A Less Structured Story

IMG_3420

“And just what are you doing now?” my mom asks, wrapping a long strip of packing tape around a shiny wad of bubble wrap (somewhere deep inside of which is a Venetian mask or a fragile spherical music box). I am two days from graduating for the third time and my mother and I are in the middle of packing up my apartment. Well, she is in the middle of packing—having already finished with my glassware and dishes and swiftly moved on to my knickknacks and picture frames—I, on the other hand, am in the middle of a photo album circa 2010, the summer I moved from Overland Park to Kansas City, Kansas. Two moves ago. Or was it three? I’ve begun to lose track.

“Are you getting anything done over there?” she prods.

I ignore her subtle (or not so subtle) hint.

“Come look at this,” I say, shoving some of the newspaper onto the floor and clearing a spot on my bed. “Here, sit down.” I continue flipping photos. “Look at this,” I say pointing to a picture of myself with my eldest niece, less than two months after she was born. “Look how little Jo is. Can you believe she’s going to be five this summer?

“And look at this! This is the first time I went to Westport and Ellen and I drank bubble tea. I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’d ever had bubble tea. And here’s my first visit to KCK, right before I moved into Adam’s house. And here’s the half marathon, and my 24th birthday…” As I turn one page after another I get lost in waves of emotional synesthesia. I am not here in 2015, not in California. I am there in the photographs. Years and miles and lifetimes away. Back when I thought I knew so much, before my mind and my heart and my world had been reformed.

My mom takes a break from her wrapping and taping and boxing . She joins me as I flip through the pages. We laugh and sigh in unison, both of us sifting bits joy from the ripples of nostalgia. My dad walks into the room, just back from his journey to Trader Joe’s. He is proud when he shows us his array of reclaimed cardboard.

“It looks like you’re getting a lot done,” he remarks.

“You don’t understand,” I say. “This is the best part.”


IMG_3650

I mostly hate moving, despite the fact that I’ve done it so often, having all but thrown myself into one short-term living situation after another. The moving in isn’t so bad—I like newness and discovery and I hella like to organize—but the moving out kills me. I think it’s always been this way. It probably always will be. Though I’m a big fan of completion (four stars for having all my dishes washed), I hate ending a story that doesn’t really feel finished, especially when I can’t see the next one I’m jumping into.

While packing up my apartment, I came across bundles of letters and packed up dozens of keepsakes, one of which includes the line, “Others may write a more structured story, but I wouldn’t trade what’s been written for anything.” The momento goes on to detail the experiences that had marked that particular friendship, most of which were anything but planned or calculated, anything but structured. It said something true about me, about that story, about my life.

I come across these reminders each time I move—a stack of notes from my college mailbox, a book of letters I published for my first boyfriend, birthday cards from my parents, postcards from time that I’ve spent overseas. It does something good for a soul that absorbs her experiences rather than compartmentalizing them to revisit the people and places that have made her who she is.

On this particular move, I am struck by this line about structure, or rather the lack of structure that seems to mark my life. Finding it was something akin to unwrapping a fortune-cookie proverb, a timely reminder that the lives of the decidedly different often do not follow traditional narratives.

Sometimes that’s hard. Especially when you’re a nomad sandwiched between two super-stable siblings with spouses and careers, when you find yourself in communities of couples who are talking about having more babies and buying new houses while you’re still wondering when you’ll own your first hand mixer. Sometimes it is hard to be different, even when you choose to keep being that way.


bXwuYKLI have spent the past two years in a creative writing program. Among other things, I have become very well-acquainted with story structures. There are days when I want more than anything to manipulate my life, to rewrite the past or foreshadow the future so that when I tell my story to a stranger, his response isn’t “Well, you never know what’s going happen,” but rather, “Oh, that completely makes sense.”

Is that so much to ask for? To have a story that makes sense? Maybe it is. But I digress from my original topic.

I’m moving. Again. Apparently, this is how I roll.

Years ago, long before I could have known that I would end up…well…here, I wrote a story about a rabbit who runs away from a farm somewhere in France, not because she is in danger, but simply because she is restless. She longs for adventure and excitement, for new friends and places and meadows full of lush sweet clover. One night she breaks loose from her cage and leaves the only home she has ever known. On her way she becomes terribly lost, as a rabbit who has never left her fenced-in existence is want to do. She makes a friend in the forest who cares for her for a time, but the rabbit remains restless, called as she is to explore. She continues on her journey and comes to deeply and unexpectedly miss all she has left behind. The rabbit values her new adventures, but is lonely for the life she gave up. She tries to make amends, but never finds her way back, back to the elusive feeling of “home,” the place where she felt loved and safe and able to explore.

I would love to write this creature a new story. I would love to bring in a squirrel who makes the perfect roommate, a skunk who becomes an unexpectedly valuable comrade, a wise old owl who speaks proverbs, or even (gasp) another rabbit with whom she might find great solace of heart. But because her life is, and always has been, based on my own, the little white rabbit is still a nomad. She is hopping across the country, moving into yet another creature’s dwelling and wondering when the day will come that home will be more than a mailing address.


Some stories follow a structure. Some defy it on purpose. Some need to meander a bit before the real meaning behind them is clear. I feel like that’s the movement of the rabbit’s story, which is to say it is the movement of my own. I feel the meander, feel myself straying from the path against my own will. It is disheartening at times, but it can also be exciting, especially in the moments when the world is full of wonder and everything seems possible. But even then it can be tiring to never really feel at home, to wonder where it is you are meant to rest your heart.

There are a great many directions I might go from here, but before I move on I have to pack up, collecting the bits and boxes and pieces of the past that have made me who I am—the concert tickets and movie stubs, the playbills, menus, photographs, and birthday cards. I put those pieces together and map out the road behind me. I long to see what comes next, but I know that has rarely been an option, no matter how hard I try or how carefully I plan. My deepest hope lies in believing that the story about to unfold is even better than the one that I might outline and write on my own.

Advertisements