moving, not moving, and being in motion again

Yesterday, when I was sitting in traffic, I counted up all the places I’ve lived since I graduated from college (7 years ago later this month). Good news: I can still count at least to ten!

I should probably be more ashamed to admit that for a long time when I was growing up, my favorite book was Flowers in the Attic
(Much to the chagrin of my father, who wanted me to like Joyce, and to my fourth grade teacher, who was shocked, just shocked, I had read that “garbage”). 

But every time I have moved, I have thought of the part where the evil mother assured Cathy, “You’ll live in a thousand rooms before you die.” And of course, the young, naive Cathy tells us, “And I believed.”

And I did, and I do now:

1. Summer after college: I lived in a house share in Sarasota where they never turned the air conditioning on. At the end of the summer, the guy I was dating at the time convinced me that my house mates had been cheating me on the electric bill and I stopped the check I’d written for the utilities, which I feel so incredibly guilty about now that I am older and better at basic math and spend less of my life consuming hard liquor and listening to boys. Seriously, it was probably the worst thing I have ever done.

(don’t correct me on that)

(At least top 5? or bottom 5, depending…)

One of my more vague goals for this year is to pay them back plus interest. In terms of sheer awfulness of living situations, karma already paid me back, if it’s any comfort (keep reading).

(For the purposes of this list, I am omitting the Week in a Shitty Hotel Where I Just Drank Vodka and Watched Footage of Hurricane Katrina on CNN and The Hostel I Stayed At When I First Got to Germany and The Monastery Where the Orientation for my Teaching Program Was, though I guess both were technically domiciles for more than a few hours)

2. Fall after college: I lived in a room in a church hostel in rural Germany on the Polish border. I paid 100 Eurobuxx a month for what was actually a nice, furnished room, though there was no bed and I slept on a couch. The room had a wall safe which did not work properly, which I found out the hard way when the guy I was dating showed up for a visit and insisted on locking his passport in it, I assume to hide it from all the raging hordes of affluent Germans who were desperate to become Americans in the fall of 2005. This apartment was actually broken into, and for a lot of other reasons, I ended up moving to Berlin.

3. January, 2006: I lived in a WG in Kreuzberg with a 40ish artist and her turtle. I slept on a mattress on the floor and I left at 6 AM to get to the Gymnasium where I taught; I returned in the evening. January in Berlin is pretty gray and miserable. After 2 and a half weeks, she said I was “too quiet” and I had to find a place before the end of the month because she was moving to Mongolia anyway to learn about pottery (I did not have a formal lease / agreement). I spent the rest of the month pounding pavement and trying to get voted into a hip student WG. Nobody wanted me, and at the end of the month I still hadn’t found a place to live. My housemate had also disappeared, and the heat, ineffectual at best, stopped functioning. My hair froze on the way to the S-bahn; I wondered if the turtle was alive; I had no money for food because she wasn’t there to give me back my deposit and I took to picking up discarded produce by the fruit markets. The last week or so I was there, I guess I was squatting. One day, my housemate must have come in while I wasn’t there, and left a note on the kitchen table saying she was sorry so here was my deposit. I used it to buy a phone, which made finding a place to live a lot easier.

4. February to June, 2006: So in pure desperation, I moved into the first WG that let me, which wasn’t a WG at all, but rather an apartment share with someone who turned out to be absolutely batshit insane. This is already 1400 words long, and I suppose perhaps someday My Audience will want a fuller description of Gabi and how horrible those months made me feel. But let’s say that within days of moving into what at first seemed a lovely penthouse flat in Prenz’lberg, I discovered that a) I was there to replace her girlfriend’s half of the rent and the girlfriend had left to “get more space” and so every time my flatmate looked at me, she felt angry and sad (as she told me); b) the flatmate was still grieving for her dead cats (which I empathized with, truly, a few years later even more so) and left their (used) litterbox in the bathroom as a shrine even though the last one had died 6 months prior; c) she hated Americans. For a while, this wasn’t even that bad, and sleeping on the floor on a mattress that was on a futon frame felt like a real step up in the world. As I bounced up the 7 flights of stairs I told myself I’d get fit; as she slowly ceased speaking to me in any form except notes stuck under my door when I was at home, I told myself maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me; as I returned home from a weekend away and noticed she had gone through all my things and that many were gone, I told myself maybe I deserved it. She took to enforcing totally bizarre regulations on the wifi, such as I couldn’t use it “when it was raining” and I had to give her a list of every site I visited. In May I finally burst into tears and described my living situation to a teacher at my school. She asked why I hadn’t asked for help before. I fought the urge to say because my accent is so bad you wouldn’t have understood me and just shrugged. She bought me a coffee and introduced me to her 80 year old British friend, who was looking for a flatmate and lived in Walter Benjamin’s old house. 

