Where has Nelle been? (A Explanatory Letter in 8 Parts)

Nellie on couch, circa 2010

#1. On leaving Florida & Facebook, in one fell stroke

Exactly two years ago today, on a muggy and impossible day in Florida, I posted this picture on my account.

walking away into the surf
My farewell picture.

As you can see, I’m faceless, identity-less. More symbol than person. There’s a suggestion of being, if not overtly alluring, at least elusive enough to warrant interest. In the picture, I’m walking in the surf in the haloed way heroines do, away from the camera, away from everything into a hazy but glorious future. No one can catch me,  no one knows my name.

Less than 24 hours after posting the picture, I wedged the last box into my 2012 Honda Fit and drove it north, 1067 miles, straight up to Ohio. Then I deactivated my Facebook account.

Just like that, I went into hiding.

I de-presenced myself in the abrupt, smooth way I do everything important to me; my most profound decisions aren’t made so much as they simply appear before me, fully formed, waiting, impatient. I have, by this point, littered behind me a trail of bright, pointed choices that I don’t remember making at all. They show up and suddenly they always are, and always were.

People who know Nellie:
“You drove to California?
You left everything you love in Florida?
You moved in with your partner?”

Yes, yes, yes, but I swear all of that only happened! I didn’t try to do any of it! I only agonize over unimportant decisions, or wrong answers.

The big decisions—the resonant answers—just flow through me like a thousand rivers.

#2 On getting stuck in Ohio

Welcome to Ohio. Now you are stuck in Ohio.
Something A Guy I Had A Crush On texted to me as I drove across the state line.

What was supposed to happen:

Nellie would stay with her family for a few months, put her feet up over Christmas, then continue on to her much-desired life in Oregon.

Then she would commence to live happily ever after.

What actually happened:

via GIPHY

In brief:

  • Upon arrival, Nellie gets suckered into working with family on a project that was supposed to last a few months;
  • nephew was born, cuter than a basket of buttons;
  • Nellie falls in love with kind, earnest Jewish Boy;
  • romance heats up;
  • personal cataclysm;
  • family cataclysm;
  • work cataclysm;
  • (family project ongoing), Nellie doesn’t leave;
  • Nellie and Jewish Boy set up house together;
  • (various identity crises ongoing);
  • family project ongoing, Nellie doesn’t leave,
  • work projects ongoing, doesn’t leave;
  • Nellie shivers from cold during two frigid Ohio winters, doesn’t leave;
  • Nellie gets tired of pretending to be a good Christian and starts guerrilla group of church dropouts, a smashing success, doesn’t leave;
  • Nellie complains about Ohio but doesn’t leave;
  • (family project still ongoing);
  • Nellie doesn’t leave;
  • Nellie doesn’t leave.

And that’s just about the size of it.

When I drove back to Ohio, I intended to leave. At any single plot point, I could have swiveled, changed course, gotten up before sunrise and driven in a new direction like I’ve done so many times before. But I didn’t. I continue to stay.

#3 On Florida

Nellie whirling on the dance floor.
You should be dancing, yeah.

Here’s what happened in Florida:

Mostly, I was really, really young.

I changed careers three times. I changed my name twice. Drove around the country twice, wrestled with mild forms of depression, danced and danced and danced.

And I entertained the idea of a certain grandeur to life, shapeshifted in the way you can when you are a precocious twenty-something and around no one who has known you more than a few years.

It was a bold and burning time, but it could not last.

#4: On Ohio, part II

Nellie rides bicycle as a little girl.
Learning to ride in Ohio. Long before I left.

Ohio is flat in the north, curvy and hilly in the south. It’s beautiful country that has been crisscrossed and ravaged and slit all over by industry and big ag. In late November, a sheet of low gray clouds creeps in from the north and hovers there, hulking, until April.

People in Ohio often get depressed in the winter; there’s so little sunlight. Ohioans take copious amounts of vitamin D, sit in front of sun lamps, or run off in February for two weeks of respite in Arizona or Texas or Miami Beach, but you never really fix it.
Ohio is Ohio.

And in Ohio, after all my identity meanderings in Florida, I was just myself. By the time I moved back, everyone I knew in Ohio was related to me, had known me at four, at eight, at eighteen. I recognized the smell of Ohio ground as something essential. My mother’s mother’s mother had been raised out of Ohio ground and been laid back down into it. The same trace minerals that ran in the polluted Olentangy ran in my blood. Ohio was part of me, and I was part of her.

In Ohio, I started the slow, tender process of digging myself out from under my own youth, began to settle — not down, but in.

#5 On Disappearing

“I don’t ever really say goodbye,” a travel buddy once told me, on a cool drizzle-wet night in Scotland. She and I were both wanderers, 22-ish, comfortable with taking steps as they come, good at improvising. “I don’t say it — I just disappear.”

