love) into the process that we call life.
Today, my mindset sees Western North Carolina as my home base, the proverbial vehicle by which I have the ways and means at my disposal to reach longtime dreams, and at the same time create new ones not thought possible those many years ago.
That said, just because the house you live in and the town you live in might be too familiar and “day-in-day-out,” it doesn’t mean you’re missing out on something over the rainbow. Because no matter where you go, you’ll always keep running into yourself, especially if you aren’t realizing your true potential, as a creative and loving being. It’s those deep and tough-as-nails roots in your own backyard that define and defend you. It’s those deep and tough-as-nails dreams in your own mind that will propel you into your true center of self.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Haywood County Arts Council will hold its Annual Meeting and 40th anniversary kick-off celebration at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, in downtown Waynesville.
2 The “Robert Burns Dinner” will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, in the Tartan Hall at the Franklin Presbyterian Church.
3 A production of “Romeo and Juliet” set in post-Civil War America will run at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20-21 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
4 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host popular Western North Carolina act Porch 40 (rock/funk) at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27.
5 Chef Ricardo Fernandez will be hosting a Mountain Cooking Club class from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.