4/100: Baltimore Permanency

Note: This is crossposted as a members-only post on Medium; if you have a membership there plz dear lord read it there and give a clap or two because it makes a sizable difference in My Little Universe.

This morning I woke up at 7:30am to rain. I gave each dog a smoosh: one on left by my feet (mine), and one on my right by my shoulder (not mine), and hoisted myself out of bed. Very strangely, and contrary to my sloth-like mid-afternoon wake up time, I felt grateful to be up at a “normal time” with something to do.

Roxy (Not Mine Dog) got picked up by her mama, I washed my face, and I put on a hat to face the rainy drive to Butcher’s Hill / Middle East (yes, there is a neighborhood in Baltimore named Middle East, apparently). I was a bit relieved and grateful to see that although this house was renovated in 2014 and looked lovely from the craigslist ad, that it’s still, as my new roommate (FORESHADOWING, THAT WAS FORESHADOWING) said, “In the hood.” Sigh. We’re white women.

So, I arrived, and slowly peeked my way around the house, with New Roommate as the guide. Big dining room with craft supplies on a big table and her bike tucked against a wall (You can put your bike in here, too. We can make this a place for bikes, I guess.) I picked up the cat she adopted two days ago and prompty accidentally threw him back on the ground. While she doesn’t have a name for him yet, we began consistently calling him Bartleby through the tour. I strongly prefer the abbreviated Bartle. (Heeey, Bartle! Hey Bart Bart!) He’s orange and little and has enough claws to keep my dog in line, should they not get along.

Dining room, living room, wide fancy kitchen. Cement fancy ass patio and a standing washer dryer. Down hella steep stairs to a low basement that I Do Not Have To Live In (physical relief in writing that – BUT I DID LOVE MY TIME IN THE BASEMENT, I AM #GRATEFUL), and then steep upstairs to get to My New Beautiful Room.

Dark hardwood floors, three long windows with shades *and* blinds, a real closet without mold growing on the floor, and a fabulously high ceiling. The room overlooks the street, and at 9am had perfect natural light. Yes, universe, Yes Thank God.

She showed me *my* bathroom (mine, only mine, No One Else Will Use It), with a bathtub and her room with carpet and an overstuffed closet. I giggled looking at all her shit because I am very doubtful I could fill my half-the-size closet even if I tried. Each time I move to a new state I get rid of another ten bags of shit, sans shoes. I have a disproportionate and inappropriate amount of shoes because I Just Love Them. Because when everything in my closet makes me feel like tweedle dee, my shoes fit fine.

So. Awkardly, in the hall between two bedrooms, with Probably Bartleby lounging with little cat snores on the little rug between us, we informally determined that I Will Move In.

THAT I WILL HAVE A HOME IN BALTIMORE THAT I AM SIGNING A LEASE THAT THIS IS REAL OH MY GOD

I am moderately nervous because a) it’s a 12-month lease which I originally had no intention of signing and b) it’s $500-a-month-plus-utilities which would be horrifically reasonable at any other point in my life aside from my first year of teaching but right now feels like a stretch and c) I literally spent 20 minutes with this girl before determining I can absolutely spend a year in a confined space with her.

I am, in addition to that, and largely overwhelming that, intensely grateful for this bedroom in this home with this woman who is working on her fourth degree despite being probably five years younger than me. I finally move out of the Mold Mildew Basement (which I am so grateful for!!!); I finally unpack the trunk of my car that has been packed since May; I get My Own Space for the first time since May; I am about to live blocks away from a huge park to both run and bring my pup to; I am about to live a 1.5 mile bike ride from Bowling Alley Work Time. I am so grateful. I am so grateful. I am so grateful.

Much love. Much, much love.

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One Week in Baltimore

Perpetually in the asking. Teetering between existing and loving and breathing in the absolute overhaul feeling of change, OR re-building, block by block, the life I used to have, but instead here, in Baltimore. Writing this, I can feel my core firm and my heels prepare to dig in the ground. I Do Not Want To ReCreate My Old Life. I want to keep floating; I want to keep allowing myself to Be in the new me Being In Baltimore. I know this; I have been doing it incrementally; it makes me so so Uncomfortable.

I have a hart time applying to jobs in Baltimore. Multiple applications I begin, and abruptly x out of the browser when it comes to Employment History. I am tired of writing about Denver Public Schools, Arkansas Teacher Corps, Teach For America; My Other Lives. I do not want to continue that, but I don’t know where else to Go.

