Wallpaper image: free download from www.x-menorigins.com/us

Wallpaper image: free download from http://www.x-menorigins.com/us

I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine last weekend, and aside from the fact that Hugh Jackman is my kind of hot, as is the character Wolverine, (Yes, I’m the kind of geek who’s had a crush on a comic book character since at least high school. My dream guys include Wolverine, Aragorn, and Neil Gaiman. Sigh.) I really enjoyed the movie. Now I find myself thinking more deeply about the film than its campy comic-book nature deserves:

Some comic fans have complained about the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but I think those that do are holding him up to an unreachable ideal. No movie actor can do justice to a character that has lived so fully inside our heads for so long. Nobody in The Lord of the Rings looked like the people who lived in my head as I read that book, and nobody in comic book movies looks like what we imagined when our minds translated the cartoon drawings to living characters. Jackman’s look is as close to the spirit of the comic as we can realistically expect—and a very nice treat for that minority of comic book fans that is made up of straight women—and his acting brings out that charmingly snarky attitude and tragic nature that make Wolverine such an intriguing character. I say we should give the guy a break.

The film’s take on Wolverine’s origins, condensing and rearranging ideas already put forth in the comics, reminded me surprisingly of a more serious and better done comic remake V for Vendetta. Both stories revolve around a corrupt government’s attempt to increase its power by rounding up people who are different from society’s image of “normal,” then subjecting them to torturous experiments. Both bring up the question of whether a person consumed with the drive for revenge can really be a hero. Both feature a hero naturally endowed with superhuman strength and physical constitution, and although this is the reason he survives, it’s also the reason why he is subjected to greater suffering than anyone else can imagine.

And, to my great surprise, both movies seem to be critiques of the administration of President George W. Bush. V for Vendetta smashed us over the head with obvious satire, but Wolverine made a few subtle, but still disturbing comments on how low America’s reputation has sunk in the past eight years: I remember, my brother (a much bigger Marvel comics fan than I) remembers, and the author(s) of the Wikipedia article on Wolverine remember(s) that Wolverine got his super-strong metal bones and claws from an incredibly cruel secret experiment run by the Canadian government. The movie attributed the torture to the U.S. military, and went on to tell about the same U.S. experimenters rounding up mutant teens and imprisoning them on an island, where they ran further cruel and unusual experiments. The scene of kids in orange jumpsuits, straining at the bars of row after row of prison cells on the island, reminded me disturbingly of a scene from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanimo Bay. And really now, when you think of a government that tortures people, that rounds up people for being different, then imprisons them indefinitely without trial, who comes to mind? The writers of the movie did pick the most believable villain for these times. It makes me sad for what Bush did to America’s reputation. I only hope the new administration will help us repair the damage, and let us rewrite our stories in a better light.

Yes, I realize that I may be reading too much into a campy, fluffy, comic book of a film, but even our silliest entertainments reveal a lot about our society, and I admire that the movie has layers of interest. The X-Men franchise overall has even more to it, more mythic themes and lessons for real life, but I’ll save those musings for tomorrow’s post.

knittyI’m just recovering from a miraculous lesson in gratitude. Last week’s events made me suddenly notice how much joy I get from something I’ve always had; something that I depend on, many times every day, for earning money, for pleasure, for art, for independent travel, for everything; something a great many people don’t get to enjoy: having strong, healthy, working hands.

Last Tuesday, I got calls from two clients, a brand-new one and one of my best and longest-standing ones, each asking me to complete a large transcription job. The deadline to be done with both jobs was Saturday night, just four days away. To meet the deadlines, I would have to be typing every moment that I was awake and my hands were unsure and strong enough to do it. It made for a strange week, but feast or famine is the nature of freelance work, and I was delighted to have so much to do (and income, and a great new client, to boot!) and determined to make the very best of it, so I typed. And typed. I typed until my wrists felt tight and strange, every muscle in my hands was sore, and my fingers started missing the keys. Then I went out and bought a wavy ergonomic keyboard and a pair hand-supporting spandex gloves, then typed until my hands gave out again. I spent the week typing, resting until my hands worked again, then typing some more.

And in this way, I realized how marvelously gifted I am to have strong, healthy hands. With all the punishment I gave my hands last week, I never felt numbness or outright pain. I do not have carpal tunnel syndrome—lucky me! I was just tiring out my muscles. As I rested my hands, desperately trying to think of something to do, I realized that most things I love to do depend on my wonderful hands. For example:

•    As I started the week of typing, my hands were already tired from the stage combat seminar I’d taken the weekend before, in which I learned to safely load, unload, store, and use guns for theatrical purposes. We loaded and unloaded various types of handguns over and over again, fired them in many situations, pulling back slides, cocking hammers, pulling triggers, carefully and gently guiding hammers back down to keep loaded guns from firing as we carried them to the stage. As I cocked a revolver with one thumb, the very tough lady fight director standing next to me (and struggling with her own gun) said, “Well look at you with your strong hands!” I glowed, proud of my powerful little thumb.

