Finally going home

It snowed on my last day here in DC. It snowed like three inches! What is up with that? I do not hold truck with this whole snow thing. Even when it’s like sixty-five degrees, and I’m sitting in my living room in Berkeley, I feel cold. Actually, I’ve been a little less cold in DC than I was in CA, because of the magic of central heating.

So yes, soon I will be back in good old sunny California. I assume it’s like seventy-five degrees there now, right?

Nostalgia

4-19-2009-7-22-33-am-langor-1000x800Due to some strange personal choices, I’ve spent the better part of a month at my parent’s house in DC, and it has not been un-fun. I stayed here so long that all the people I knew from high school and middle school finished their holiday trips and went back to where they work, and all the people who work and go to school in DC came back from wherever they went, so I’ve seen a broad cross-section of the people I know here. Actually, it just occurs to me that the only people I didn’t see were my writer friends.

I’ve lived in the DC area for three formative periods of my life. I went to middle and high school here; I worked here for two years after graduating from college; and I went to grad school in Baltimore for two years. And being back here for the holidays has caused a wave of nostalgic memories.

It is saddening to see people I haven’t seen for awhile and won’t see again for awhile. And it is saddening to go to places where I have lived. It is saddening to be witness to old selves and to lives that I’ve left behind. I don’t like being reminded of how much time has passed and of the fact that I, of necessity, had to make choices about how and where I was going to live. In general, my life in California is pretty good (certainly, I have zero problems with the actual living-in-California aspect of it). But it’s still upsetting to think that there are things I gave up. For instance, if I was still living here, I could see my family much more often. And also, there is something about being from a place. I don’t know what it is. There is just a certain depth of connection. I can’t say that I know more people in DC, precisely, or even that I’ve known them for longer, on average. But I just feel more connected to it, as a place. I can remember, when I drive around, all the other times I’ve driven around here, and all the dreams I used to have for myself.

Wrap-Up Season: I’ve finally found the place where I want to spend my life.

Toronto_Row_HousesWhen 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.

Got paid and also got my edit letter from Disney

The-Husbands-SecretToday, I got an invoice from Disney’s royalty department, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to get paid within a week. It will be good to have the money. My contract divides my advance into three equal payments for each book. What I just got was the signing advance for each book (i.e. I got one third of the total amount). In the future, I’ll get a total of four more payments. One on final approval of each book, and one on publication of each book. The money isn’t exactly enough to live on (at least not in Berkeley), but it’s nice to have.

Another thing I got was my first round edit letter. It’s fairly substantial. But I had heard from many other  authors that you always get lots and lots and lots of edits, so I was prepared. In the end, reading through it wasn’t a very traumatic experience at all, because I had already mentally prepared myself to make some substantial edits. In the end, I think I’m pretty capable of doing what needs to be done, and I have enough time to do it (they want me to turn around these edits by February 2nd). However, who knows? Maybe these are my fatal last words.

In other news, I bought a tuxedo and a new suit today. I am going to look so dashing, you have no idea.

Also, I’ve been reading hellllla books. I’m almost finished with Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. Apparently this is a super-duper bestseller in the women’s fiction category? Like a mega-bestseller: Gone Girl big. I’d actually never heard of it until it showed up in my Amazon recommendations, which just shows how you how divided the literary world can sometimes be.

It’s a quiet domestic drama about three women in Australia who are facing different problems with their husbands and families. I enjoy all the parts that are just about people talking and feeling. However, I kind of don’t enjoy all the suspense or thriller elements. In particular, the central thread of the novel (the eponymous ‘Husband’s Secret’ feels very flat and very contrived to me). The secret feels like it belongs in a different novel; it’s too flashy and doesn’t really seem of a piece with the concerns of this book.

Haven’t felt very much like a writer lately

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What with all the moving around and getting sorted out, I haven’t done much writing. And I also haven’t been terribly interested in reading. I also, for the first time in a long time, don’t have a big new project on the horizon. In fact, if I was to start a novel now, I don’t even know what it’d be. I actually have an idea for a young adult novel that’s been simmering for about a year (it’s about really rich gay kids) but with all my contract stuff still being sorted out, I’m not sure if it makes sense for me to write a book that might not, potentially, come out for another three and a half years.