There is nothing else to write. Maybe:

“Hotel banquets for 2 weeks, Annapolis MD”

“Tiny poetry books, sold 7”

“Okay at talking to people most of the time, I think”

I like saying yeah I’m used to moving across the country and acting like None of Anything is Ever a Big Deal. I like casual. I like Being Different because I guess that’s the most universal thing most humans like, Being Different. What is that book or quote or something about people wanting to be anything but ordinary? How horrible Ordinary is? I am trying to not be Ordinary, and in doing so am embodying the epitome of the Human Condition. So pat on the back for me!

I think about how Right Now is a strangely difficult time: I am tentative living in someone else’s place; I have very little above zero amount of money; I don’t have any insurance; I am banking on the graces of karma and the universe that nothing Horrible is about to happen; everyone I know here I have known for one week or less.

Sometimes, this Right Now makes my skin crawl: I take literally two hours to mentally get myself out of the house; I can’t fathom picking up a book for the sheer mental weight of it; I am scared to open windows and doors; I wake up at 1:30pm somewhat regularly; I cannot get myself to sleep before 6 or 7 in the morning; I smoke enough cigarettes for my body to rebel in chronic coughing (current life, that is, which is an arguably excellent way to Quit smoking, again).

AND YET, AND YET, MY FRIENDS: Sometimes, this Right Now can be self-affirming Baby Steps toward what this embarrassingly inspiring quick read (borne of this Medium post) sent to me by a God-Given Friend Delivered By The Universe calls your MUST. Musts are the stark contrasts to Shoulds, and lately I have found solace categorizing my behavior by the two:

  • SHOULD: have a job with consistent, regular hours, that is good for the world, that pays at LEAST $45k (which obviously means it’s salaried), that includes insurance and some kind of grown people clothes
  • MUST: take a job that requires next to no brain power but gets you out of bed and into the universe, requires you to do things like pick up dirty plates and roll silverware, that pays $12/hr and changes your shifts daily, that is a 45 minute commute and surrounds you with people you would otherwise never speak to
  • SHOULD: live in a “safe” block, neighborhood, city, that is full of people like you namely white middle class young professionals who are athletic and maybe with babies and monogamous relationships, where you have a place to park your car and a park you walk to and maybe a farmer’s market, and *obviously* you have your own space, room, kitchen, windows, keys…
  • MUST: rely on the kindness of a high school friend and his Karmic renting of two places simultaneously, use His Keys, His Bed, His Desk, His Kitchen, His Drawer, His Closet, His Floor; pay nothing and make mental notes of How In God’s Name you will ever repay him; become friends with 30 something entrepreneurs who are equally far from children and monogamy and feel strangely Not Weird about it
  • SHOULD: schedule and block days to be productive times; use the color coded web-based calendar system you relied on for six years to be Organized and Intentional with your time and resources and existence, Plan Everything, set benchmarks and goals for number of jobs applied to, neighborhoods to live in, museums to visit, people to have drinks with; generally micromanage all of your minutes to be highly productive and Prove You Have Worth (Quantitative and Qualitative)
  • MUST: sometimes sleep until 1:30, sometimes apply for jobs, sometimes abandon job applications; schedule next to nothing; attend social events on whims, attend tinder dates when provoked; allow days to pass without pre-planning or recording any of it; feel Mostly Fine staring at the wall, eating the exact same sandwich 8 days in a row, and having a breakfast of popsicles

I honestly don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, working toward, walking toward, waiting for. There are major elements of Daily Basis Terror, and also major elements of All Life Is Not Like The Last Seven Years. I am trying to not get stuck in excuses or paralysis, but also not pile boulders on my shoulders and act like they’re worthy accessories.

Two things that are staying with me right now in This Baltimore life are texts:

  1. From long time high school bestie / newish twin mom / DC thank God close to me friend: I’m sure [you’re having a hard time] because you aren’t throwing yourself into work! So what else can you throw yourself into
    (Because, you know, it IS an option to ‘throw myself into’ things other than work. The kind of obvious but revolutionary comment that sticks.)
  2. From tinder date turned daily check in friend, after I told him I am quitting smoking again because a) it made me so sick I can hardly sleep and b) I want to be better at soccer: I’m glad you know what you want. 🙂
    Because it’s laughable and at first I had a physical aversion to the comment (WHAT? NO I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I WANT! THAT’S THE PROBLEM!) but after three seconds I realized he’s right: I want to quit smoking, and I want to be decent at soccer. And those are Real Things that I can want, and that are just as meaningful, though different, from wanting to be The Best Teacher or a High Paying Job.

