A few weeks ago, I scared the crap out of my AirBNB host because I was sitting out on the back porch around midnight in complete darkness. She had gone out to recycle something and I made her jump. The mist that had been beading on my canvas parka was turning into steady rain. I was chain-smoking even though I hate cigarettes and never smoke. Looking back, I realize this is something Dana in College™ would have done when she felt like being a total shit.
My AirBNB is very nice. It’s so convenient to everything that walking everywhere isn’t weird, the house is super clean and smells nice, there’s a dog (!) who I say “Good morning, sir!” in a dumb baby voice to every morning, and did I mention that my host is a therapist?
So when she found me on the back porch like a scene from a Tim Burton movie, we struck up a conversation. I told her about how miserable I was here. How it was very hard to connect with people. How I was bored. How it was emotionally draining to not be able to date (one of my favorite things to do!) much because of the sheer amount of misogyny—subtle and not so subtle—perpetrated by the men here and how none of them were used to being called out on it. How I missed talking to others with big dreams and big ambitions (outside of getting married, a house, and kids) and an entrepreneurial spirit. How no one was weird here outside of “Phish fan”-brand weird (we get it—you smoke weed and wear tie dye and live in an RV voluntarily). How I had been desperately looking for the people with insane origin stories, wants outside of staying in Asheville forever, and interest in having something other than “average” conversation. (Please note that I ultimately found some fabulous people here who these attributes did not apply to, but they were few and far between.)
My host stood in the doorway in the freezing cold in only her pajamas to talk to me about how the periods of discomfort in our lives teach us the most about ourselves. Now listen. My host is a total badass with a degree in wilderness therapy. She has dug holes in the ground to sleep in. She has worked in places that are only accessible by helicopter. I’m living in a house with heat and toilet paper and coffee. There is no comparison in terms of the level of survival skills we have had to develop and employ. But we talked about the feeling of being by yourself and how it shapes the mind. It fucking sucks, but it opens you up in a way that is very unique. It’s raw and it hurts. Something I wasn’t expecting from this leg of the trip is how I became more receptive to pain and more aware.
Everyone’s averse to discomfort; no one likes being sad. We distract ourselves, we self-medicate (in healthy and unhealthy ways), we try really hard to avoid sitting with our feelings. Because feelings suck. In Boston, I wasn’t sad. I was having the time of my life. I actually wanted to extend my trip (but couldn’t or else my mother would kill me for not being home for Thanksgiving). There was no sitting with sad feelings in Boston. My three factory settings were: blissed out, horny, and both.
In Asheville, I let myself be sad. I let myself spend a day in bed bingeing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (I very rarely watch tv), I let myself call my mom, I let myself wrap myself in blankets and eat a hundred pistachios for dinner when I was too sad to leave the house, I let myself cry when I missed people. And, most importantly, I didn’t judge myself for it.
There was a moment where I looked into changing my flight so I could come home early. I even pitched a story to Playboy where I’d attend a sex party in Brooklyn a week before I was supposed to leave Asheville. I actually did want to go to the sex party (because how fun would it be to write about that?!), but I was more interested in them accepting the pitch so that I had an excuse to get the fuck out of here.
There was a part of me that knew I’d feel immediate joy upon landing back in New York, but it would be fleeting. I emailed my therapist, who said she supported whatever decision I made. She reminded me that I am allowed to give myself the option to leave early if that’s what I needed to do for my mental health. I don’t believe in “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stick it out” mentality; I believe in doing whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. I believe in being kind to myself and nixing plans if they don’t end up being in my best interest. Leaving early felt like taking care of myself.
I gave myself enough flexibility in the trip that if I ever wanted to stay in a certain city for longer because I loved it or wanted to leave early because I hated it, I could. That was a gift I gave myself before the trip ever started. But, deep down, I knew that once that flash of joy upon returning to New York passed, I’d be filled with regret. Because somewhere inside myself I knew I could do it.
