Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Being Homeless.

Yesterday, I slept in my bed for the first time in a week, then promptly re-packed my bags and headed out again (after a load of laundry, a stop at the bank, a cup of coffee). Point is, I've been moving from house to house for dog-sitting, and now that I've done it for several days, I have a system down:

1. Always pack extra socks.
2. Take the bus when you're transporting your laptop and soluble instant coffee from house to house. (I don't know if anybody's ever told you, but it rains Portland. A lot.)
3. Do not pack food. That shit is heavy, and there are several grocery stores in walking distance from where you are staying. 

Bonus from dog-sitting (besides cash dolla dolla bills bills)? I've learned that I love dogs. I'm still more on the cat-person side of the pet-owner-identity spectrum, but let's say I'm a Part-Time's my job.

When I moved to Sellwood at the beginning of December, I was delighted to have a room of my own again. My own bed. My own space to think in. A place to display my books (read: NOT stuffed in my suitcase). However, I quickly recognized some drawbacks to living in Sellwood: it's sort of far away from everything. And the buses are expensive and run irregularly. And even with the Springwater Corridor bike path, which cuts travel time in half, it often (surprise!) rains here, which I'm not about to bike in.

So, if I want to go out, I either have to leave early enough to catch a bus, get a ride, or sleepover at a friend's house. Sleepovers can be fun, but there's that moment the next morning when all you want is your bathrobe, or a clean pair of socks (which you forgot to pack), or your own bed to laze around in.

Before Sellwood, I'd been crashing on friends' couches for extended periods of time, and I am grateful. I would not be where I am now without their abundant hospitality and aid. I've enjoyed living in their living rooms, on their futon and couch, curled up with their furry friends. Seeing them every day--getting a chance to chat about whatever--has brought us closer, and it has also helped me process my headspace as I barrel onward in my life-journey. (Thanks again, guys. You know who you are).

Before that, I'd stayed at my parents' house for several weeks. Before that I'd moved from Daphne's flat in Nice, to another Niçoise flat--taking residence in a friend's room to split rental costs. I had my own bed, and lived there for several months, but it still felt temporary. In Scotland, I stayed in a hotel, a hostel, Natalie's parents' house, and one night, after a jaunt in Glasgow, on her friend's couch. In London, I stayed with Tom. I have not really not lived out of a suitcase since residing at 5 rue delille.

College was a longer-term temporary situation. I knew I'd be there for a while, but I was also aware of an end date. Hartwick is where I perfected my moving skills. That first semester, I co-inhabited a dorm room with my randomly-assigned roommate, Danielle (we're now nerd-compatriots), yet I quickly realized I needed to join the environmental campus, Pine Lake, after my tennis teammate took me there for a day trip one weekend and we made pumpkin soup with Ashley and Casey in Outback 1 (or was it Outback 2? I can't remember). After finals, Emily's mom helped Emily and me shuttle our belongings to our double in the Lodge. Summers, I boxed up my stuff and either packed it in the trunk of my mom's Toyota Highlander, or moved it, one or two parcels at a time, to my room in the Farmhouse (the Pine Lake summer staff house). Each semester I schlepped my books, bedding, random array of collected furniture (a rocking chair, a beat up arm chair, a rug) from Lodge room to Redwood 1, back to the Lodge. I went to Paris and packed minimally, taking on the French mentality of employing several basic, essential items of clothing, and accenting these with the orange and green scarf Shannon brought me from India, and my Salvation Army trench coat, and my sturdy black clogs (which served me well, carrying me across miles of Parisian cobblestone). 

I came home to the Cozy house in Oneonta with my one suitcase, stuffed with the books I'd acquired from patroning Shakespeare & Company. That was a great summer of barista-ing, beer, and trampolining. Then, one late-August morning, Shannon lent me her car so I could bring my many (sarcasm) possessions to townhouse A5 for senior year. I made a home with three hooligans: Olivia, Ben, and Aaron, and enjoyed providing refuge for stranded Pine Lakers whenever they needed a place to chill on campus. I stayed in townhouse A5 all year, and that was the longest residence I'd kept since moving to Litchfield, Connecticut with my family in 2009. 

Litchfield sucked. I managed to get a part-time barista position at Common Grounds Café, which allowed me to save my own money--(most of which would go to a J-term trip in New York City the following year), but I was still battling my parents for independence; I underwent non-stop identity crisis (there was never a dull moment); and it took me the entire year to find people I could be myself around. I still resent Litchfield to this day. I'm trying not to be so bitter about it, and in many ways the struggles I endured have helped shape me--for the better. What I struggle to understand is why so many of the people I met in Litchfield were assholes. Maybe my judgement has been clouded by retrospective, residual angst, but I feel like my peers could've been more inviting. Sure, there was the brief let's all meet the new girl phase, but no one really cared to get to know me. Not for a while, anyway. I just wanted to be seen, and very few people took the bait. (That being said, here's a huge shout out to Katie, Bridget, and Chris for encouraging me to air my freak flag in their presence. Thank you, guys, for making me feel not so alone).