The Universe

I live in a basement. The walls where I sleep are bright green and the room itself is Alex’s – it’s a foundation of Alex with a layer of Caroline over most things. While he mostly lives in DC I mostly live here without living here. There’s a desk that’s his with a stack of my art. There’s a dresser that’s his that he cleared one drawer of to be mine. There’s a closet that has his shoes and the bottom and his hats at the top and my suitcases stacked in the right side of the middle.

I am close to crying at some point most days. Using Most Days as if it means something when I’ve been here Four Days.

I recently wrote about being terrified. I am. It’s real. And just as much so, just like I did my first months (my first year, really) in Dumas – it is terrifying but It Is Right.

I am terrified most of the time most every day, and yet validation comes in a constant stream. I don’t want to list this but I have to:

  • I went running yesterday after being on the verge of tears for Too Long and after sleeping most of the day. I had to clear my head and running tends to be the way to do that. I accidentally ran to the Baltimore Museum of Art, which happens to be across the street from a rather large lush green green park, the first one I’ve seen here.
  • While running, on my third day in this city, I hear my name screamed out a car window. Seriously. I look, mid stride, and see a dude hanging out an SUV waving who I recognize as someone I emailed from a Craigslist ad who happens to know Alex and is a soon-to-be-friend I haven’t met irl yet. Is this even real life?
  • A teacher become friend who’s wedding I attended in Little Rock lives in Annapolis and got me a job at the hotel she works at; a job that I began working st literally my second day in the city. I’ve always wanted experience in service, and there I get to play bartender, server, dishwasher and whatever else I want and no one minds.
  • I was invited to a happy hour then album release at which I was introduced to what felt like half the City because the few people I know (namely, Alex and anyone he introduces me to) knows literally have the city. At least.
  • After work tonight, getting back to Baltimore at 12:30, I’m invited to a perfect housewarming party that’s wrapping up. I walk in and immediately am told I’ve been waited for, I’ve been “hyped”, and people are excited to meet me.
  • I am immediately invited to play soccer on a pick up league, the singular team sport I love with a group that gives Zero Fucks about skill. THIS IS MY HAPPY PLACE AND I START PLAYING TOMORROW.

I could continue and I just can’t, because although I am consumed by terror half the time, all other times I am swollen with belonging and love and welcomeness and validation.

Finally, today I arrive back to this room with my perfect happy dog and a warmth from the housewarming, and there is an amazon package on Alex’s desk. Day four and I have mail (this is a landmark of comfort for me – mail) and it is a book from a woman I’ve met twice and instantly felt a commonality with, but would never expect a gift from. Inside is the book The Crossroads of Should and Must and that’s it. I’ve had it. I am done.

I can be terrified and alone and depressed and anxious for eternity, but no matter what I do, The Universe will be here. And right now the universe is in all caps screaming at me EVERYTHING IS OKAY. YOU HAVE DONE THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU.

Validation

I am having a hard time answering questions. From family and friends they give me a tight chest, wider eyes, an extreme desire to duck under a table. From strangers I deflect, deflect, deflect and instead do the asking.

I have been thinking about how much I’d like to go to therapy. Better than therapy: life coaching. In my head, that’s one place I could go and answer questions, and pose some, and mostly feel okay about freely sobbing.

My emotions lately are in a constant flux. I get an interview for a less-than-$15-an-hour job and I am elated. I have value! I am doing something for myself! I don’t hear back from a job I don’t even want but feel like I am qualified for and I am sunk. Who will they hire instead? Will they hire anyone? Are they even seeing my application?

I spend time with people I love and it feels so strange to be so Present. I don’t have a constant flow of urgent texts, emails, and calls from randos I’m dating or teachers in panic or supervisors needing something done. I’m noticing Michigan in a way I haven’t done in years. I’m seeing people who remember me as a person I haven’t acknowledged in so long.

The world feels foreign in its familiarity. I got so comfortable talking about the children I love so much, so used to the same chains of educational bullshit malfunctions in endless circulation: a teacher with chronically low expectations, an administration that struggles with consistency and budgets, curriculum that’s unresponsive, pay that is utterly ridiculous…

And now I am in a new new place. I wake up when I want to. I stay up until 3am writing in my journal. I look at people without the already built up defensiveness that You Don’t Have A Clue About This Life, and instead I am now looking with a wide openness: what can you teach me about the self I used to be?

