M is for: My Mother’s House

“Home” is wherever my mother lives. Which means home has been places I’ve never actually lived like Boulder, Colorado, and Rockville, Maryland. Anywhere she is, when I go there, I’m going “home.”

And here I am for this Easter weekend, for the belated celebration of Fox’s birthday. Home. With my family. The place I can always be the absolute, 100%, full, entire Stacie. I can say every nonsensical thing, can be as unclever as I sometimes am, can look a mess, can just breathe deeply. I have that ease with some of my friends, but it’s still not the same as what I feel at home. Even when it’s tense here, there’s still that comfortable pocket of freedom to be myself. I feel supremely lucky to have this space.

And tonight, Fox and I are hanging out, listening to music, watching videos … and it’s all I want.

__________

Orishas

A Lo Cubano
pulsing on the stereo —
this music, my heart
every beat calling my name.
What is the secret
connecting this to my soul?
Piece of history
or a piece of who I am:
under my skin, beyond words.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Stacie doesn’t live there anymore.

Determined to write more than two sentences tonight, I went back through the daily writing prompts that Lisa (aka Satsumaart) sent me a couple of years ago to see what would catch my eye. The first prompt I saw had me composing my post even before I clicked onto this page: Moving

I’ve moved a lot. I moved once a year for the first six years that I lived in New York. I once moved after only nine months.  I hate moving house, and yet nothing seemed strange about the fact that I was changing apartments so often.

The place a moved to from my mother’s house was an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, on the edge of Chinatown. An apartment I shared with a friend and a guy I didn’t know who was eventually swapped out for a woman I didn’t know. It was a great place — an almost 1600sf loft with lots of sunlight and a roof we could hang out on. I loved living down there, but I left so I could look for a place my sister, Fox, and I could share. I found a big, cheap, two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights: $50 less rent than I’d been paying for my one room on Ludlow Street! That was when we started calling ourselves The Poverty Twins. We had so much nothing. One chair, futons on the floor, my old stereo, and the cast iron skillet we found in the apartment. We were a little pathetic, but we had a good time living there, a good time living together. We left when we learned that we were living above drug dealers who didn’t hesitate to murder one neighbor as an object lesson for the rest of us. That was a lesson we learned quickly. We moved to Brooklyn.

That first Brooklyn apartment remains, to this day, the biggest, most extraordinarily beautiful place I’ve lived.  It was the bottom 2/3 of a house. The house was bigger than a brownstone, maybe half again as wide, and Fox and I had the parlor floor, the ground floor, the basement and the back yard (complete with grape vines!). We had more room than our furniture-less selves knew what to do with: two bedrooms, living room, formal dining room, sun porch, and mud room. We had ceiling fans, built in book shelves and desks in the bedrooms, decorative and working fireplaces and a fabulously-appointed kitchen with an extra large fridge, tons of cabinet space, windows onto the back yard and counter space for miles (seriously, about fifteen feet of counter, plus an extra little 2-foot side counter and a counter top in the pass-through to the dining room that was bigger than the entire cook space in Jill Santopietro’s kitchen 4b cooking videos). We also had what a friend of mine called a “love-making tub” … a big, jacuzzi-like thing in a room with dark wood and slate-tiled walls and little sconces with soft-glowing bulbs that were great for ambiance (but crap for putting on make up).

I was hugely spoiled by living in that house.  I love where I live now, but I still think longingly of all the space I had there, of the craziness of our grapevines taking over the yard, of having our first Christmas tree (a tall, half-spindly thing that we made all the decorations for, including popcorn garlands), of how at home I felt immediately. Of how comfortable we were living there with all that space we didn’t need (we had two large rooms we never even used, that’s how much too much space we had).

We didn’t want to leave that place, but any thought of putting down roots were quashed almost immediately when our new landlords told us they wanted to sell. When we left, Fox moved to Eastern Parkway, and I moved across the street to my first on-my-own apartment. That apartment was a hot mess: fleas, collapsing walls, corroded plumbing, strangers with keys (a scary, early morning discovery!) and some creeping brown sludge that bubbled up from the baseboards and ruined my futon. That was the nine-months place … and only my complete lack of money made my occupancy last so long. I couldn’t afford to move.

