When I read blogs, I feel like I’m always scratching my head trying to figure out where the author lives and what they do for a living–it’s like I’m always in those first two chapters of the book right before the massive biographical info-dump–and I’m pretty sure that my readers have the same experience with me, especially this year.
I had four pretty large upheavals in my living situation this year. When it started, I was living in Baltimore with three guys from my MFA program in a row house in Baltimore. And when the year started, I was pretty sure that I was going to be living in that room for another year, since, unbeknownst to most people, Johns Hopkins’ MFA program guarantees a post-graduate year of teaching to its students.
I still have really fond feelings for Baltimore. I think it’s a fantastically under-rated place: cheap and hip and full of artists. It’s also very cute, on a physical level. The neighborhood where I lived, in Charles Village, was made up of these townhouses with brick foundations and colorful facades and boxy Bay windows. In DC or San Francisco, people would have paid $2000 a month to get a room in a neighborhood which looked like that, but in Baltimore it was pretty typical. In Baltimore, if you have a job, you can live someplace nice. I much prefer it to DC, even though the latter is my hometown.
But, as the year progressed, I realized that I wanted to be somewhere else. No special reason. I just felt like doing the next thing. Staying in Baltimore was tempting, since I had the job waiting for me, but it also felt too much like I was just marking time, and I didn’t enjoy the feeling that I was simply waiting for the year to pass. Anyway, my entire life I’ve lived in either the Bay Area or the DC area, and both are places where I have strong roots. I wanted to go somewhere new, and see who I was. So, after tossing around a bunch of possibilities, I decided to move to New Orleans.
There, I sublet a master bedroom for $500. And I had a good time there too. At times, I did get the feeling that the city was a bit too bohemian and radical for me. At heart, I’m kind of a yuppie, and it felt weird to be in a place where being a street musician was a respectable and respected job. But I went out there and met people and made friends. And I really liked the folks that I was living with.
But I was still living in a city where I had no close friends.
I’d expected to be lonely in New Orleans, but I guess I hadn’t exactly understood what that loneliness would feel like. And, over the course of about six weeks, I questioned my decision to move there. I mean, all the reasons for being there were still valid. It was cheap. It had a different kind of people. It certainly got me out of my comfort zone. But…it just didn’t feel like where I wanted to be in my life. I was 28 years old, and I already had a city (two cities) where I knew lots of people. Did I really want to make a whole new set of friends? Why? Just because? And what if I became romantically involved with someone in New Orleans? Did I really want to live there for the rest of my life?
So one night, while I was on my way to a wedding in Detroit, I had a midnight epiphany. I didn’t want to be an adventurer. I just wanted to be in my place, amongst my people. And, to me, it was obvious where that place was. I was born in the Bay Area, went to college here, and lived there for the eighteen months right before I moved to Baltimore, so, although I didn’t grow up here, I do think of it as a more-or-less homelike place. So, after the wedding, I drove back to New Orleans, backed up my things, and drove west.
I got here in mid-July and then had four transitional months (to be detailed in tomorrow’s post) while I looked for a final place.
But everything turned out great! And it turned out great in exactly the ways I wanted it to be great! I’m living in a fantastic apartment in Berkeley (I have literally never walked into an apartment in the Bay Area and though ‘Oh, that person’s apartment is better than mine). My roommates are the best: they’ve quickly become some of my favorite people.
I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends and acquaintances. And I’ve also taken the opportunity to become closer to people who used to be just acquaintances. And I meet new people all the time. That’s the strange thing about knowing people: it’s much easier to meet new people when you already know people.
Which is not to say that this is something I couldn’t have had in Baltimore or New Orleans. I think the issue is that I didn’t want to have it in those places. For me, those places felt really transitory. I wasn’t willing to build up a network of casual friends and acquaintances. And I became less and less willing, over time, to explore new social scenes and go to strange parties, because with every month that passed, I came closer to the day when I’d have to leave. Whereas now my mindset is completely different. The timescales are completely different. There are people here in the Bay Area who I meet only maybe three months. But because I’ve been here so often, that means that by now I’ve seen them 10 or 20 times. It’s a strange feeling to see some random person at a party–someone I’d never call or make solo plans with–and to feel really warmly towards them.
Okay, wrap-up, gotta wrap this up. I guess what I’d say is that this year I learned what I wanted from life. I thought I wanted adventure, but, really, what I wanted was to think of myself as an adventurous person. The concrete aspects of adventure–the alienation and loneliness–are not things that I value. What I really wanted was a sense of permanence and a sense of community. And I think I’ve found that. For the first time in my life, I have no immediate plans to move elsewhere. I’ve found my place.