Thought Trafficking

May 25, 2009, 3:36 am
Filed under: being selfish | Tags: , ,

Two posts in a day seems extravagant, but humour me. I mentioned my recent househunting in Calgary in my last post, and I wanted to expand on that whole venture.  

The process of looking for apartments and roommates used to seem like more of an adventure than it does now. I just feel tired, now, scrolling through ad after ad, roommates selling themselves, people calling their unfinished basements “spacious,” all of the language, full of verve and synergy, used to sell people on living spaces. I like to think that we (people, that is) can live on less space than we often take; front lawns that never get used and suck up water are just ridiculous, and one or two people living in a huge home seems strange and lonely. We, as a society, can afford to downsize. Me, personally, I can afford to downsize. Also, we don’t always get to choose our financial situation, our area, the state of the housing market. All this to say that I am feeling torn: I am considering going into debt (not a lot of debt, but more than I have before) in order to live by myself. I have never taken on debt before, nor have I ever specifically attempted to live alone. Novel, yes, but for some reason I am cringing.

The last year has been a temporary year, a fortunate year and troublesome year. At the beginning of the summer, my Dad drove over from Edmonton and helped me pack up almost everything that I own. Most of my stuff is currently living in my parents’ garage, in my old closet. I lived with Jane for half the summer and started housesitting for the second half, where I stayed rent-free until December. In January, I moved in with what was supposed to be two roommates but turned into a fiasco. Happily enough, after only two months, one of the roommates (a fantastic person) invited me to move with her at the beginning of March. The location was much better and because of the room that I am living in and her good heart, she is charging me a fraction of the usual rent. On top of that, I was offered another month or so housesitting for May and the beginning of June, giving me lots of space and a sunny place to work for a few weeks.

I can do nothing but be grateful for all of this, but it has created a very strange sense of belonging, a rethinking of how I place myself. Along with this gratitude comes a sense of being scrutinized. I wonder if I am doing things as I ought to, if I washed the pan the way that they would. You watch people that you trust like hawks, feeling like a mother while you do, because these are not your dishes to break, not your tableclothes to spill on. You are yourself and another person.  

In many ways, this is a model of how I’d like to think more often: with someone else in mind, with more thankfulness for what is available, with the idea that accumulating things is pointless, because where would you put them? It has the effect of distilling your presence. Even my presence in my parents’ home is dwindling; when I come to visit these days, I sleep in the guest room. Parts of my old room are still intact, but they are relocated or culled (by me) with each subsequent visit. I am ambivalent about moving to Calgary because all of my old “things” will accompany me. My current wardrobe, where I am housesitting, is a pair of pyjamas, short pants, long pants, about three shirts, a warm fleece, sock and underwear. They live on a chair. The possibility of a closet and a dresser (in the same room!), of dishes that are mine to break if I am clumsy, of bookshelves and not piles, this seems at once extravagant and desireable.  Along with this is the idea of coming home to a place that smells like home, knowing where to find the mop, the idea of dwelling somewhere without knowing that you will leave it in 2 or 3 months – I don’t know what to call that feeling. I could fit myself into a place, put things away, not store them in the corner of my room in boxes. It almost seems like a heavy existence, with so much invested in one place. 

On top of this ambivalence, I selfishly don’t want to live with a whole new person again. People are wonderful, people are beautiful, simply in that they are, and there are several acquaintances that I credit with helping me to see this. But, as Regina Spektor says, people are just people. And while that shouldn’t make you nervous, it should at least make you a little wary. We are all freaks. We have all cried in our rooms, left nigh-intolerable messes in the kitchen, let the bathroom turn into a science experiment. But in the pas-de-deux that is being a roommate, things can get hairy (especially if you live with me, as I shed like a cat). Learning someone else’s habits takes months, learning to be friends takes even longer; getting comfortable is a process. And then there’s this voice in my head that just wants to play guitar any time of day she likes and break her own dishes, please-and-thank-you.

My thought process is disintegrating, as it tends to at this point. There are benefits to living with people and I ought not to complain so much. There are benefits to living alone and I recognize that. Life is complicated, and I do like it that way. Otherwise, what would I ever have to talk about?

Any recommendations or ideas? Anyone looking for a roommate in Calgary this September?