Really. I was all set to move in, then he called me and said, very apologetically that his “lady friend” had said she didn’t like the ida of a 23 year old living with him.

5. July, 2006: Eventually through Craigslist I found a sub-sub-sublease in Kreuzberg from an opera singer named Maria. She had been renting the room from a guy named Hussain. Hussain gave me the keys and said that he’d sublet the place to Maria by explaining she was his girlfriend, since he wasn’t supposed to sublet it. “If anyone asks you,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “Say you too are my girlfriend. And Maria knows. And likes it!”

The day I moved out of Prenz’lberg, three of my Berlin friends helped me. It was broad daylight. And my flatmate was home, even. She did not notice. I left all the nasty notes she’d left me on the desk in the room next to the key.

That night, I bought everyone dinner for helping me; I noticed after a while she had called and left a voice message on my phone. I deleted it without listening. Sometimes I still think about that message.
Kreuzberg in July was so different from Kreuzberg in January.  I could scarcely believe it was the same neighborhood in the same city.

Once that month, I was thinking about that while walking down the street with my friend Rawley, when he suddenly shoved me out of the way and a bottle fell, seemingly out of the sky and shattering on the ground exactly where I had been standing. It would have brained me. Some kid had shoved it out of a window.

I’d rather be lucky than good,

(I thought).

6. August, 2006: In which I returned to my parents’ house (aka, The House That Dripped Blood).  Like a time capsule, I packed up the remaining detritus from my childhood and adolescence, that which I had deemed too insignificant to come with me to college.

7. September, 2006: I lived in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with the two roommates that I had found through NYU’s classifieds; the building was ironically called The Paradise and our unit got infested with bedbugs. I was only sleeping on a futon mattress that they had let me borrow. This turned out to be the epicenter of the bedbug infection. I also turned out to have 4 abscessed, impacted wisdom teeth, and spent most of that month adjusting to re-entering the US, beginning grad school, powering through really intense pain, and sobbing on the phone to financial aid officers in the hopes that they would expedite my loan refunds so I could pay my rent and avoid sepsis.

8. October, 2006 to April 2008: In one weekend, I moved and then got my wisdom teeth removed from a competent but humorless dental student at UMDNJ who would not let me keep the teeth in a jar, or even a little plastic tooth (Dear UMDNJ: Thanks so much for doing it as a “charity case.”). The night after I had my teeth out, the buzzer sounded. I staggered up from the bed, assuming it was my roommate as she forgot her keys relatively often, and hit the door entry buzzer. Suddenly a middle-aged woman was standing in front of the door, speaking to me in a British accent, explaining that she was my neighbor, nice to meet me, and since she was really drunk, could I please let her climb out our window so she could get into her apartment through the fire escape so her husband wouldn’t know she’d been out drinking again? This apartment came with the unexpected bonus of a semi-permanent contact high from the crazy British people downstairs, and the theft deterrent of what turned into a rug of bills left in the entryway that the British people didn’t seem to pay.

Either way, it was still the nicest place I had lived in my life so far, even when the toilet didn’t work and the super wouldn’t work at the weekend and my heater overflowed and spilled the equivalent of boiling bong water on the floor. It really wasn’t bad.

So I was really sad when circumstances converged such that I agreed to come here for PhD work.