I disappear, too. As goodbyes go, I like it. It’s the path of least resistance, a way to circumvent the tender and convoluted paths of farewell by avoiding the word entirely. In the age of Facebook, of hundreds upon hundreds of “friends” apiece, it almost seems the only way. Our social demands have grown so numerous and unwieldy and who could possibly fulfill them all?

My overwhelming need in Ohio was to live my life without figuring it out or defining it, and I needed every last lick of energy I had to do it. I stayed off Facebook, ignored emails, cut down on social interaction, and just generally did what I needed to do. As a result, there are many dear humans that haven’t heard a lick from me for two years. Many understand, I think. But I suspect that, in a few instances, I’ve caused confusion and maybe even pain.

That’s hard for me to stomach and, as a recovering people-pleaser, the terrain of guilt and innocence and necessary and unnecessary apologies is difficult for me to negotiate. Should one apologize for taking care of oneself? How much social obligation is really mine by right and how much is self-constructed and inflicted? Can one navigate personal upheaval without disappointing anyone?

I don’t know any of the answers, friends. I’m kind of living my way toward them.

#7: On Reappearing

via GIPHY

What you take out strengthens what’s left.

Two years ago, I needed to stabilize my life without a lot of virtual or long distance or, in some cases, constructed connections. I needed to build a life in my real life without comparing it to others. I needed to establish myself the real world, as I really am, over real conversations, face to face.

Now I’ve done that work and I feel stronger.

My best friend, Beth, who has known me the longest and for the most interesting years of my life, told me on the phone a little while ago that I sounded better, more confident than she’d ever known me.

I think she’s right. I can responsibly return to civilization now.

#8. P.S. 

For all of you efficiency experts, here’s the Clif’s Notes version: I live in Big City, Ohio. I do a lot of writing/video work. I hang out with this one a lot:

Nellie and Boy being goofy.

Life is pretty happy.

***
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18 Comment

  1. LisaMarie Jenssen says: Reply

    Girl, good to see you are happy and alive. I do this also, I never judge. Be happy, be you, live your life. LisaMarie

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Thank you so much, LisaMarie. We are a tribe, aren’t we? The ones who disappear never judge others who do. I think it’s hard for others to understand, though…

  2. Bill Smith says: Reply

    Thanks for catching us up. Really love your writing style. Write on!

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Thank you so much, Bill. I really appreciate you stopping by and hope all is well with you!

  3. Jenn Millisor says: Reply

    Love, love, love☕️☕️☕️

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      🙂

      Thank you.

  4. What a lovely read! Thanks Nelle. It is great to learn what you’ve been up to / into, and I am glad you have found ways to exorcize the baddies (guilt, shoulds etc.) Hopefully we’ll get to have some tunes and hugs sometime/somewhere

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Bill Paine! Thank you so much. And I’m trying to exorcize them. It’s always a process, isn’t it? Always glad for bright souls like you who show the way.

  5. Alan Garri says: Reply

    I enjoyed reading this post, thank you for sharing. I think there is something poetic in leaving to to experience life and then finding yourself in the return journey home. Glad you are doing well, we do miss you in Florida.

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Thanks, Alan! I miss you all, too, very much. Florida has a tender, tender place in my heart.

  6. You are a beautiful soul, my dear. Glad to always call you family. Live on.

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      <3

  7. Annette Merritt says: Reply

    It was wonderful to read about your journey! You are brave to tell it! I love that last picture and wish you much happiness!

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Oh, Annette! I so appreciate that you continue to take time to follow my adventures. Thank you for your friendship. 🙂

  8. Karan newman.. says: Reply

    So..I left a long reply and next thing I know, the reply isn’t there but I shared your link..what’s up with that??! The jest of the reply was..did you learn that quiet exit from your music family? “Aw cmon…just one more song!!!”. Miss you!

    1. nellesmith says: Reply

      Are your computers sabotaging you again? Hahaha!

      Miss you, too. I’m so glad we’re friends. 🙂

  9. John Rogers says: Reply

    I would have joined your guerrilla group. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Cindy Long says: Reply

    Nelle!!!!!! It’s so good to hear your writing voice! I love how you express yourself – clearly and with a delightful quirk. I miss you on the dance floor – but then I miss everyone on the dance floor as I have not been dancing. (As MacArthur is oft quoted, I shall return.)
    Thank you for getting back out in the world via this insane tool called the Internet and letting us all know how you are doing. You are missed in Florida. Ohio is very lucky and so is that guy kissing your cheek.
    I am subscribed to your very rare and occasional email. I look forward to it whenever it arrives.
    All the best to you girl.

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