Dream when there’s nothing to feast on: A two-hundredth blog post

For several weeks I’ve been agonizing over my two-hundredth blog post—which you’re reading right now. I

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 9.38.28 AMwanted to find something particularly poignant to say, some summation of everything I try to express with this blog: the humor and pathos of working in a newsroom filled with characters more strange and interesting than anything I could ever write; my passion for writing and uncharacteristic optimism about my prospects as a novelist; the insane and utterly incredible joy I derive from everything relating to books; and likely something about my progress promoting my first book, editing the second, and writing the third.

Instead, my thoughts are filled with houses, and I spend my days budgeting my time between my full-time job, the aforementioned novels, and the second job I am about to start in order to hopefully finance one of those houses I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

Adulthood, for me, has been something of a struggle between my love for play and desire to stick determinedly to my ideals—which some might call my youthful side—and the inescapable fact that I have bills that must be paid, that I must sign up for insurance despite truly believing insurance companies are Satan, and my growing longing for that damn house. The cute little grandma cottage that I can paint whatever color I want, with a small yard where the dog I adopt from the shelter will happily play.

For a long time I’ve done everything I could to ruthlessly suppress that vision. Writers—even the ones with full-time jobs—don’t buy houses. It’s just not possible, and the sooner I accepted this fact, the easier it would be for me to pretend I don’t envy those who happen to find themselves with a home of their own.

Besides, I spent the majority of my 20s fantasizing about being a published author, and when you’re working toward a lifelong dream, it’s easier to set other dreams aside for a little while. But now that I’ve accomplished Dream #1, it’s been more difficult to repress those other dreams.

After some encouragement from a friend, who happens to be an artist who happens to own a home locally, I went to talk with a lender and discovered two extremely shocking things: I have excellent credit and though my income is low, I could get approved for a small loan. It was one of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received, just the possibility of that little house with a citrus tree in the backyard, not terribly unlike my grandmother’s house.

All I have to do is somehow muddle together a small down payment—apparently 20% was a huge overestimation, and I can buy my way in with 5% or even 3%—and round up my tax documents for the lender to confirm all those pesky numbers. I’m guessing it will be stressful, I’m also guessing that the process will not be pretty, but after you’ve self-published a novel, filling out a few forms and meeting with lenders and CPAs sounds like a walk in the park. I guess that’s the beauty of accomplishing something so personally significant and improbable that it comes to define you: everything else seems doable, for better or worse.

Having something of a Peter Pan complex comes in handy sometimes—namely when I’m organizing a hide and seek night for my adult friends or reflecting on how much free time I have by virtue of the fact that I don’t have any children—but it has its cons as well. I am terrified of buying a house, scared of the commitment, of being trapped in a single place, of making a bad financial decision. And it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be afraid of something you want so desperately. But then I remember how scared I was to hit the “publish” button for Scourge of the Righteous Haddock and how scared I was to go away from college when I was 18. So maybe growth means fear, maybe I’m not the only adult who’s scared to be an adult. Maybe a house that means that I can adopt a dog and grow a garden is worth conquering those fears for.

But, perhaps more importantly, maybe there’s a way of approaching this whole adulthood gig without sinking into a routine of boredom and fear of playfulness and not always taking yourself too seriously. Maybe I can incorporate my rebellious streak into my home, as I’ve already done with my choice of career.

I’ve been processing my conversation with the very considerate lender I met with last week over the course of the weekend, which I spent in San Francisco eating incredible food and attending incredible events (is it any wonder San Francisco’s my favorite city?).

While sitting in a haze of marijuana smoke—not my own, but that of pretty much everyone around me—at the free outdoor showing of Ghostbusters in Dolores Park, it was easy for my doubts about my qualifications as an adult to get the better of me. Here I was, surrounded by fellow lost boys (so to speak), drinking chocolate milk and eating sesame bars out of my purse and bouncing happily to what has got to be one of the most beloved soundtracks of all time. Are those the actions of a responsible homeowner?

And the following day when I started my day with cinnamon toast, followed by lunch at Dynamo Donuts, I wondered: Does someone who eats dessert for breakfast and lunch have any proper business owning property? Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to be institutionalized?