With the exception of another brief interlude at The House That Dripped Blood, I’ve been:

9. Here, August 2008 to Present. I seriously love my apartment. It is bourgeois and McMansiony, but partly out of an absolutely hellbent desire to not move, I have stayed here the whole time and feel that I love it sort of the way some people love their children. I should not love it as much as  I do, especially given the horrible things that have happened in my life since being here…but I do.

My apartment is the first place I have ever had that is all my own (insofar as a lease is one’s own), and it is quite literally the only thing I can stand about this town. When I think about leaving it I feel almost paralyzed, or gutted, maybe. I am still trying to find a new place to stay. My lease is up on August 2nd. I can’t renew it now. There’s no turning back now. The little points where I could have made this all less irrevocable are being passed, one by one. Their critical mass leads to a massive Life Change.

What’s next?

Dear Audience, thanks for reading that utterly tl;dr (yes! it’s an adjective now!) entry. Now you may choose your own adventure:

A) Hopeful ending to the blog entry. YAY NEW ADVENTURES NEW APARTMENT!

B) Depressing ending to the blog entry. THIS WAS AS GOOD AS MY LIFE WAS GOING TO GET.

C) Ambiguous ending to the blog entry that is technically just a cop out because it’s a reiteration of the same quote from the same crappy novel: And I believed. 

The future should speak up now.

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Grappling

In the past few weeks, I submitted my last batch of grades, ever, for my institution; since they chose to never even give me an office key this year, that represents the end of my obligations to them, unless there is something I am missing.

I have postponed celebrating, because I was hit with an avalanche of freelance work. This is usually a very good thing, but when I have days like I did on this Thursday, which began at 5 AM and ended at 1 AM on Friday…not so much.

So my pathetic metaphor in the last entry was falling off a cliff; the one I guess I’ll use in this one is climbing back up. Rock climbing! I don’t think I have ever been on or near a cliff. So I’m really not Writing What I Know here.

During the days, it’s really easy to stay positive. For too long, I ignored the infiniteness of the world and clung to school as it imposed an easy schema on the universe. Just so you know, I was very afraid to write that last sentence. It seems like the kind of thing that the bullies in my department would find so they could scream “WE TOLD YOU SO, FAILURE!” at me. Or add it to their quiet list of evidence that, God-like, they would rattle off; the silent accounting of all my failures, small and large, ready to be whipped out and weighed at a moment’s notice, and always at the moment least expected.

And that is where my mind goes at night. As Phil Ochs once put it, “the days go by too quickly, the nights go by too slow.” No matter how good of a choice it was for me to leave, the department handled whatever their problem with me was – I never got any coherent information, just a lengthy list of small offenses committed years ago (An A-! Too much smiling!…I wish I was kidding about that) – in the absolute worst way imaginable (short of, I guess, physical violence- I guess I should give them that), and every sane person informed of this situation agrees with me.

But, hey, this is MY blog. It’s all about me, not THEM!

So this is what I learned this week:

I feel like Rip Van Winkle, and certainly not because I slept for 20 years (more like 20 minutes).

Unfortunately, while my ex-ploitative department (see what I did there?) was sucking the life out of me, the world went on outside. I’m blinking around the Internet, and suddenly, when I think of the last time I wasn’t trapped here, it was a really long time ago.

When I think, really harshly think, everything is different, in the subtle, scarring ways. There are so many, many ways to measure time.

When I moved here, I was 25 (now I am 29, and that feels like an enormous, horrifying difference). When I moved here, one of my best friends from college had just found out she was pregnant (now he’s a preschooler). When I moved here, it was a leap year, an Olympics year, and a presidential election year (now all three have come ’round again). When I moved here, my halcyon college days were not too far distant and some of my friends were still slowly finishing up (now everyone I know who was there at any time I was in college has graduated or moved on; professors have retired; campuses have changed). When I moved here, I had a new set of cheap pots and pans bought on clearance (now they’re scratched, the handles are worn, lids cracked). When I moved here, my Original iPhone was high-tech (now, that was 2 phones ago).