When I finally left, I moved to a place on Lafayette that I really liked. That was the first apartment in which I had the thought of actually settling. I had good landlords — kind, considerate, attentive to problems — and the place got lots and lots of wonderful light. There wasn’t even half enough closet space for a near-hoarder like me, the floors slanted, and the bathroom was small and awkward and shower-only. Still. I loved it there. I had good neighbors, had both north and south-facing windows, including a room-wide picture window with a nice sitting ledge that the cats and I enjoyed equally. I probably could have lived there happily for years. It looked like this:

Two closets? And not even big closets? As if that would ever have worked for me. So that little room on the side, instead of being my bedroom, which would have made all the sense in the world, became my storage room. The room at the top was my giant I-could-cook-for-an-army-in-here kitchen, and the picture window room was my everything else room. I kept thinking of things I would do to make the place more like home: build an island for the kitchen, get bookshelves, paint, get carpeting, unpack the little room and set it up as my writing/craft space … so many plans that came to nothing. I unpacked hardly anything, and then it was time to move. A friend got me interested in the idea of sharing an apartment, and I liked the thought of paying less rent, so I left my pretty, sunny little place behind.

Next, it was on to Eastern Parkway (Fox had already left for Park Slope). My friend and I found a place right across from the Botanic Garden. I enlisted my brother and sister-in-law’s help, hired a man with a van (a funny Russian guy I got along with so well my brother thought he was a friend, not a hired hand) and schlepped my life over to a big duplex apartment with two bathrooms and a garden. The entrance was into the upper floor. My room mate took the bedroom on that level, a space she shared with the kitchen, bathroom and our living/dining room. Downstairs was a huge open space with a smaller, shower-only bathroom and the door leading to the garden. I took that space for my room. We had some wacky notion that we would eventually set things up so that we had a living room area downstairs, too, but in my heart I knew that was never going to happen. That would have meant I was living in public, and I wouldn’t have liked that. Basically we shared the upper floor, and I kept the downstairs to myself. A very uneven distribution of territory. I also got the garden, but that was mostly because I was the only one interested in working it.

After 18 months of swanky duplex living, an out of town friend came to visit and when I brought her down to my space, she gave me a funny look, asked how long I’d been living there. When I told her, she shook her head. This is kind of how our conversation went:

“Why haven’t you unpacked?”

“What are you talking about?  Of course I’ve unpacked.”

“Stacie.  Look around.  This space is full of boxes.”

“Oh that.  I just haven’t gotten to that yet.”

“In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you unpacked.  What do you think that’s about?”

In that moment, I thought it was about her being nuts. Of course I’d unpacked in every placed I’d lived … except then I thought about it and realized how very much that wasn’t true. Not only was I moving like I had the law on me, I was keeping my life in boxes so I’d be ready for the next move. So I freed my possessions. That was the first apartment into which I fully moved … and then I only stayed there another year and a half before moving to Park Slope. Fox had moved to DC, and I moved into her old apartment, with her old room mate.

I almost let myself believe that I’d learned my lesson about unpacking, that I should stay in boxes because obviously I was going to keep moving. Instead, I forced myself to unpack, to set up my bookshelves and find places on them for all my stuff. And I stayed there for about five years, so it was good to be unpacked, to walk into my rooms at night and see all my stuff.

After that it was a move downtown to a too-small apartment into which I should never have moved. I entered that place under a cloud: one of my cats had just been euthanized, my decision to move had put a strain on one of my best friendships, I’d just broken up with my crazy Russian boyfriend, my awful mover couldn’t get the job done until after midnight — which meant that, even before I was in the apartment, I’d had a fight with one of my new neighbors. I closed the door at the end of the move-in and sat down and cried.

I was never able to unpack in there. It was too small to hold all my things — I’d exiled almost all of my furniture to a storage unit in Vinegar Hill, and there wasn’t enough space to unpack the things I kept with me. I did the best I could, but still felt like I was living out of boxes. I hated that place, and yet I was there the longest I’d lived anywhere since leaving my family. Years of living in a place I hated simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of another move.

And now I’m here. While it’s true that I wouldn’t have found this  apartment if I’d left the last one any sooner, finding a place as nice as this one makes me that much more sad to have stayed in the last one as long as I did. But now I’ve lived here longer than any place since leaving home, and that feels just right.

Have I settled in here? Let’s see: I rescued all my furniture from storage (full disclosure: I opened that storage unit door and almost cried to see my things after seven years away from them!), I’ve bought book shelves, arm chairs and … a sleeper sofa! In my mind, that last is a real indicator of making the place you live into a home, having a sofa and having the ability to comfortably host sleepover guests must mean you have a real home, yes?



