Feels Like Home

This post got me thinking about the idea of home — and the idea that while I’ve lived a great many places, very few have felt like my own. We moved around a few times when I was growing up, so the concept of home became very (ok, incredibly) important to me. Home wasn’t just where I slept; it had to feel like home in addition to being a structure that I happened to live in.

One of the pitfalls of being a millennial who lives and works in an expensive city is that home ownership isn’t in the cards for me. Instead, I’m a serial renter: a few years here, a few years there. All told, I’ve lived in four different places in the DC area over the last ten years.

Apartments tend not to feel like home for most people, and generally speaking, that has been true for me too — with one huge exception. My apartment in Denver, which I rented while I was in grad school, was glorious.

When I moved back to Colorado (where I grew up) for school, I was basically on the brink of exploding with excitement. I was excited about my grad program, and I was doubly excited to be living in Denver. I began to look for apartments near campus, though, and my excitement started to wane a bit.

I didn’t need a big space; I wanted a studio apartment, but I couldn’t find anything smaller than a one-bedroom.

I wanted a controlled-access building, since this was going to be my first-ever solo apartment, but I couldn’t find one to save my life.

I didn’t need anything fancy, but every place within my price range had shag carpet that hadn’t been cleaned since the Nixon Administration.

My mom and I drove around for two days, finding nothing but places that didn’t fit my parameters. Just when I was thinking I might need to bite the bullet and compromise, I saw a Craigslist ad for a studio condo near my school. The price was right, so I decided to get more information.

An hour later, the landlord, Tony, gave me a tour of what would wind up being my home for the next two years: a gorgeous, newly renovated studio in a controlled-access building, replete with decorative finishes that I never would’ve thought were possible in a place I could afford on a grad school budget. I was sold. He even reduced the monthly rate if I was willing to sign a two-year lease. Done and done, my friends.

And oh, did I love that place. It had soft pink halogen lights spanning the ceiling and highlighting a brushed steel panel against one wall. The kitchen and bathroom fabulous. There were sliding glass doors that led to a wide, spacious balcony where I spent many hours doing yoga, working on presentations, or reading under the shade of the tree growing next to the building. It felt like my home from the moment I walked in.

The feeling of home wasn’t the only thing that made this apartment so awesome. It was there that, after living with other people for all of my 25 years, I finally had a place of my own. I lived there under my own rules, and I got to let my idiosyncracies run the show.

Did I want to watch Law & Order for 5 hours on a Saturday morning during spring break? Yes, I did. Did I turn up Madonna and Britney while cleaning or doing the dishes? Indeed. Did I want to cook random meals for no other reason than the fact that they sounded good? You betcha. Did I want to take a break from writing papers by either somersaulting across the room or having an impromptu dance party? Heck yeah. And I didn’t need to ask anyone for permission to do any of those things.

When I finished grad school two years later, I decided to move out to North Carolina to be with the guy I was dating while I waited for my job in DC to come through. (Side note: this turned out to be a disasterous decision.) I was verklempt while packing up my apartment, even though I knew it was time for me to go. The space was tiny, yes, but I had loved it dearly.

On the day I moved out, my parents arrived with a moving van to help gather up my stuff. As they drove up, dark and ominous clouds rolled in — and these were dark and ominous even by the standards of Colorado summer thunderstorms. We tried to beat the rain, but as soon as we walked towards the door with the first load of stuff to go into the truck, a flash of white light was immediately followed by a thunderclap so loud that it shook the building. And with that, the skies opened up into a a downpour so torrential we could barely see across the street.

I try not to read meaning into random events, but it absolutely felt like a sign. It was as if my ancestors, who were among Denver’s first inhabitants, were telling me not to go. “Stay here,” they seemed to say, “In this city you love and this apartment that feels like it was made for you.”

Two months later, I was back in Colorado (like I said, the North Carolina thing wound up being a complete disaster) and staying with my parents. I went to Denver every week or so to see friends, and every time I went, I’d go on autopilot and find myself parking in front of my old apartment building.

I once got as far as the building’s front door, perplexed by why my keys weren’t unlocking it, before I realized I didn’t live there anymore.

Even now, almost seven years after I moved out, I still think of that apartment, how much I loved it, and how lucky I was to have had it basically fall into my lap at exactly the right time.

Writing Exercise: Do You Rehearse Phone Calls Before Making Them?

Last week, The New York Times ran a Modern Love column that, as far as I can tell, garnered more attention than any previous Modern Love column has. In it, the author writes about how she and her now-fiance decided to test-drive a set of 36 questions designed to make people fall in love with each other. (As you may have deduced, it worked.)