Notes From a 31-day Month
May 25, 2009, 12:01 am
Filed under: living

(These things are all true)

  • While I was in New York earlier this month, I unwittingly attempted to condition my hair with hand lotion. My mother had allowed me to peruse a bag of hotel toiletries that she has collected over the years to grab some shampoo and conditioner that wouldn’t take up too much space. I managed to choose a bottle of shampoo (so far so good) and a bottle of hand cream. I didn’t realise this until the middle of my second day in New York, when I realised that my hair felt unusually… something. I’m not sure that a word has yet been invented to describe the feeling of washing your hair with hand cream. 
  • It took me three separate tries to cut the lawn with the battery-powered push mower here where I am housesitting (yes, again). This is because the mower ran out of batteries after about 6 rows, the first two times. Then it rained. The lawn is currently three different lengths, and I am plugging the mower in overnight tonight.
  • You can actually make brownies with cheesecake on top. Not cheesecake with brownies on top, no. Brownies, regular brownies, with regular cheesecake on top. Can you hear my arteries? They’re whispering to you.
  • Victoria has put on its summer sky. No clouds, none. Just blue, blue, blue. This makes for some odd sunsets, to a prairie mind. The sun just disappears and fades progressively from blue to black.
  • John Darnielle on working in a grain elevator:  “That’s 12 hours a day of back-breaking work not meant for liberal arts majors!” …Or maybe it’s what liberal arts majors need to get them on track?
  • I used to see the search for housing as an adventure. Now I see it more like pulling the pin on the grenade; you never know what kind of roommate you’re going to get or how things are going to explode. I am currently deciding how much my sanity is worth, in dollars, while looking at the differences between shared accommodation and one-bedroom or bachelor suites. Why are the one-bedroom and bachelor suites so often horrible holes in old basements not fit for human habitation?
  • It is cold by the ocean at night.

The horizon isn’t crooked, it’s the curve of the earth.
May 19, 2009, 3:30 am
Filed under: between times | Tags: ,

I have made a virtual spring migration. I have never quite figured out how to post pictures on livejournal (I am aware that there is a way, I am aware that other people know how do it, but this does not mean that I have the patience to figure it out), and I wanted to be able to list more links than just others who were on livejournal (see previous bracket), so it seemed like a good moment to change things up.

The rain has been pattering the skylight for at least half of the day and this is a different perspective on rain, or under rain. I’ve lived in a succession of basement suites and rooms either on the first floor or in between other floors where the rain forms a grey mass parked on your doorstep. It makes one feel confined, listless. But these kitchen windows see the sea birds, the trees, the sky, the puddles forming. Here is above and also below and beside.

As I have been relatively silent for a month now, I feel as though I should say something to succinctly resume my recent thought patterns, and the only thing I can come up with is music. That’s actually what this whole semester has revolved around, more than anything. Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst in concert, an avant-garde cello concert here in Victoria, hearing Jack play his own songs and many others in New York, Pierre Boulez conducting Mahler, the Wordless Music Orchestra performing Arvo Pärt – including the newest symphony, number four for Los Angeles – and possibly Sarah Slean later this month. This whole semester has hummed and clanged and harmonized and stamped its feet, and whenever I start to feel uncertain about my decision to stay here one more year, whenever I waver about my own ability to fulfill the criteria of academia, I think about this. About all of the music enabled by this layover. 

The Pärt concert was just eight days ago, but also a continent away. What struck me was that it was a room full of people who had bought tickets specifically to hear Pärt’s music; these people – at least most of them – were not attending haphazardly. I almost wanted to ask them why they were there. An older man (as Jack aptly put it, “Abe Lincoln’s ghost”) silently shared a table with us, wore what I think in the dark was a plaid shirt. I looked at him during the piece called Es sang vor langen Jahren, and his eyes were closed and his face was receptive; he was soaking in the sound. The music was reflected in his face, or maybe I read the music into his face.

Since you have gone from me,
The nightingale sings constantly;
Her sound makes me think
How we were together.

When it finished, we sat for a couple of minutes and discussed the symphony quietly. We sat until our legs would allow us to leave, and then tumbled back out into the humid streets and raised our voices and felt the night differently than we had before. I’m not implying that Arvo Pärt is the end-all-be-all, or that his music is some kind of redemption, but it is music that I need to listen to with my whole body. Once I’ve done that, everything feels different. Leaving the concert halls seems abrupt but necessary; no one wants to be stuck in a crush of people. Still, sometimes it would seem fitting to stay there, motionless, until every sound has died out, but that requires a rare cooperation between complete strangers.

There are other things to say about spanning continents in a day, about Niagra Falls from above, about silence and other sounds, about people you can be quiet with, about prairies, about New York, and about meeting old friends for the first time (and missing old friends who are absent). They can wait for now; we just made of time.

On the farm, May 2009