The War for Home

I lived in 13 houses/apartments before I turned 16.

Some of those were nuclear family moves from a small house to a larger one, but lots of those occurred after my mom left my dad and we stayed with friends or relatives for a while. As a result, I didn’t have my own room, really, until I was 15. A few years after my parents divorced, my mom bought a house, and I finally, after years of unfulfilled promises, had my own room. All that said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I hate moving and I’ve always wanted my own home.

When I got a job in DC after college, I had one weekend to find a place to live and another weekend to move into that place before I started work. I landed in a studio apartment downtown, on 12th & M, and intended to move when my lease was up the next year because the rent was crazy expensive relative to my income (about 50% of my paycheck rather than the finance-guru-advised 30%). But the psychic pain that accompanied the thought of moving (along with my not having any extra money to do so) and the desire for stability kept me in that apartment for 6 years. Only relocating to New York dislodged me from my studio.

My husband, on the other hand, has had the exact opposite experience. Until he went to college, he lived in two houses, the second of which his family moved into when he was 2 years old. As an adult, he bounced around from apartment to apartment, usually seeking cheaper rent or nicer amenities.

So, the four years we spent in our New York apartment were deeply treasured by both of us: him, for the stability of creating a home as a married couple; me, for not having to move from one place to another.

When we decided to move back to DC, we chose to get an apartment for a year and begin the search for our forever home, the place where we would raise our children and have family over Thanksgiving dinner and invite friends over for cocktail parties.

But the DC real estate market slapped us across the face and told us to quit dreaming.

The sticker price on something we’d consider a “forever home” in the District is approximately $2 million over our current budget. So we said, let’s get a starter, something we’ll stay in for five to seven years, then pray that it appreciates well enough (and we hit the lotto) that we can move into said forever home.

Last week, we found the perfect starter. It was in Brookland, an area of DC that neither one of us had hung out in, but we realized was actually really cute. It was a detached house (DETACHED!) in the city (IN THE CITY!) with grass (GRASS!) and a screened-in porch (PORCH!). We both saw our future selves raising our kids there in that city farmhouse (FARMHOUSE!). So, we bet the farm, went all in on an offer and even offered slightly more than would have been prudent for us to pay.

And we lost.

Someone out there wanted our city farmhouse so much more than we did that they bet not only the farm, but the contingencies that would ensure that the farm was worth what they were betting.

So, we lost a bidding war for a home. The thing that I’ve sought out for such a long time, the thing that my husband is so used to, neither one of us could get.

Well, not this time. There will be other houses. We will be comfortable. We will be stable.

So help us God, we will make our home.

Daddy’s Little Girl All Over Again

I’ve reached a pivotal point in my memoir, the summer of 2008, when I was 22 and pure curiosity led me into (and kept me in) a [sort of] relationship that would up being really, really awful. I did not want to write about this time period or this particular individual—who for the sake the of this blog post I’ll call Dean—because I didn’t want to give Dean any credence and I was happy having convinced myself that none of it had really happened.

But as I thought about the themes that have appeared in my story—desire for belonging and acceptance, finding confidence in who I am regardless of what others think or say of me—it only made sense to include my two-month relationship with Dean. You’ll definitely read more in the book, but Dean was a guy I met through an online community. We hung out once at a club, literally dancing the night away, and were attracted to each other. We were pretty different with respect to virtually everything—political views, religious views, values, time and money management—but I was willing to cast all of that aside because I liked Dean and, quite frankly, I was curious as hell about what went into being in a relationship in general.

Dean and I had a great time for few weeks, until he broke up with me via text message (TEXT MESSAGE), saying that we were too different so we shouldn’t date, but we could be friends. I, for some reason, went along with that suggestion, assuming it meant that we would hang out and talk as friends. But we never hung out again or talked, only emailed about really personal things. As I shared some of my deepest secrets in the written word, I felt closer to Dean and myself, being vulnerable to us both. Ultimately, Dean used my vulnerability against me, becoming the “moral police” who indicted me for everything I did wrong, including shopping with a credit card and making a joke about wanting a cigarette.

I was livid at Dean for about six months, and even then, I wasn’t sure why I was so angry. Writing this book now helped me see that, like my dad, Dean made me feel like being my imperfect self wasn’t enough. He called me an imposter, something that I still struggle with to this day despite my vehement argument to him, and myself, that I was and still am being authentic. He refused to accept me for who I was, and because I was only 22, that made me question myself and shook my confidence more than it had been shaken since I was a little girl. Dean made me feel the way my father made me feel, and I hated him for pushing me back in time to emotions that I had buried so deeply.