I dunno. Anyway, I have so much stuff that I need to revise.

But I do have the persistent feeling that right now is the calm before the storm. Eventually, my edit letter will come in, and then it’ll be rush rush rush to turn in edits and then to revise / edit / finish the second book in my contract.

So I feel like I should use this time productively. Which is what I’m going to do. Err…starting tomorrow.

I need stability in order to work. I was actually weirdly productive in New Orleans. In some ways, I felt much more settled there than I do right now. I didn’t have any friends, so my social life was very orderly (I just went to Meetup groups). And I had my gym and sometimes I’d go to a new restaurant. But mostly I was in my room, and I had plenty of time to work.

Now I feel very dislocated. There’s much more of a sense of possibility. I lived a life here once, but the life I live now will be different from that one.

If I’ve learned anything, though, it’s that I eventually settle into a routine. And when I’m in the routine, it feels so natural and fluid and eternal. And then something comes along and destroys it. And when I have to pick up the pieces, it always feels like I’m cranking up a big, heavy machine again. There’s no slipping into and out of the routine. Either I’m in it or I’m nowhere.

Weird to get good news when I am just so completely discombobulated

I’ve sold two stories in the last week, and then today I got a personal rejection from The Missouri Review (on a realist story). And that’s not necessarily a huge deal, except that I’ve never gotten a hint of encouragement from a literary magazine of that stature. It is really weird to send stuff out for years and get no evidence that you’re anywhere close. And then whoosh, the dam begins to crack. I remember when this happened for speculative fiction markets. It was sometime around my fourth year of submitting that I finally: a) made my first professional sale; and b) started getting personal rejections from a number of markets.

Now it’s happening for lit markets! Which is actually really exciting to me, since I’d always harbored the semi-secret suspicion that maybe I just wasn’t a good enough writer (on a sentence level) to publish in literary journals.

But, at the same time, I’m not really able to enjoy it, because I’m so completely rootless right now. I’m just in the Bay Area, looking for housing. I don’t even really know what I’m working on, writing-wise (although now I’m tempted to get in there and revise some of my MFA stories~!)

Everything feels so up in the air. And that makes it very hard to feel normal emotions. But I’ll soldier through.

About to be on the road

slimeface-stairway-to-heavenI’m going to spend July 2-23 driving around this great nation of ours, attending weddings in Detroit and the SF Bay Area and seeing friends in Great Falls, MT and Tillamook, OR. So that’s going to happen. I am both enthused and unenthused about spending so much time away from home. Enthused because I love to drive. I feel as though I understand myself and the world so much more when I am putting miles behind me. Also, I find driving to be so much more fun than flying. I’d rather drive for two days than fly for two hours (which, with regards to me flying to Detroit, is pretty much the choice that I made).

But I am sad to be leaving New Orleans so soon after I arrived. I chose to come here in June even though I knew that I’d be gone for much of July just because I did want to get started on being here and building a life here. And there is something exciting about that, and I’m not particularly happy to be putting it on hold.

My emotions have been all over the place lately. It’s actually something that happens to me at the onset of every summer, I’ve realized. I call them the summertime doldrums. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s partly natural biological rhythm and partly just the realization that summer has arrived and now the year will slowly wane. By the end of July, my mood is usually much better, and then from August to January, it’ll steadily improve. Not sure how the different weather patterns in New Orleans will affect that, but we’ll see.

Anyway, today I realized that part of the problem is that I just feel really cooped up in the house where I’m staying, so I made an effort to spend 20-30 minutes walking around outside (even though it was devilishly hot) and then I felt much, much better. I realized this earlier in the spring, when I was in my Baltimore house. At some point it finally got warm enough for me to throw open my windows and let the wind and the street noises flow through, and my mood immediately cleared. There’s something about natural ambient noise that’s generated from vibrant and disperse activity (what my friend George would call ‘high-quality noise’) and the smells and feelings engendered by an outside environment. And I’m not talking about Yellowstone here, I’m just talking about the street. There’s something about the street that makes me feel better than the sterile, air-conditioned inside of a room.

