I’ve been off the ship a week and am still suffering the 80s Cruise Hangover. I look forward to this cruise every year for approximately fifty-one weeks, then we get to go back in time to my favorite decade for one full week. And then we’re thrust back into the reality of the 2020s abruptly and with no programs to help us reacclimate. Nothing seems to click for me for at least a week or two. I’m completely unmotivated, unenthused, and unmoved by anything that didn’t happen on that ship during those seven days. I don’t want to think or talk about anything else. I don’t want to think about anything else. In years past, I’ve even delayed unpacking for several months in order to try to hold on to some of the magic.

This year, there are things that truly need to get done. I need desperately to finish writing and revising that short story collection that seems like it’s never going to see fruition. I need to get in the correct mind frame to concentrate on our upcoming presentation for the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference in early April and the West Virginia Writers Conference in June on Imposter Syndrome, a condition whereby people feel like phonies or fakes in their chosen activities. I need to edit a story for 24 Tales, an anthology of “true” ghost stories, that currently has about as much red ink on it from the editor’s edits as it does black ink from my original story. And I have relocated zero amount of energy to get back to any of these projects. Normally, I would say, “It’ll be okay. I’ll be back to my old self in time.” But this year, there’s no luxury of time to spare. I need to be back in that writing headspace now.

I’ve written one of four blogs for the month. My deadline is tomorrow. The one blog I’ve written is about the cruise. Now my second one is about conflicted feelings about the cruise and writing. I want to do one that is a sort of recap of the cruise. Then I’ll try to focus on one about writing – since that’s who I am and what I do, right? I’ll be honest: I’m feeling a bit like an imposter personally, to the whole writing thing right now. I don’t feel much like a writer because I’m coming off this amazing experience that has nothing to do with my writing projects – a week when I wrote nothing but a few lines of might-be-poetry and quotes from 80s artists during their Behind the Music interviews. Up until the day we got on the ship, I had written a poem a day since mid-January as part of the Stafford Challenge. I was rocking. Until I was rocking and rolling. Then it all flew overboard somewhere on our way to Aruba and Curacao. And I was too busy to remember to look for it in customs when we disembarked in Port Canaveral on the way home. It wasn’t hanging out waiting for me at the hotel in Orlando, either. Nor have I found it waiting for me here at home anywhere. I can’t seem to shift gears from “play” to “work.” Russ had to go back to work on Tuesday. I need to do the same. But I sit in my office and feel more like crying than writing. It’s the same sense of loss I come home from Hindman or Table Rock feeling, only this is from a week of non-writing – of being with my 80s community, not my writing community. There’s nothing drawing me in to write about what I need to be writing about right now. I’m still languishing in a decade long-gone, but one that was even more real for me this one week than the actual decade was for me.

Maybe that’s what I want to hold on to about it. The now of it. The real 80s, the decade I lived through as a teenager, was not an easy time in my life. Full of disappointments, discouragement, and disillusion on many levels, I saw a lot of hard times in the 80s. If you’ve read much of my memoir work, or even some of my fiction, you know that reality carries over in my work. But I hoped a lot. I dreamed a lot. I wondered what life would be like if I could travel, if I could meet celebrities, if I could go to concerts, if I could afford anything other than the teen magazines that fueled my hopes and dreams. I wondered if I would ever meet someone capable of accepting me with my family’s literal insanities and my own insecurities, someone who would live out adventures with me – someone who would want to go, to see, to do the things I prayed I could do someday.

Every single year on the 80s Cruise, I’m reminded time and time again of how far I’ve come in life. How I have held on and persevered, despite the dark times that could easily have discolored the 80s for me forever had I not built some sort of fantasy world against the realities of my life as it was. Every year, multiple times throughout the week, I hear songs that take me back to specific moments in time that I somehow rose above and survived. And I cry. It doesn’t even have to be a sad song or ballad. I’ll just sit there in the middle of something upbeat and exhilarating, happy in the knowledge that I made it through those times in my life, and just cry during the shows. And then Russ, my trusty co-adventurer, will wrap his arm around my shoulder, squeeze gently, and lean over to kiss me, because he knows by now, they’re tears of victory. They’re tears signifying that, despite all the odds against me in the 80s, I came out on the other side mostly intact. And loved every moment of the culture and music because those aspects carried me through the unglamorous times, the dark nights when I felt like all that separated me from ending it all was some song on the radio that reached out to me with the promise that it would be okay, that I could accomplish what needed to be done to live a different life.

Who I was in the 80s, statistically, should not live the life I have lived and continue to enjoy. I’m glad I’ve never let my life be ruled by statistics. I board airplanes and cruise ships and go to concerts with giddiness and a sense of appreciation I hope I never lose. I hold hands with a man who appreciates my quirkiness and sense of adventure and thanks me for inspiring him to go on these adventures, too. We share the stories and the songs now, even though we didn’t share them then because we didn’t know each other then. Quite honestly, he wasn’t a big fan of them back in the 80s. I guess it’s safe to say he’s a fan of what I hold dear and sacred, though, and he’s willing to do more than just go along for the ride. We make our own memories now, which I guess is what makes the 80s Cruise so special to me. The new memories combine with the ones that helped make me who I had to be to survive so much back then. In that way, the music enables me to continue to grow into who I am now, not just who I was then. Plus, meeting the people I dreamed about as a teenager, or seeing them in the buffet line after late-night shows, or having my husband tell me about meeting them and buying them drinks casually in the smoking area up by the pool – well, all of that just reminds me that dreams come true sometimes, and believing in yourself (and others, too), is absolutely worth the investment, especially during the tough times.