And still later, when The Mountain Goats finally took the stage at a club called Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m., three and a half hours from home on a Sunday night with work at 8:30 a.m. the next morning, and all I could think was, “Holy shit, this band speaks to me” and “Holy shit, this club has vegetarian hot dogs,” a respectable adult might find something delinquent in this behavior. But I had found something I was passionate about, something that stirred depths of feeling most music couldn’t even dream of touching, and so what if I was surrounded by 18-year-olds that had stayed up the night before making Mountain Goats buttons to pass through the crowd? The drive home in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night was not entirely pleasant, but guess who was at work the following morning? (Probably not the 18-year-olds with Mountain Goats buttons, but I was.)

And later that day, when I found myself, exhausted and possibly with a bit of a cold, getting a typewriter tattooed into my arm by the incredibly talented Jillian Wefald, it was difficult to banish all the strange and petty criticisms about tattoos, the implication that they represent a kind of recklessness and disregard for society typically frowned upon. The funny thing about being a tattooed atheist is that neither of these designations prevents me from crying at the thought of harm befalling an animal, or obsessing about damage to the environment, any and every injustice ever committed, the plight of women in the Middle East (and everywhere), the fact that there are hungry children, whether I do enough for other people, whether it’s possible to do enough for other people.

Maybe I was born to dispel the myth that the only people fit to be homeowners are millionaire bankers who would never dream of getting a tattoo or spending the weekend drinking chocolate milk in Dolores Park and watching Ghostbusters, and going all starry-eyed and dreamy listening to John Darnielle sing “god bless all petty thieves with tins of oysters up their sleeves, feast when you can, and dream when there’s nothing to feast on.”

On my thirtieth birthday, four long months ago, I posted thirty accomplishments that made me feel better about the milestone. And the next day I followed that post with a list of forty things I hope to accomplish, do, and see by my fortieth birthday. Some things were easy. Writing more books, visiting new countries. But the thing I really wanted—a house—I almost decided not to include because it seemed so impossible and I don’t like setting myself up to fail. And also, I wanted it so damn bad and admitting that desire publically would be like rubbing salt in the wound if I could not find a way to purchase a home. Then there was some little part of me that felt embarrassed to call attention to such an ordinary dream. Of course I want a house. Who doesn’t? Why is that even worth mentioning?

Two weeks ago I attended my half-sister’s high school graduation ceremony, a source of great pride but also Screen shot 2014-06-05 at 12.52.05 PMconfusion as to how the kid who was just born, yesterday it seems, was now about to launch into college and adulthood and become a computer engineer. Most days, I have a hard time navigating my way around gmail. I felt old, and thought a great deal about the 12 years that have passed since I graduated, comparing where I am to where I thought I would be—a damaging exercise given that my ambition was not at all tempered by the realities of taxes and disappointments and generally the cost of everything. But I have done a few things right and I think there are a few accomplished that might impress even judgmental, world-is-my-oyster, 18-year-old me.

I can run a newspaper, which is no mean feat even under the best of economic times, and these are not the best of economic times.

I am part of a community of artists and dreamers who support and inspire me. And somehow I never factored in the presence of community when I was 18 and plotting to conquer the literary world.

I published a book. Which is actually a lot more difficult than sitting back and having a publisher do the work for you. And while it was not my first choice, I learned a lot, and again, received help from some truly incredible people.

I can spend the weekend glorying in the entertainment and delicious food in San Francisco, even feeling slightly under the weather, make a late-night drive home, go to work the following morning, and chase all of that with a four-hour tattoo which, frankly, hurt like the hell. Which really means that I can balance work and play and am willing to endure a certain amount of pain for the things I really want—in this case, a stunning typewriter as the second of three phases of my literary sleeve tattoo. It’s possible that I can balance the things I must do with the things I want to do with the passionate determination I don’t tend to associate with adulthood.

I’m not really certain why I feel compelled to waste my precious two hundredth blog entry justifying my desire for a home. Mostly, the idea just feels like one of those things that are too good to be true and when something sounds too good to be true, my impulse is typically to talk myself out of it before something else intervenes to ruin my plans. And rather than do that, because I’m becoming increasingly confident that I can and should fight for my little yellow house (I did mention that it was yellow?), I’ll leave you with the words of John Darnielle …

“god bless all my old friends, and god bless me too, why pretend?”

… and the artwork of Jillian Wefald …

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Comments

  1. It seems to me that someone who can express her desire for a home so eloquently certainly deserves to own one. Here’s hoping you find your writer’s abode. Time well spent for your 200th blog!

  2. In the wake of my divorce, nothing made me feel more free and renewed as buying (and shackling myself to) a little house did. Good luck! I hope you find something you love with lots of room for an adopted pup 🙂

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