The Times later provided that list of questions, and I thought some of them would also make nifty writing prompts. To be clear, I’m not out to make any of you fall in love with me – hence why I don’t plan to write answers to all the questions, nor do I plan to stare into anyone’s eyes for four minutes – but a handful of these made me think “Heeeyyy, that could be fun to write about!”

And that’s how I make decisions.

So, without further ado, the question: Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Oh God, do I ever. I don’t do this for all my phone calls, but when it comes to the calls that make me nervous, I not only rehearse, but I write out a note card with talking points. I’m not even kidding.

I’d love to be one of those unflappable souls who remain calm and collected under pressure, but I’m not. One of my lesser qualities is that if I’m nervous, there’s an exceptionally good chance that I’ll get completely flustered, discombobulated, and forgetful. If I don’t have notes in front of me, I’m liable to lose my train of thought – or, worse, have full command of my train of thought but be unable to be even minimally coherent, thus leading to all the words coming out in a jumbled heap of nonsense.

When that happens, I get even more flustered, which makes my voice go up at least one octave. And when that happens, I start thinking of the scene from 40 Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carrell says that his girlfriend’s daughter, who’s having a total meltdown and becoming increasingly hysterical, sounds like a tea kettle. And then I get even more flustered, if that’s possible.

So, to prevent this generally wretched scenario from happening, I sometimes bust out the note cards and rehearse their content.

I vividly remember the first time I did this, too. It was the summer before I started 9th grade, and I liked a boy who’d been in my English class the previous year. We’d gotten all googly-eyed after dancing together at the spring formal at the end of the year, so I was very much in like. And, because I was a Sassy, Independent Young Woman Who Didn’t Think Traditional Gender Roles Did Anyone Any Favors (note: I maintain this stance), I decided to call him and ask him out.

I was wringing my hands about what to say when I called, and that’s when my dad suggested writing out what I wanted to say on a note card and rehearsing it a few times before picking up the phone. This was a brilliant idea!

I did just that, and although my hands were shaking when I picked up the phone in my parents’ basement (this was in pre-cell phone 1995, and I needed privacy in order to make this very important phone call), I got through it without sounding like a concussed tea kettle. And, not only that, but he said yes!

We never wound up actually going out, because our vacation schedules didn’t mesh and then I wound up changing schools, but still: NOTE CARDS AND REHEARSAL FTW, YOU GUYS.

Writing Exercise: Three Things that Stopped Me in My Tracks

This exercise, which comes from Now Write! Nonfiction (edited by Sherry Ellis), asks that you describe three things – all of which happened in the fairly recent past – that stopped you in your tracks. This can be a literal or figurative stop, but should basically just be something that really grabbed your attention.

While we were on vacation in Texas earlier this month, I stumbled upon three things that – for me at least – were incredibly cool.

First: My parents just moved from Colorado to Houston last month, and it turns out that while my mom was packing up their house in Colorado, she dug up some awesome stuff that I’d completely forgotten about. One such no-longer-buried treasure is a Denver Broncos t-shirt that I bought when I was in Israel, and which my mom thankfully knew I’d definitely want to keep. In the interest of full disclosure, this t-shirt came from a shop that sold kitschy, awful junk and catered exclusively to American tourists looking for, well, kitsch. But you guys: it’s a piece of Broncos paraphernalia in both English and Hebrew. Is it kitschy? Probably. Was I beyond thrilled when I found it sitting on the desk in the room where Brandon and I stayed? You betcha.

Second: Also while visiting my parents, I walked by a table and was totally sidetracked by a book: A Yard Full of Sun, by Scott Calhoun, which documents his efforts to build a xeriscape garden at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Now, at first blush, I can totally understand why most of you might be perplexed by this book’s ability to sidetrack me so thoroughly that as soon as I saw it, sat down on the couch to check it out and didn’t get up for another hour. Well, my dears, let me explain.

To start, I miss the sunshine like you wouldn’t believe. I’m a sun-loving kind of gal – I’ve been known to force everyone outside when the sun comes out, regardless of things like work commitments or hungover roommates during college – and the sad, limpid East Coast sun just bums me out. There’s even a quote about this in the book: “Here in the West you can’t get away from the big sky and full light…differences in light make the West unique. As Larry McMurty says in his book Roads, ‘Eastern light is never as strong and full as Western light; a thousand McDonald’s will not make Boston feel like Tucson.’” So, the title book’s made a part of my brain jump up and scream “OMIGOD, I WANT THAT.”

Furthermore, I’ve always loved the idea of xeriscape gardens using desert plants. (At the risk of sounding weird, I love pretty much any plant native to the southwest desert. If I could have a saguaro cactus in my living room, I would.) Obviously that can’t happen here in DC, so reading about someone else’s extensive work using desert plants in their native territory really struck a chord with me. On a related note, some poor fools have tried to do desert-style xeriscaping here in DC, using, get this, cacti. DC is a swamp. Cacti aren’t native to swamps. At all. Here’s a glimpse of how beautifully this landscaping experiment has turned out:

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Cacti in DC really thrive, as you can tell from the fact that they’re waterlogged and wilting in sadness.