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

The Quiet Before

Everyone’s bundled up home, hatches battened, larders stocked. We’re all just waiting now, waiting for whatever this storm is going to be. Schools and elevated subway service have already been canceled … and the HR department at my job has already sent out their favorite mass email about how we don’t get to have snow days, that we have to use vacation days if we choose not to come to work. Right. Thank you.

We’ll see what the morning has in store for us. The forecast is calling for all manner of nonsense for our mid-March Nor’ Easter: 12″ to 18″ of wet, heavy snow is the stand-out highlight of the forecast for me. I’m ready to stay snuggled up inside all day, working from home, drinking spicy tea with honey and maybe treating myself to the bread episode on the new season of The Great British Baking Show (2 seasons were added to Netflix when I wasn’t paying attention!).

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll spend a little time writing and drawing, two things I both want and need to be doing. A snowy day is good for both.

I know the saying is the calm before the storm, but I like “quiet.” Not all storms come quietly, but I can usually count on that with a good snow. And, after the storm, there’s the way snow seems to muffle sound … which is a real thing, it turns out, not just a thing that feels true but isn’t. Snow is a muffler!

Here’s hoping all of us East Coasters ride this one out smoothly, warmly, and safely! ❤



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

Finding home, making home, being home.

Nine years ago today, I woke up surrounded by boxes, the sound of my kittens chasing each other up and down the length of my new apartment.

I’d moved in on December 30th, surely one of the worst times of year to move. I got lucky, though: no snow, no ice, a brilliantly sunny day. And the move went super smoothly. I’d hired a real company for the first time, not 1) a man-with-a-van (though that nice Russian van-man who’d helped me three moves prior had been great), or 2) a fly-by-night mover who uses 20 rolls of tape to “secure” your already taped boxes and charges you double the normal price for each one … and still manages to break stuff getting your boxes into your new space. No. I’d hired a for-real mover. And the difference was absolute. I’d never had such a stress-free move.

Still, when they left, I just sat on my bed staring. So many boxes. And only two days before I had to be back at work. And where were my clothes?

But then I woke up on New Year’s Eve. Yes, surrounded by boxes, but so relieved. I was in a space so much bigger than my old apartment, so much more like a home than my old apartment. I was in a place with all of my things — unlike having most of my furniture in storage for the whole time I’d lived in my old apartment. Yes, it was a mess, and I had a lot of box-living to do until I sorted it all out, but it felt good. I woke up smiling.

Nine years is a long time for me to live somewhere. A LONG time. When I first moved to New York, I was moving pretty much every year. Really. I lived in one apartment only six months … and that was 5½ months too long — it was a terrible place! That year-after-year pulling up of stakes meant that I never really unpacked because I knew I was probably going to move again in a short while, so what would be the point? That’s a way to make your whole life feel impermanent. And, while there’s probably something spiritual and meaningful about that, it’s also a lousy way to live. For me, anyway.

Today, my kittens, are 9½-year-old cats. I have added new furniture to the beloved pieces I took out of storage. I’ve added more bookshelves. I’ve set up my sewing table. I’ve framed (some) pictures and put them on (some of) the walls. I’ve gotten to know neighbors. I’ve settled in. I live here. And there aren’t a lot of things that could make me happier.


I’m saying goodbye to 2016 remembering my arrival in my cozy abode and looking forward to a deep dive into my writing and other creativities in 2017. Get ready for #52essays2017! I hope you’ll all join me!

griotgrind_logo

All the Comforts of (a Tiny) Home

Still thinking about the Hotel Leyland. That milk truck wasn’t enormous, but it never felt small. Roger and David had outfitted the living space with a kitchen — sink, stove, fridge, and cabinets — and a small dining table with seating for four. The dining area was surrounded with bookshelves (and, as I said in the Leyland post) most of those shelves were full of Dick Francis novels. At the back of the truck there were long, cushioned benches with storage beneath.

A bathroom would have made the Leyland perfect and self-contained. But our camp grounds had bath houses, so we were just fine.

Thinking about the four of us living in that truck for two weeks — and the men living there for a couple of weeks before meeting me — made me think of my fascination/future-fantasy of tiny-house living.