When I moved here, I was filled with hopes and dreams and possibilities and optimism (now I no longer feel capable of any of these).

I don’t know if this is the right analogy, but I feel like I’ve been in jail. I am totally overwhelmed by the possibilities now that I am not restricted by deadlines, living my life in terms of semesters, forced to “image-manage” in a way that is in complete conflict with who I am; I am no longer constantly battling with students over minutiae; I no longer have my entire life governed by people who made it clear they despised me (remember kids, it’s not “impostor syndrome” if they send you a vague registered letter threatening to fire you 4.5 weeks before your comprehensive exams, and spend the next month and a half barraging you with emails and meeting in which they tell you in fluent bureaucratic vagary that you have managed to disappoint in every way possible).

I keep thinking of projects I want to work on (I have a list of at least 5), yet I can’t shake the absolutely terrifying free-fall feeling. The scaffold is off; I am on my own now. That should be liberating, but I am terrifying.

I need money to survive, yet I also need time to breathe, and the two seem mutually incompatible. What to do? I guess the only thing I can do is keep trying to climb back up, though to what I am supposed to aspire, I do not know.

(PS: If you or anyone you know needs audio transcription, virtual ESL tutoring, editing or proofreading, I can do that for you. Please excuse the horrible website; it has been extremely difficult for me to find reliable help with WordPress, and that’s infuriating).

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“Becoming an Ex”

When I say I’m on the precipice of change in my life, I mean I am literally dangling off a cliff into a deep expanse, all of whose air molecules all have the structure of a question mark. I blinked, and suddenly it’s April, and it’s getting harder and harder to hold on. Everything is doubt: worry about losing the meager things I get here, mixed with a tiny sense of relief that I’m gaining a few more things by leaving this particular situation.

***

So this is what I learned this week: There is a cottage industry of “meta-blogs” that seem to be the online equivalent of Best Week Ever. The lizard part of my brain that loves reality TV spent an embarrassing amount of time reading them this week; the part of me that was looking forward to once again having a non-locked-down blog got really scared. And I must admit that rationally, it would be awfully ego-stroking to finally inspire online Internet haters, but I do anticipate a readership of approximately 4.

The advent of finally restarting a public blog was leaving my career, insofar as I had a career. For too many years, the fear of hegemonic institutions finding my writing scared me too much to do anything publicly, even though many of my peers and superiors all had public, visible blogs. But everything felt like it had to be whitewashed and identity-managed to the point of utter banality. Nothing that felt like I could possibly write about it felt real or honest in the way my old (2000, baby!) blogger did. Nothing felt like it could be relevant or useful in a clearly over saturated blogosphere. I’m glad Safari knows that word, by the way, and isn’t red-underlining it. For instance, it always changes “cupholders” (as in: “Yay, my new car has cupholders!” to “upholders,” presumably as in: “My new car features upholders of liquids!”).

***

In a month and change, everything changes, and every time I feel positive or motivated, something sets me back so far financially that I feel even more of a prisoner now than I did for the past four years.

Helen Rose Fubachs’ book has been really helpful for me as I shed this identity and try to move forward. Every time I say it, or “write it!” it feels a little easier and more real, like a chapter of my life – an incredibly, incredibly painful one – I’m just leaving behind. It’s less like a significant part of my identity has been viscerally ripped from my body, somewhere between my spleen and liver, and more like a horrible pain and emptiness.

That’s progress, right? Certainly, it is melodrama.

Of course, that doesn’t pay my bills. It doesn’t get me a steady job. It doesn’t bring back the last 4 years of my life. I woke up this morning inexplicably unable to shake the image of the past 4 years as having flushed my life away down a toilet.

For a while, I tried to think of a clever (well, relatively so) haiku to summarize this awful chapter in my life. Because if you can’t be quirky and self-deprecating on your shiny new blog on the shiny Internet (accessed via a shiny new computer, in a moderately shiny chain bookstore, which you got to via a shiny, new-to-you car… said car and computer, for the record purchased as emergency replacements for items needing emergency replacing. Bookstore needs no replacing)… where can you?