Playboy didn’t end up accepting the sex party pitch and I’m glad they didn’t. Mostly because I pitched something much, much better afterwards and I have a feeling they’ll go for it, but also because it made me more resilient. Even though I absolutely hated it, I rode out the rest of my time here. I did it.
In Boston, I learned I am enough. In Asheville, I learned that I am fucking strong.
So thanks, Asheville, for testing my limits and forcing me to live in some discomfort. Thanks for putting me through something that was important to facilitate the realization of a few things I needed to recognize. Thank you also for:
1. The opportunity to meet someone I had been online buddies with for years (List App, despite being dead, still brings people together!). Katie’s a wonderful person who let me gripe to her about dating in Asheville, who checked in on me when I wasn’t feeling great, and didn’t judge me when we went to French Broad Chocolate Lounge and I washed down carrot cake with hot chocolate because I have a sweet tooth some doctors have referred to as “concerning.”
2. Meeting a new friend from my old life in NYC publishing! What are the chances someone from Hachette Book Group (who left right before I got there!) now lives in Asheville? (Also, is there any greater joy than reminiscing about former coworkers with someone hilarious? Especially when the company was a complete insane asylum?) Meredith introduced me to the best restaurant in Asheville (Copper Crown) and is also responsible for my most fun night here in which we went to a Britney Spears-themed dance party WHERE THE DJ DIDN’T PLAY ANY BRITNEY SPEARS, took a 90s limo to a dive bar where us and our four friends were the only people on the dance floor when we got there (and then the whole bar was dancing by the time we left), and I didn’t get home until 3am. We also witnessed a drunk chick refer to a perineum as a type of flower, which, I’m sorry, will be the only thing I will be able to think about for the next 12 years.
Oh, btw, THIS IS THE ACTUAL LIMO THAT PICKED US UP:
3. Being the leg of the trip where I finally got off Ambien for the third (and last) time in three years. It SUCKED (it is so, so hard, so GO ME for actually doing it), but it was important to get off of it because it had caused me to develop NOTICEABLE memory loss and I was like oh boy definitely don't want to forget how to, yanno, find words or think or whatever.
4. The knowledge that I can never live in a small town. By learning that I cannot live in Asheville, I can now say without a single doubt that I can’t live in places like Burlington VT or Portland ME or Crotchcheese NH or that charming cottage Kate Winslet owns in “The Holiday.” Before this trip, I had always wondered.
5. The necessary quiet (and pain, ha) to get so much fucking writing done.
So that’s it! Bye, Asheville! See you again never, but thanks for the memories.
A lot of weird stuff has been happening. The best way I can describe it is that the universe has been giving me what I need to keep my spirits up enough to not hightail it outta Asheville. Or perhaps it's a reward for having the wherewithal to stay here. I had been having a truly atrocious time in Asheville, but I guess Mother Nature didn't want this leg to be a complete bust. Here's what's happened since the last time I blogged:
I told the most recent dude I slept with that he should get his jizz tested for holy water. I still don't feel great about Asheville, but I can't deny that some happy connections have been coming up lately.
Here are some other moments that have brought me joy:
OUR FIRST VIGNETTE:
I went to a movie about the Trockadero ballet troupe called "Rebels on Pointe." Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a company created in the 70s right after the Stonewall riots. It is entirely comprised of gay men and the film is about perseverance, joy, and living your truth. I highly recommend it.
I knew it was going to be sold out because it was a one-night showing, so I bought a ticket online. A ticket was sent to my phone with a barcode and a QR code. I get to the theater, attempt to walk up to the door and the bouncer stops me. I show him the ticket on my phone and he tells me that I have to wait on the huge line so I can show the box office my e-ticket, at which point they will print me a paper ticket. “What’s the point of buying a ticket online if I still have to wait on the box office line?” I asked. “There’s a barcode right here.”
The bouncer didn’t budge. “You need to wait on that line, ma’am.”