These are the lessons I am learning. When a high school best friend’s mama reminds me of the duet poem we spoke to a high school auditorium: I remember when we practiced holding hands in sync with our eyes straight ahead over and over. Her mom reminded me the title, Natalie/Alicia, and my gratitude became a fountain. This life I have lived.

My cousin in Kalamazoo, he stopped on his way to a carpentry job 45 minutes away to say goodbye. Smoking his last Red of the pack, he said, Its my last one, but you can have a puff. In my pajamas he shared his cigarette with me, and when I handed it back for the last time he laughed to himself, said You’re just like your mom. My heart swelled with the remembering, fondly, of her imperfections. I’m not proud of my sporadic relationship with cigarettes, but I can’t erase that my family is full of us, that growing up my mom was perpetually sneaking cigarettes from everyone, the same way I do now.

Today I had a perfect winding walk with an Arkansas friend, who put words to rooted feelings:

You have to spend time unlearning…

It is hard to break the mindset that everything that’s not education is Less Than

I spent the night with two women, more mothers, who loved my dog and made me food in a warm crowded kitchen. Who told me stories and showed me pictures. Who are artists themselves, and have me in a place with my big toe jutting out, away from the Career Scheduled Box-Driven life I’ve been living. They say I jumped right into it from undergrad, they say this isn’t a path everyone takes. Cindy says, It make take a while to establish yourself as a writer, but you can do it.

My heart all a flutter just typing that onto my phone: A Writer, A Writer. I’ve been reading more Baldwin, with love, and holding it close. My favorite is a bit that Marc E Bassy samples in his song, Only the Poets (which I listen to incessantly), and I leave you with it:

It would seem to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily, of all human beings on the face of this globe to get to become human beings. It is not your fault, it is not my fault, that I write. And I never would come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do… The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.

Obsessed / Blessed

I am giddy just considering my life’s events of the last 48 hours. So many women who absolutely fill me up til I’m dripping love from my fingertips and earlobes, who give me apples and Cliff Bars and necklaces from my mama for the road, who validate me in a way that is so genuine and real.

After Saturday’s bout of shaking anxiety, I landed in hand after hand that pressed me with love and You Are Okay Vibes.

First all my pseudo sisters, Sho’s family and my baby niece. One of my favorite moments was when I was washing dishes from the dinner two sisters made, their first time hosting in their new rental house. They have empathy and meditative and kindness reminders posted all over, just like my aunties do, and I looked at them as I heard laughter and voices from the living room, as as Sho put Baby to bed upstairs, and the warm soapy water and repetitive nature of washing all wrapped me up and filled my pores and I Was So Home.

They love my dog and treat her quirks as quirks and we fit all of us into a tiny perfect space. French braided and read our poetry aloud. There is such a power that comes from being with Women.

Then saw Mom’s BFF since they were so young and her daughter that I’ve known and loved since she was born and I was rendered speechless with the immediate welcoming love that greeted me. I can’t pinpoint why it was so surprising and overwhelming – maybe because I am so rarely with people who have known me my entire life? Maybe because being in my home town felt warm again, for the very first time since my mother died there eight years ago? Maybe because now is a time when I feel so vulnerable, when I have literally nothing to offer anyone, as I drive across the country again just praying the car doesn’t break, and Still People Give.

From there, I drove to Detroit. The streets on the way in were so familiar and so foreign, burned out two story homes and new bars with murals – the city feels mine and Never Mine At All, the grit and dirt and streets and houses are so… they’re comforting. Never mind that the woman i was meeting, a close friend in undergrad that I haven’t seen since, was exactly as I expected and remembered: immediately radiating acceptance and warmth and joy, also showering me with grace and generosity, as we gave each other abridged versions of the last almost-decade of life.

And from her, and the night, I quickly realized that I think the time between now and Mexico City, when I need to save enough to pay off a credit card and sustain a few months without work in a foreign country and wait for my new passport… that I think it’s pretty clear I need to spend those months In Detroit, an I’m really fucking excited about it.

Yeah IDK

I woke up shocked that it’s possible to have this much anxiety with my life as free as it is. Legit confused, and angry at myself for having anxiety when I have nothing that can give me anxiety.