Unfortunately, there’s also something about the street that makes me feel much worse: the heat, humidity, and the insects.

But still, getting in a little bit of street is worthwhile.

Also, I’ve been exercising three again. It pains me to say this, but all the yuppies are right: exercise is a drug. The effect of exercise on my mood feels so intense and artificial (i.e. it occurs suddenly and doesn’t feel organic to my situation) that it’s a bit absurd.

 

I never want to go anywhere

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Been going to a lot of new places here and seeing lots of new people. And every single time I have some event that I want to go to, I find myself lying in bed about an hour beforehand and saying to myself, “I am really tired. Maybe I won’t go today. I’ll feel better by the time the next one rolls around.”

And I believe it. I really do believe that the next time will somehow be different, and that I’ll be fresh and energetic and really ready to get out there. But, for whatever reason, I end up forcing myself to go out anyway. And oftentimes it’s fairly good (not always, but that is life).

But it was only today that I realized that I have this same thought process literally every single time. I have never once, since arriving here, found myself feeling even neutral towards an event. It’s always been an active desire to not go.

Which is weird for me, since that’s not normally how I feel about social events. It’s true that I rarely get excited about social events. But normally they’re not a big deal. I go because I know I’ll enjoy going. And I don’t have to force myself to go. It’s just that I’m not very forward-thinking, and I’m not very good at knowing what I’ll like. For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever actually looked forward to taking a trip.

However, this active desire to stay in is something new.

I think the obvious answer is the right one: I’ve never in my life been so dislocated. Previously, I always had some connection to the places that I went, usually through friends who I knew would be there. Here it’s not like that. Every time I go somewhere, I am alone. Furthermore, no one expects me to be anywhere, so there’s no forward motion in my life. Things don’t just happen, and inertia sets in.

Which is not to say that any of this is bad or particularly unpleasant. I think that these are aspects of myself that’ve always been at play. Until now, they’ve just been covered up by other forces (work, college friendships, graduate school) that provided a certain shape to my social life. Right now, I’m being forced to add that shape on my own. And I’m sure that in the long run it’ll prove to be a valuable experience

 

On a sidenote, my writing is going much better than yesterday! It’ll probably collapse again tomorrow, but for today it’s good.

In answer to your query, New Orleans is great, but…

magic-8ball…I obviously know almost no people here, and, thus, much of its greatness isn’t yet open to me.

I’m not the most dynamic person in the world. I mean, I’m not bad. I have moderate dynamism. Perhaps even above-average dynamism. But certainly not the kind of dynamism where you land in a new city and suddenly you’re having madcap adventures. Well, actually, I used to be able to do that (but it required drinking vast quantities of alcohol…and, also, many of the adventures were terrifying ordeals that I will never talk about until the day that I die).

And, since my two jobs (novel-writing and freelance-writing) are both fairly homebound, I spend a lot of time around the house, working, and then venturing out once a day to wander around or go to a Meetup group or an event I found out about in the newspaper or something like that. It’s not the most incredibly exciting existence that a person can imagine.

Somehow, it seems a bit taboo to mention this? Like I’m whining or something? When you go to a new place, you’re supposed to be really happy with it, or else why did you go? In my case, it’s especially perplexing because I left behind strong communities both in the DC area and in the SF Bay, and I also have no really strong occupational reason for being here. And yes, I do get lonely and I do wish that I had more to do and I do wish that I knew more people. And no, I can’t say that I’ve landed here with some firm plan or strong sense of purpose. I just kind of got here and was like, “Welp…now what?”

But, really, that was the plan. I came here to learn how to be alone and to learn how to be in a new place and, also, to just take a look around and learn what else the world had to offer. Which is to say, if I didn’t have something to learn in those areas, then I wouldn’t be here. And when I think about leaving (which I do, sometimes), I realize that all the reasons I have for coming here are still fully in operation. Life can’t just be about being comfortable; a person needs more than that. A person needs to be able to grow, in some way.