I flat out LOVE the idea of a tiny house.* I admit that, greedy-for-space girl that I am, the idea is a challenge, even knowing that the footprints of the tiny houses I’ve designed for myself are all bigger than the standard. Still, this is a way to approach living in the world that pleases me enormously.

Part of me always backs away from the tiny house idea precisely because I know how greedy for space I am. But remembering how comfortable I was in the Leyland makes me wonder. Yes, of course, that was a couple of weeks while I was on vacation … when I was 22. But I am intensely claustrophobic (surely at least some of why I am obsessed with space), and I never had one twinge of that in the Leyland. I just felt comfortable.

Naturally, when I went online (consulting Dr. Google, as Roxane Gay says), I found plenty of people who have made homes — not just vacation homes, but full-time, this-is-where-we-live homes — in old buses and various kinds of service trucks.

I don’t so much see myself in a converted bus, but I like seeing that other people have made that work. My fantasy is an amalgam of the Cal Earth dome houses and a tiny house. And again, a larger footprint, probably between 750 and 1,000 square feet. (Yes, basically the size of three tiny houses! Look, I told you I was greedy for space.)

Of course, it’s a long way from thinking about small-house living and actually living in a small house. Never mind just how much I don’t know about building a house, about plumbing, about wiring, about anything that has to do with construction. There’s the equally large question of where would this house be built? I don’t happen to have a random piece of vacant land in my back pocket. So, clearly this idea is going to stay a fantasy for some time. But writing out the story of the Leyland makes it seem much less an impossible dream, and that makes me happy.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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* If you haven’t heard about this itty-bitty-abode movement, you can find excellent examples of tiny houses all over the internet.

Safe as Houses

Last night I locked my front door.

If you’ve read this blog for a minute, you know that I don’t lock my door. I do lock the big iron gate in front of my door, but not the door itself. This is part laziness, part habit from when the lock wasn’t working properly, part foolish, Pollyanna-ish insistence that I don’t need to lock it.

But then sometimes I do.

A few years ago I was reading Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder, and it was killing me. I was terrified all the time, most especially so when I entered my house at night because that was when Bishop Gerardi was murdered. I wrote about my fear here, and Fox — my intelligent and often-snarky younger sister — responded that I might feel safer in my home if I locked my front door.

(Yes, my family — as may be true for some of you reading this — are horrified by my crazy, not-door-locking behavior.)

Fox was right. I locked my door, and I immediately felt safer in my house, slept more easily. When I recovered from reading Goldman’s book, I stopped locking my door.

Since then, door-locking has been the barometer of my feeling of security and comfort.

So let’s start again: last night I locked my front door.

There could be any number of reasons for that. I’ve been binge-listening to “Serial,” and have definitely felt whispers of fear running along my spine. I hadn’t thought it was too serious, but I could be wrong. So it could be Adnan Sayed … but maybe it’s something more.

I am feeling decidedly exposed and vulnerable, which makes sense, given how public I’ve been in the expression of my anger and sadness and frustration. Is that scary? I guess it is scary. Is it lock-the-door scary? I wouldn’t have thought so, but it could be.

There were a few moments last night — as I fixed dinner, as I twisted my hair — when I could feel unease rising in my chest, that I had to remind myself that I had locked the door, when the knowledge of the locked door dissolved the fear and enabled me to carry on calmly with my night.

And if this fear is about my feeling exposed and vulnerable, that actually seems like a good thing. Opening myself like this has been very powerful for me, has helped me see that I can be angry — ragingly angry — and the world doesn’t crumble, no mountains fall into the sea.

Of course, it could also be just plain, straight-up #AliveWhileBlack fear. I’ve been so focused lately on all the times and all the ways I have felt unsafe on the street. I’ve been thinking about Aiyanna Stanley Jones who should have been perfectly safe — asleep in her home being a regular seven-year-old child — and yet wasn’t safe. And maybe weeks and weeks of acknowledging and giving voice to this painful truth that I don’t control is finally manifesting, channeling through my fingers, turning that cylinder, sliding that bolt.

I’m curious to see what will happen tonight. Sometimes, just acknowledging my fear is enough to dispel it, enough to let me return to my unlocked life. And if the fear persists, it makes me more glad than usual that I’ll be heading home for Christmas. In that house full of family and dogs — to say nothing of locked doors and an activated alarm system — I will sleep soundly every night.

But whether in my family’s home or in my home, I know that — fear or no fear — I’m going to keep writing, keep posting.