I met my husband shortly after the end of the six-month lividity period. When Rustin accepted my flaws, I thought I was being punk’d (and I still do sometimes, don’t say anything), but I relished in the freedom. All my life I’ve wanted the people I love and just plain like to love or like me for me, which makes me feel worthy of being loved or liked. My dad made me question that worthiness, Dean made me question that worthiness, but Rustin left me speechless.

The Fears Prompt

I don’t want this to be known as “The Fear Blog,” but fear is a theme that keeps coming up in my writing life that I was not expecting. I wasn’t expecting for it to be so consistent or pervasive. I’ve been stomping on fears one day after the next until last week…

As I’ve mentioned, I’m taking an online workshop with Sackett Street Writers, and it’s been a delightful experience so far. At the end of each lesson, there is a prompt of some sort to get to us to exercise whatever craft element we just learned about. Last week, our topic was “The Uncertain Self: Writing What Scares You.” In truth, I mostly blew my nose at it, until I got to the prompt, which was: “Make a list of ten things you’re ashamed of, or scared of, or feel vulnerable about. Pick one of those topics and write a short essay.”

Now, I tell myself that I am fearless (out of faith that one day I will be so; if you’ve read even one post of this blog in the past six months, you know that this is currently far from true), so thinking of ten whole things that scare me seemed impossible. Until it didn’t.

The biggest thing I feel vulnerable about is my career. Aside from tangential mentions of my last job experience in an essay or blog post here and there, I have largely avoided discussing the jungle-gym that makes up my resume. Because of that writing exercise prompt, I was finally able to write down on paper—with a pen, not even erasable pencil—that I felt like a failure because I couldn’t “cut it” in an investment job.

There was so much freedom that came with confessing this truth to myself. Instead of stomping on the truth to overcome it (or just look past it), I looked at this one. I made myself stare at the words on the page. I felt 20 pounds lighter.

I wish I could say that after looking the word “failure” for 30 seconds, I suddenly ran off to finish my memoir and bang out, like, 80 essays that I immediately submitted for publishing, but that’s not what happened. I wish I could say that I still don’t feel the sting of failure every day. But I do. But I’m glad that I can name the giants that I am facing. That way, one day, I’ll be able to clearly write their names on their tombstones.

Reading: The Cure for Writer’s Fatigue

The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt myself waning in my memoir. I wasn’t as excited about writing it. I kept wondering why my book was so long. I kept craving editing. I slept for long hours because I felt physically exhausted. I knew something had to be wrong. (I insist that the thought of “craving editing” was from satan, because who the hell looks forward to editing???)

Like any modern informed person, I took my symptoms to the internet. I googled “Is there a such thing as writing exhaustion?” and up popped several articles about “writer’s fatigue”! It’s a thing, folks!

Several websites listed symptoms such as:

  • Thinking everything you’re writing is crap
  • Trying to force the words out
  • Lack of enthusiasm about writing
  • Stalled word count
  • Unclear thinking
  • Frustration with sentence structure, vocabulary, etc.

Check all of the above off for me the past couple of weeks, and that explains why I’ve really only wanted to drink and sleep for days.

There were several suggestions to help alleviate writer’s fatigue, but those mostly ran the gamut of typical: exercise, napping, guided meditation. None of those resonated with me, so I had to do some thinking. What if, instead of putting out energy (generating), I took some in (consuming)?

So, I set about on a great experiment: I would read for a week to let the writer part of my brain settle down and relax while also letting the rest of my brain be active.

I read everything I could get my hands on, from books to newspapers to literary magazines, and across genres, memoir and fiction alike. I had quite a few essays to read for my creative nonfiction class at Sackett Street Writers online, so those were helpful, too.

Over the course of the week, I took in so much good writing. Yes, I still felt that I am nowhere near as good a writer as anyone published in the Paris Review, but I also learned a lot about a craft that I am really only just recently getting more acquainted with.

There is so much nuance to literary fiction and nonfiction, and that nuance comes from the authenticity of voice. I’m still finding my voice as I write, but now I feel more confident that I will step into it. I’m glad I gave myself the time for (educated) rest for a week. Yesterday, my first day back to writing, I banged out over 4,800 words. It was well worth the rest, my friends!