And what’s sillier is that it took me until now, four pm, to write it out and chuckle to myself. Remember how I don’t have a job? And my dog is getting stranger and stranger with all the transition and new people; her erratic behavior has me on edge. And I have no income. And I am starting a creative project that I am fighting embarrassment of –

I didn’t really process how much of myself I critique through some Hypothetical Other who thinks I’m an idiot.

I went to a baby shower for a friend from undergrad today. She has always been excessively kind and wonderful and warm to me, and yet I spent a full hour trying to settle my breathing, talking to myself as I showered, found clothes that were nowhere near feminine or nice enough to fit in, and gathered the gift. I ended up 20 minutes late, which made absolutely no difference for the event but had me clenching my teeth on the way in regardless.

Today’s reminder from the universe that I Am Okay was going to the coffee shop a mile from auntie’s for a cold brew before the drive to Traverse City and seeing another friend from undergrad behind the counter. She remembered me by name and we chatted about life and artistic endeavors and she radiated a warmth and safety I desperately needed in that moment (thanks, girl!)

I am expecting my 30s to be easier. This first two months has felt like someone picked me up by my feet and hasn’t turned me right side up yet. I am being stubborn as fuck about finding work: I’m Not Even Looking. I’m both paralyzed by the fact that I have no income AND heels in the ground determined to not do something just because it’s there, just because it’s reasonable. I am at some mental crossroads that right now is a mix between a dust storm and a hurricane.

Caroline, the fuck you doing?

Leaving / Arriving

My car is packed, again. It took four beers and a few hours to move all my shit from the Denver apartment to the Volvo S60. The gratitude I have for the fact that nothing busted or popped or went awry on the 16 hour drive here, to Michigan, is enormous.

At 6am, I met Katie for coffee and a croissant at a shop in Denver. It was like any other morning – our habit has been to meet up sporadically through the day: a morning breakfast; a work day coffee break; after work tv show and dinner; a vodka-something at night. Often I would meet her multiple times a day, in intervals. My heart is aching thinking about it, wondering if in another three years we will magically arrive in the same city, at the same time, with the same deep rooted friendship. I miss her.

I drove 16 hours with Blue (now half-the-time-called-Azul) through new parts of the country: Nebraska, Iowa, the same Illinois, the little bit of Indiana, then I-94 and the Oakland exit to Kalamazoo. I'm here.

Blue/Azul and I walked in the back door, made it halfway down the basement steps before both of aunties dogs were up and barking. A quick hug and I popped downstairs so she can sleep and I can try to calm my mind.

I love these long drives during transition. The first was Michigan to Mississippi, and since its been a long list of day long drives between major phases of life. Today the hours skipped ahead – by the time I was two hours from Auntie's I was nervous for it to end. I was unprepared. I was already nostalgic for the wide highways a orange full moon.

Recently I said to a friend, I like the weight of you, and he said I like the double meaning in that, and I can't get it out of my head. It's how I feel about Michigan: the weight of it.

I feel warm and familiar and wrapped up and loved. I feel secure and confident and like I know my way around emotionally and physically and geographically. I grew up in this city as much as my hometown; I lived here for five years. The weight of it a thick, cocooning blanket. A humid cloud hovering.

And yet, the weight of it has me immediately crying. I feel my mother here. She is all over this house, in photos and in footsteps and in the backyard. She's in the driveway and on the couch and in the bed beside Auntie. She has a glass of pink wine in the kitchen and she's sitting in front of a Christmas tree. Shes vibrating with anticipation for the drive and ferry to Beaver Island (where Auntie and I are going in a few days). She's walking the dog down the street; she'll be back in a minute, or an hour, or never.

I wish my mom was here, to celebrate her birthday. To meet my dog. To yell at me for not having a job. To help me figure out money. To hug me and try to get me to talk. I wish I had gotten more advice from her when I could, I wish I –

The weight of it, with family and familiarity and history comes expectations, and pressure, and a person looking at you remembering your birth and your adolescence and your emerging adulthood all at once. Being with an Auntie who knows me probably better than I know me. It's important, and I'm grateful, and it's heavy.

I can't wait to wake up in the morning and see the garden with a cup of coffee. To go running with my dog through the woods down the street, to apply for a few part time jobs and for my passport to be renewed. This is healthy and happy and love. I didn't know any of this was in my system until I started writing. I am so grateful to be here.