Category Archives: home

A Room Of One’s Own

Every girl needs a crow’s nest – a perch from which to watch the world go by, reflect, and generate new ideas. At my prize beach flat in the Sunset, my crow’s nest was magnificent – a second-story wraparound window two blocks from the ocean that, while often hazy from sand, gave me a plum spot from which to think, dream, and create.

And then it all went pear-shaped. Between my cray-cray landlord and a new job in Marin, I had to pack it all in and head north, where I spent three and a half years in purgatory, a town otherwise known as Novato and in which the coveted crow’s nest remained elusive. None of the dwellings in which I lived had the space for perch in which to stretch my mind or creativity, and my blogging suffered. I did, however, pick up a crafting habit, and drove my Special Man Friend (SMF) insane by alternately making a cork nativity scene, painted onesies, and stuffed monster dolls on the patio table, coffee table, dining table/dog perch/office/sewing table, or any available surface I could find.

Now I’ve moved into a house where I can dedicate a whole room (squee!) to my creative endeavors – monster dolls! luminarias! blogs! nichos! writing a book! – and which has all the makings of a good crow’s next – okay, it’s on the ground floor, but it’s still got a big sky to contemplate and a respectable amount of people watching, not to mention birds.

I’m up early because today SMF and I are planning to get into the car and drive across the bay to Ikea (and I can’t begin to express how much SMF hates: being the car together for long periods, shopping, and giant places like Ikea) to procure items needed for my office, and he’ll spend the rest of the day alternately pounding things together, swearing and scowling. Even so, it was clear that resurrecting my crow’s nest was important to him, and not just to get my felt and paint off the coffee table. He knows that my nest is my soul, my creative engine, and that without one there’s just always a little something missing. He was the one who told me to put in an extra bookcase – a suggestion I think he’s sorry he made now. It’s been very touching to see how important ‘building me an office’ has become to him, and that’s the sort of thing that shows you that no matter how tempestuous your relationship is with someone, that at the end of the day, they really see you and understand what you need to be whole.

I am so excited about this office that I can hardly contain myself. It will have my Grandmother’s office shelves – all 8′ long boards of them, a pine bookcase my Dad pawned off on me twenty years ago that he stained black in a fit of 80s bachelorism that SMF has miraculously managed, through two days of aggressive planing (sanding did bupkis) and another two days of priming and painting, to turn white. It will also have a tall, slender bookcase with equally unique history that was passed from an old friend to an old housemate to me and also got the white-paint treatment. And the CD case I’ve had since my early 20s. And then the fresh, brand-new desks and Ikea bookcases. It will a place where I can pay my bills, hone my writing, and continue learning to sew.

When I was in college, my study desk was first in my room and then in a cramped half-room under some stairs with a window that looked out on a wall. It was a cell, really, and I did my time in there. I’ve written at cafe tables, on my coffee table, on my office computer, and occasionally at whatever awkward desk I’ve tried unsuccessfully to set up, but none of it has really felt right. But today, because someone special can see through the madness of my curtain and drawer organizer agonizing to my true and authentic need for a crow’s nest and love me enough to go through the hell that is building Ikea furniture, I’ll have a real room of my own. Thank you, Special Man Friend, for the vision, the muscle, and the love.

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When You Leave

This time I wasn’t deep into The Ugly Cry before I even hit the freeway onramp out of the airport – I managed to save that until I was safely behind locked doors. This time there were just a couple of pretty tears as I piloted my car through the British fog that enveloped San Francisco, foot to the floor, aiming towards the deep heat of Marin. I kept it all at bay as I went shopping at World Market to cheer myself up – a few new votive holders, a bag of interesting-looking pasta, drawer liners. Anything to keep me from thinking of how you’re gone now.

 

When you leave, the earth tilts beneath my feet and there’s no compass here, no way to know which way is up. North, south, our eternal question (now that east and west has been solved). Straight forward or ass-backwards, it’s hard to say. The fountain you set up this morning is gurgling away in a lovely melody, but all I hear is your absence. The rancho, this petite little treehouse in the middle of a place we’d never otherwise come if time and circumstance hadn’t dropped me here on my head, is too big. The Arabic-looking bedspread is gone, stripped and sent to a better room, one with more life.

 

In these hours after you go back to your real life and I to mine, it’s always the same. The quiet – not the kind I like and strive so hard for – the trail of pretty things you always leave, too much food in the fridge we didn’t end up eating. Your bottled water on the counter, the ghost of Egyptian musk that will dissipate within hours.

 

Thank God for the dogs. They bark, bringing life to the house, and they require me to be present, to not slip into the miasma of  self-pity and ennui that always follow your departure, to leave the tequila and the medicine cabinet alone.  I’ll go through the motions – feed them, water the garden, wash the dishes, get things ready for work tomorrow – all the while walking around with a ragged hole blown through me, since the other half of my soul has landed four hundred long miles away, alone in its own house, but not yet at home.  