So let’s try:

moved to the Midwest

wanted to be a doctor

lost near everything

Well, that’s a start. But not really. For instance, don’t hold your breath; it was a doctor of philosophy. Ha!

Hmm, this is more self-pitying and descriptive:

moved to the Midwest

lost cat, car, mind, and much more!

Now, rebuild: Westwards!

Eh. Non-haiku but brutally short version: Moved to the Midwest for grad school. Suffered horrible personal loss in first semester; had no support system to deal with it (in fact, was harassed and bullied for it); had income only 10 months of the year and that was insufficient to both live on and maintain the standard of professionalism required; began freelancing; partner cheated on me, lied to me, left, and then came back only to vandalize my car on Christmas Eve; the people in charge of me iced me out* so I finally decided to cut my losses and do something with my life that involves less abuse and a lot more positivity; hoping to move to the West Coast and continue the things I love, which are: working for myself, tutoring kids whose first language is not English, tutoring and consulting for adults who want to come to the US to study, write.

Over and over, since 2008, well-meaning people who really care about me have told me over and over “You have the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever heard of!” or some variations. Sometimes “fucking” is used to modify “luck.” I hear it all the time. I vacillate between wanting to sit in a corner and cry, because I can only imagine a few ways in which the past few years could have been worse, and most of them involve fire, and realizing that I basically consider myself a hollow shell of a person now, because I have been so brutalized for the past four years.

***

Once upon a time, someone I loved dearly said, “But writing about literature is still writing.” I’d put “still writing” in italics, because he said it like that, but that’s too precious. There’s already way too many italics in this blog entry. Ever since J.D. Salinger, I have not been able to think about italics the same way. What the man did to italics, Booth did to Lincoln.

Sorry.

Anyway, all I ever wanted to do was write, and until I was about 23, that’s really all I did do, because I managed to convince myself that this well-meaning friend was absolutely right about writing (I had to retype that about 4 times just now due to miswriting and mis-righting. Ugh, I know).

But now I am trying to write more, and to write more in a way that helps me (instead of a faceless organization). And that brings me to the question: What type of blog do I want this to be? Is “Stay at home CAT mom!” a blog genre?

Discuss.

* to put it mildly, and I’m still too afraid to write anything about it publicly here. God. Footnoted a blog. And used italics. Is that not the Holy Trifecta of Blogging Annoyingness?

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New Blog Benediction: A Blog Bris?

I registered this domain in February, thinking that if I paid to blog, I’d have an incentive to do  so and to really write well.

This has obviously not worked out. All it means is I’m paying for my own writer’s block.

But my career change means I don’t have to hide online anymore, and I want to have a public blogging identity. Writing online has always been basically good to me. And I need more good things in my life right now. Right? Write!

I have no idea what I’m going to do here. Maybe that’s the problem. Too much interests me. And, based on the comments of the people in power over me the past few years, my intellect is too feeble to do much of anything.

It’s April, 2012. The world is supposed to end in 8 months and change. Based on the amount of massive student loan debt I will have to begin repaying at about the same time (in addition to that I’ve already had to pay while being enrolled in school….thanks, Citibank; I hate you with every fiber of my being for that), I sort of hope it happens. I was going to start over this year; I still plan to. Somehow, the past four years of my life have been swallowed up by a series of horrendous personal losses and the complete waste of my failure to do anything here. I blinked, and suddenly I’m pushing 30, with nothing to show for it but a mountain of educational debt and a very expensive master’s diploma. It’s April, 2012. I can barely read the news; it’s all so depressing I need to lie down. The world is a horrible and unjust place. It always has been. I’m just writing about it. There’s not much else to do.

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it has that new blog smell

I am being welcomed to WordPress. I had a bunch of wine and don’t totally remember registering this domain, but, hey, I’ll work with what I’ve got. $25 is some accountability to say something and continue my dreams of becoming a famous blogger and working from home by relaying amusing anecdotes about my cats and never having to wear pants or say I’m sorry.

 

We’ll see; we’ll see..

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