Some people need to grow in ways that don’t require leaving the places that they’re familiar with. For a long time, I was one of those people. But now that’s no longer true of me, so I am here.

Thus, if a person wanted to know whether or not I was happy here, I’d say that the answer is…kind of?

I’m not acutely unhappy. I have enough human contact (I really like the people that I am living with), and I have my work, and I see and hear new things every day (yesterday, I saw one of the biggest cockroaches I’ve ever seen in the United States). But if I thought I’d still be this isolated in six months, then I’d pack up and leave right now.

However, I don’t think I will be. Part of any speculative venture is just having the confidence that someday things will be different. I don’t know exactly how things will be different or in what manner I will make them different, but I know that life will change. My experience with almost every place and situation I’ve ever been in is that you’re uncomfortable and lonely for a few weeks or months, and then, almost without you noticing it, things snap into place and suddenly you’re at home. I don’t know exactly how that works (maybe it’s just something that happens to me?) because it doesn’t seem to require much conscious effort. All it requires is that you have patience and that you be willing to try new things.

So yes. The future. Much is uncertain.

Yes, I am leaving Baltimore

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These are actual benches that you will see all over Baltimore

Now that I’ve given up my lease, announced my going-away party, and told my graduate program that I won’t be returning for my adjunct year…it’s probably worth mentioning to everyone else that I’m about to leave Baltimore.

When I got into Hopkins, I was, honestly, just really happy that I wasn’t going to have to go to school in some podunk Midwestern town. Now, I know that some people love towns like that. But…I am not one of them. I prefer milder winters and populations over 400,000. All I’m saying is that anything seems like a metropolis when you’re comparing it to West Lafayette, Indiana.

But Baltimore is actually a great city for an artist. Rents are fairly cheap (certainly cheaper than all the other places where I’ve lived: Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC), and there are all kinds of fun things going on. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society is a very vibrant, active community. There are plenty of writers in the area. There are readings and gay clubs and interesting neighborhoods and pretty much everything you could want in a city, but, because Baltimore has kind of an inferiority complex, everything is also scrappy and fun and exudes a sort of togetherness.

On a personal and professional level, Baltimore also works out pretty well for me. Although my parents don’t spend as much time in DC as they used to, it’s still home base for them. I grew up in that city and still have plenty of friends in the area. And, with the kind of work that I often do in the international development world, it’s really convenient to live somewhere that allows me to travel to DC once in awhile.

I highly recommend Baltimore to anyone who is looking for a hip and centrally-located place on the Eastern Seaboard.

Nonetheless, I am leaving.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Part of it is just that my heart is in California. And while I’m not sure that I want to go back there right this second, I think that if I was actually going to choose to set down roots somewhere, it’d have to be out there. But part of it is also just that…well…I have a wandering heart. Since graduating, I’ve moved cities roughly every two years. There’s something about the two year mark that just makes me wonder what else is out there in the world and who else I can be.

Ever since I first drove across the country, when I was moving back to DC after graduating from college, I’ve looked around at our nation and felt a deep connection to all the disparate parts of it. To me, it’s so fantastic and powerful that all of these places–all of these names on the map–are somehow part of me.

So…I’m moving to New Orleans.

I can’t say that a ton of thought went into the choice of location. I visited New Orleans about five years ago and liked it alot, but I was also drunk the entire time, so I can’t say that I was at my sharpest.

Basically, I just wanted to go someplace where I didn’t know anyone. All my life, I’ve basically bounced between DC and SF, and, by now, I have fairly strong social networks in both places. And that’s awesome…but I also wanted to put myself into a situation where I was alone and needed to meet new people.

Maybe that’s silly, but there it is.

My three criteria in picking a place were:

  • It had to be warm even in the wintertime
  • It has to be relatively inexpensive
  • And it had to be someplace where I didn’t know many people.

In the end, it came down to Austin and New Orleans, and I went with the latter.

As for money, well, I’ve been taking in independent consulting and technical writing assignments for several years now, on an ad hoc basis (mostly from clients within the World Bank), and my plan is to expand that practice into an actual business.

Yes, god help me, I am going freelance.