Third: Since Brandon’s and my parents are all living in Texas now, we also spent time in San Antonio visiting his family. His mom and I are big fans of thrift shopping (seriously, you can score some amazing threads and save so much money!), so we hit up one of the bigger thrift stores in SA. When we first got there, I found a tile trivet showing a traditional Shabbat scene with “Shabbat shalom” written in Hebrew. I have very few things left from my year in Jerusalem – I’d bought tons of spices and textiles, which have long since been used or been packed away – and I really miss some of my memorabilia. The tile didn’t remind me of Jerusalem itself, but it did remind me of the many Shabbat dinners I shared with my friends when I was there. I put it in our cart, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I not only didn’t need another trivet (I have plenty), but it wasn’t worth getting something I wasn’t going to use just because it vaguely reminds me of a place I lived almost a decade ago.

So, I went to put it back – and as I walked towards the shelf where I’d gotten it, a second tile caught my eye. The artwork on that tile looked exactly like the depictions of Jerusalem that most local artists use in their tile paintings. No, that’s not possible, I thought. There’s no way I would’ve missed a Jerusalem tile earlier! As I got closer, I thought I must be imagining things. But then I got to the shelf, and there it was: a tile depicting Jerusalem. My jaw must’ve hit the floor. Needless to say, I bought it without a second thought.

What are some things that have stopped you in your tracks lately? Let me know!

Don’t Call It a Comeback*

*Nah, it’s actually fine to call it a comeback.  That’s pretty legit, actually.

Welp, it looks like I pulled a disappearing act again. I’m like Houdini, but with less magic!

Truth be told, after all the messiness of 2013, in 2014 I found that my creative mojo decided to take a prolonged leave of absence. (I think it didn’t like the extreme stress and decided to move to Aruba. I can’t say blame the poor thing.)

Being in survival mode led to very little in the way of creative output, so even after my last couple posts, I struggled to come up with something — anything, really — to write about. I’d sit down at the computer and basically drool on myself, then give up and go watch TV. Basically, writer’s block has been following my around like a puppy with the world’s worst case of separation anxiety. I wish it were an actual puppy, because at least then it would be cute. So, I guess it’s better to say that it’s been more like a barnacle with separation anxiety: scratchy and uncomfortable, and seemingly permanently affixed.

During that time, though, I’ve been desperately missing creative work generally and writing specifically. Writing has been like an old, dear friend throughout my life, and this persistent case of writer’s block has been like having that dear friend disappear into thin air.

So, reviving the blog signals the beginning of my effort to lure that dear friend – aka my creative mojo – back from its sojourn in Aruba.

I’ve put together a long list of writing prompts, and my plan is to post my responses to those prompts here a couple times per week. A public creative writing exercise, if you will. Those responses will likely be interspersed with random thoughts, somewhat coherent musings, and updates on life — but by and large, my goal is to help myself get back into the groove of writing, if only to prove to myself that my writer’s block isn’t permanent. I need to know that my creative mojo is still in here somewhere, at least in some small measure, and that it didn’t permanently relocate to a gorgeous beach where it’s now sitting in a hammock while drinking a piña colada from a coconut. (Yes, friends: in my mind’s eye, this is exactly what it’s been up to.) This cowgirl needs to get back in the saddle.

Before I do that, though, I have some updates:

– I had my most recent biopsy in September, and – drumroll, please – everything’s back to normal! This was cause for serious celebration, as you can imagine. With apologies for the impending TMI, the next task is for me to get knocked up as soon as possible, since a successful pregnancy is protective against recurrence. (There’s also that whole “I’ll be 34 in a few weeks and am quickly approaching that magical ‘advanced maternal age'” thing too. So, y’know, time is of the essence.) Think happy pregnancy thoughts for us/send baby dust/allow me to hug any super-fertile women out there.

– My dad got a great new job in Texas, so my parents have relocated to the State With Which No One Should Mess. I never in eleventy billion years would’ve thought my parents would leave Colorado, but they did – and lo and behold, their new setup is pretty fantastic. We went to visit them earlier this month, and it was lovely. Not to mention the fact that having my parents live 3 hours from Brandon’s is awfully convenient!

So, those are the big-ticket items going on in my world.  I’m excited about this new writing project (we need to come up with a formal Operation name for this…hmmmm) and, hopefully, the triumphant return of my creative mojo!

With that in mind, tell me: what’s new and exciting in your world? What have I missed out on while I was away from the blogosphere?