The movie was starting in 5 minutes. He’s still not letting me in, so I go wait on the line. Behind me, I see an older couple join the line after going through the same ordeal and we lock eyes in a can you believe this shit kinda way. “Why did we get tickets sent to our phone if we can’t use them?” the man says. “That’s stupid.”
“I want to complain, but I’ll turn into the bitchy New Yorker that I am,” I admit.
“We’re from Jersey,” the woman says. “We’re probably worse.”
“I knew I recognized my people!” I tell them. We laugh.
Finally, I get my paper ticket, show it to the bouncer with a side-eye, grab some popcorn and head in. It’s packed, but I find a seat tucked into a corner in the back. When I sit down, I hear someone say “Helloooooo!” behind me. It’s dark, but the person is waving. I thought it was someone mistaking me for someone else when I look over and realize it’s the couple I was just standing on line with.
“So how are you liking Asheville?” the wife asks me.
“Oh, I fucking hate it here!” I say cheerily.
“Us, too!” she says.
OUR SECOND VIGNETTE:
One night I go to a paint-your-own-pottery place because there’s nothing else to fucking do and I’m bomb at arts and crafts. Whatever weird, shy, artsy kid gets me as their stepmom (cuz Lord knows I only date divorced men with kids) is gonna be jazzed as hell when I start busting out the lanyards and pom-pom creatures and one of these bad boys:
(^^Anyone who had one of these growing up definitely remembers the distinct smell of cray-pas)
Also, when you haven’t had sex in a couple weeks, the mind starts to deteriorate and you end up doing things like oh, I dunno, painting your own fucking pottery. I made a vase.
OUR THIRD AND FINAL VIGNETTE:
Last weekend, my AirBNB host was traveling and so I was alone in the house (my favorite man in Asheville—my host’s pitbull mix named RD—was staying with her bf) when at the last minute, a couple rented the room next to mine. 90% of the time that room is empty. The other 10% it’s rented by very young couples (I’m talking college age) trying to have a romantic getaway. And then they see me, a wizened old crone, slither out of my room periodically to drink another gallon of coffee on my way to the bathroom and they get a load of this:
On more than one occasion, the boyfriend of the couple (always the boyfriend), opens the door to my bedroom and the embarrassedly says, “Oh, I didn’t know anyone else was here.” Well, guess what, motherfucker. I’m here to make your getaway 200% less romantic.
This weekend, an older couple celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary came. They were incredibly nice and spoke with thick, syrupy drawls. One morning the husband and I struck up conversation just as I was heading out for the day. He was surprised to learn that I walk everywhere. It was freezing out that particular morning. “We’re headed into downtown anyway. Let us give you a ride,” he offered. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted. When we went out front, I realized his truck had the name of a church emblazoned on the side of it.
The very nice couple dropped me off, I went about my day, and on the walk home I got high and ordered my favorite Stoned Meal (small plain pizza, cookie, and Thai wings with ranch—that last combo sounds disgusting, and, trust me, it is, but when you’re stoned it tastes GREAT) from Mellow Mushroom. When I got home, the couple was there WORKING ON SOME ARTS AND CRAFTS LIKE THE MOST ADORABLE THING IN THE WORLD (she was making a blanket, he was making collages). I had received an email alert that the delivery guy was nearby so I sat in the living room with them because I figured it would only be a few minutes.
It was not a few minutes.
You don’t know true fear until you find yourself high off your ass talking to a couple who drives a church vehicle while you wait for your food to be delivered. I think I may have been shouting but I don’t know if I had been shouting because I was experiencing the kind of high where I wasn’t quite sure of the volume of my own voice.
Regardless, they seemed very happy to talk to me and wanted to know what kind of stuff I had been working on. The next morning, the husband left me a CD of his music and wrote, “It was a pleasure. Write on!"
Passionate about everything having to do with the body, Dana Hamilton writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. She is a regular contributor to Playboy and her work has appeared in VICE, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and SELF, among other publications.