Vermont, although it's going on six years since I've had an 802 area code, has the closest semblance to home. This is where I grew up. Where I fell in love with bookshops. Where I became a vehement devotee of cheese, maple syrup, poetry, mochas, skiing, New England weather in all four of its glorious seasons, sustainability, and community (although I wouldn't be able to articulate my appreciation for some of these things for some time). It's where I met my best friends, started second families, and built pockets of support systems. Vermont is where I first planted the seeds of wanting to become an artist.

Syracuse, the city in which I was born, feels as foreign to me as Mars. I have a mild interest in it, but no burning desire to visit any time soon.

This pattern of migration didn't start with me: I come from a family of nomads. My grandfather on my father's side was the son of a marine officer, and they moved from place to place all his life, until Granddad started a family with my grandmother in Ithaca, NY. My grandmother moved from Decatur, Georgia to Miami, Ohio, to Ithaca--this is where she raised her children and began her role as a grandmother--before moving to Sarasota, FL. And, of course, my mother, youngest of eight siblings, saved her money to leave Brazil and move to America...where she met my dad. My parents began their relationship in Washington D.C., went to Cincinnati for a bit, and then lived in Syracuse, which, if you've been following the story, you'll correctly guess is where me and my sister came along.

You can probably see why I have a difficult time answering the question, "So, where are you from?" When I'm living abroad, I have the opportunity to respond simply: Je suis américaine. But if people inquire further, things get messy. "Oh, I grew up in Vermont, but I've been living in ______," or "I grew up in Vermont, but my parents moved to Connecticut when I was a senior in high school," or "I went to college in upstate New York before teaching English in France last year and then for a couple of months I lived in a small town nearby where I went to college before moving to Portland. Cooperstown? It's where you'll find the Baseball Hall of Fame." I've always struggled with this question, never able to give a one-word answer.

Where am I from? If I'm being honest, I think the truest answer is that I'm not from anywhere. I'm homeless. Or, hometown-less.

I was talking to Tom about my hometown-less-ness, and he mentioned that the nomadic thing is an American thing. He has a point. The draw to discovery and adventure--to the west! To fortune! To fame! is an American quality. Plus, America has a wonky workforce narrative. People follow jobs, and jobs crop up depending on opportunity--across miles and miles of country.

For a long time, I'd been sort of sad about not having a hometown. But I've realized that many people aren't necessarily proud of their hometowns. In fact, a lot of American short stories, novels, poems, and plays all depict youngsters desperate to leave wasted-away, one-stoplight townships in search of something bigger. I need not cite fictional stories; my aunt Robin left small, college-town Ithaca for the Big Apple. I actually wanted to leave Vermont while I was living there. Everything is SO FAR AWAY. NOTHING happens here. I'm so BORED. Of course, promptly after leaving I realized Vermont is a beautiful, liberal utopia.

Many people leave the place in which they grew up in search of something else. Something grand. Something that fills them up and forces them to grow. People may not know why they want to leave, exactly, but they feel a call. So they go. And by leaving, they turn to homes fabricated, nestled in-between the cracks of the road. Sometimes home is on the road, in the form of of a car, ox-drawn wagon, minibus, or motorcycle. Many of the homes I've found and co-created I mention, in some form or other, in the story above: Pine Lake is a big one. 5 rue delille. Cozy. My friends' living rooms. But more so, many of these homes haven't been in actual houses. They've been found in relationships with people. I feel part of and rely on communities when I need support, comfort, a shoulder, a pillow, a ride, a conversation, a coffee, a hug, a kiss, a memory, a dream. These connections, lasting or temporary (oftentimes dormant for months before resurging when I need them most), are my homes. My many various, montage-y, bespeckled homes.

So, I'm not really homeless at all. Not really. I'm home-a-lot.

As I continue through life, I hope to maintain my open membership of these magical places. At some point, I'd like to have a homebase--where there are shelves to store my library, an open bed for a visiting friend, a kitchen for cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, a table for hosting pot lucks, a pillow to rest my weary head, a desk for working, etc. But home, simply, will always be, as it always has been, where the heart is. Awwwww. Aren't clichés nice?

I love so many of you and I hope you find the comfort and warmth you seek from your various homes; I hope you keep making new ones; and you are always welcome at mine.

Be well, and here's to a home-filled 2016!

Bonus. Have a poem I wrote:

I love you. I'm glad I exist.

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