The Poppy Fields

People generally come in one of two varieties – those who stay in their hometown (whether a depressing little steel-mill burg or a palm tree-punctuated paradise), and those who leave it. I’m a leaver. So are most of my friends. Some places seem harder to extract oneself from than others – I guess when you’ve got nothing to look forward to but a career in checkout at Wal-Mart or the sterility of a vast suburb filled with faux-Spanish Revival McMansions, it’s a no-brainer. In other cases, it’s not so simple.

I’ve been in love with two small-town men now and let me tell you, if I was suspicious of small towns before, I’m now positively paranoid. Both (the towns, not the men) had striking similarities – a verdant greenness bordering on the obscene, a plethora of pastoral fields, and a veneer of bucolic serenity thinly veiling a rabid insularity and a drinking culture that would make Amy Winehouse and Brendan Behan look like teetotaling Mouseketeers.

In my ex-husband’s small Irish border village there were two tiny convenience marts, a post office, a library, one daily bus into and out of town, and five bars. And not one ATM. Getting a job in a local factory was considered an enviable gig and the proportion of out-of-wedlock infants born to teen parents was inversely proportional to the number of college degrees earned by the town’s kids (to my knowledge: zero). There was an uncomfortable element of schadenfreude to the failures of one’s peers (for example, my ex having gone off to America and come back with little to show for it) and the hangover of the historical Irish suspicion of success and concepts of ‘gettin’ notions’ served to keep any inappropriate ambition in check. Expectations, in short, were low, and time passed with that syrupy rural slowness in which the long summer days bleed into one another in a way others might find peaceful but I find numbing.

In my most recent boyfriend’s (‘Tree Guy’) West Marin town, a glittering jewel on the the tip of the Point Reyes Peninsula, there is one bar, and it is all that matters. Other than the town’s notorious insularity and locals only ethos (‘our beach, our waves, our girls, go home!’), it is its singular calling card and the hub around which all spokes rotate, and has been so since 1851 (it’s also got the only ATM for miles – heh – tell me that isn’t strategic marketing). The topsy-turvy little hamlet is the kind of place that makes it difficult for some to know which way is up, its gestalt a heady brew of spectacular natural beauty, 60s counterculture radicalism, redneck isolationism, straight-up self-indulgent hedonism, and a moral slipperiness that seems to breed adults in an arrested state of adolescence.

The first time Tree Guy took me to hang out there, I was keenly reminded of my misspent youth in San Diego, afternoons and nights on the beach, at house parties and nightclubs, in parks and parking lots; drinking, dressing up, being seen. Back then there was just as much mischief and mayhem and dysfunction going on as anywhere else, and a lot of that same ‘locals only’ vibe, but the difference, and I recognize this only now, was this sense that we were all going somewhere. Maybe we didn’t know where, exactly, but the forward trajectory was palpable. It wasn’t so much a ‘goal-oriented’ mindset as it was some sort of expectation out of life, the sense of putting one foot in front of another, being open to possibilities, and keeping it moving.

This same sense of motion feels largely absent in Tree Guy’s hometown, with the requisite exceptions. The town’s progeny tend, true to form, to be disproportionately divided amongst two groups: those who venture over the mountain and keep roaming, and those who either never leave or boomerang back and are suspended, like amber, inside the prism of their history. It seems this place produces either exceptional high achievers or stunning underachievers, boasting more than it’s fair share of legal troubles and substance abuse woes.

On the one hand it seems a lawyer-heavy town, producing soy-eating kids who grow up to score their JDs before 30, which for such a lawless place is pretty interesting, don’t ya think? Tree Guy once commented that very few of the girls get out, but the ones who manage it tend to do extremely well for themselves, which I find true across most subcultures – the females who do rise above do it with a vengeance. There also seems to be a healthy crop of musicians, artists, and DJs whose work is, and I mean this sincerely, really good.

On the other hand, there is the dark side of those who don’t make it out, whether literally or metaphorically, who cling to their town tribalism as fiercely as they do the bottle, only growing older and more fossilized in the nautilus shell of their pathology, days and months and years disappearing beneath the fog and eucalyptus groves. There’s a heavy incidence of alcoholism (as is probably true of many small towns), yet an attempt at sobriety is met with, on rare occasions, awe and admiration or, more ordinarily, derision – as though it were an indication of a lack of (rather than evidence of) character or, worst of all, a compromised masculinity – which is nothing short of criminal, in my very unsolicited opinion. The bitter aftertaste of that Irish ‘gettin’ notions’ and ‘not knowin’ yerself’ rises in my throat when I witness this betrayal and the pressure to remain complacent, stagnant, to just drink a beer and pretend everything’s OK while the years flow by like the tide and lives fall apart in spectacular fashion.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty about both places that I deeply appreciate, and I met some priceless people that I have a sincere fondness for, but for me there is a genuine terror of the way consciousness and evolution are held hostage by complacency and how time passes like molasses, the narcotic torpor of summer days on the boozy beach giving way to winter mornings beneath the dripping canopy in an endless, hypnotic, poisonous cycle, all ticking by and melting into the same narcoleptic river of time, day in and day out, everyone asleep in the poppy fields, dreaming without waking.