•    I credit the guitar, a love I found just five years ago, with building the strength in my hands. I play almost every day, fingerpicking, doing bar chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and trills, making strings ring out with my tiny little pinkies, as well as my other fingers. Last week was the longest I’d gone in five years without playing a guitar. My hands couldn’t handle even the simplest chords.

•    I didn’t blog last week, or write anything personal, except for the occasional very short email. Normally, I spend hours of personal time on my computer each day, emailing friends, doing silly things on Facebook, writing short stories, blogging, applying for more freelance jobs… My world changed completely when I couldn’t type anything but the urgent work at hand. I felt lost, isolated.

•    In normal times, I knit almost constantly. I knit while I read books and internet articles. I knit while I talk on the phone. I often knit while I edit, letting the motion of my hands focus my brain while I read the text, dropping the knitting whenever I need to make a mark. While resting between transcription sessions, I tried to watch TV, but it felt too strange. I was too used to knitting while I watched.

•    Last week, I was sitting for my favorite cat, a friendly, purry, silky longhair who loves petting, brushing, and roughhousing. I struggled to brush him once a day, and I let him hang out on his enclosed porch too often, feeling guilty that I couldn’t play with him as much as he or I would have liked.

•    I like to go to my local recreation center (whatever locality I’m in) and lift weights twice a week. This week, I didn’t go, as I couldn’t trust myself to safely hold the weights. I couldn’t even do yoga, which is notoriously hard on the wrists. Strong hands make it much easier to maintain strong legs, arms, backs, abs, and so on.

•    In fact, I didn’t go much of anywhere last week, as safe driving requires a safe grip on the steering wheel. I ran errands only when I was feeling rested.

•    I often walked to the coffee shop on the corner, or the diner down the street, to gingerly hold a coffee cup or a fork over an omelet, amazed at how difficult even eating can be when you can’t trust your hands. I watched with envy as the diner cooks chopped, flipped, and grabbed handfuls of food. I goggled at the waitress as she carried a platter of heavy dinners.

I missed my strong hands every minute of those days, and my mind opened in wonder as I remembered that many people live like this every day of their lives. My grandmother, who crocheted the way I knit, lovingly, constantly, had to stop ten years before she died, because arthritis made the movements too difficult. A good friend of mine has a condition (tentatively diagnosed as lupus) which makes her hands tire after a few hours of work, tiring the rest of her body, as well. This woman is a professional cake decorator, a mother with an adorable baby to play with, (How do you lift something as precious as your child when you can’t trust your hands?) a household full of chores, and, fortunately, a loving and understanding husband who lends his hands when hers are too tired. I know artists with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve read about Les Paul, [wikipedia link] the inventor of the electric guitar, who still finds ways to play, even though his hands are now frozen, arthritic claws. And there are many people the world over who create rich, important lives, even though they have only one hand to work with, or no hands at all.

After last week, I am amazed at these brave and resourceful people, and most of all, I am grateful that, for this stage of my life, at least, I don’t have to find a way to live without my strong, flexible, wonderful hands. I love my hands! I am in awe of my ability to play my guitar and my mother’s piano, to knit, to drive, to hold a baby, a kitty, a pen, or a fork, and to type these lines. I am definitely a fan of having hands!

leggyMy friend Rachel dresses beautifully for many time periods, usually not the one we’re in. Sometimes she looks like a turn-of-the-20th-century suffragette, with a tailored wool jacket, matching ankle-length A-line skirt, and little boots. Or she’s the image of 50s casual, riding her cruiser bicycle in pedal pushers, eyelet blouse, and simple sneakers. Other times, she’s another vision from the 50s, in a floral, full-skirted confection of a dress, with high, spiky, shiny heels. She can be Victorian or Mod, too, but she’s always feminine, and almost always pumping up her 5’1″ height with impressively high heels. She particularly likes to display her femininity in a professionally powerful way (I often think of her when I see Dr. Cutty on House, with her curvy tailored suits and high heels.) when she is at work as a college professor. As one of the younger professors at her college, she finds that sharp nails, sharp heels, and dressy attire separate her from the young people she teaches, and add to her air of authority. And though she’s also a fan of super-soft, flat Skechers, she’s most often seen in heels between 2″ and 3 1/2″ high. Why? She has flat feet, which feel better in a bit of a heel, she likes the boost to her height, and most importantly, she just likes high heels.

One day, Rachel tells me, she was in a faculty ladies’ room, wearing a fluffy floral dress and not even her highest heels, when in walked Kitty, an “old guard feminist” by Rachel’s description—meaning she was older than Rachel’s 34 years, informed by the struggles of the 70s, and dressed in flats and baggier, neutral clothes. Kitty took one look at Rachel’s outfit and said, “How can you walk in those ridiculous shoes?”

At this point in Rachel’s story, I stopped her to wonder: Is anyone that rude when they don’t have a political agenda? Would Kitty ever say aloud, “How can you go out in public in that ridiculous tie?” In a world where we’re shy about telling someone her slip (or panty, or ass crack) is showing, Kitty is amazingly free with her opinion of other people’s shoes.

Kitty went on to complain that Rachel was just setting herself, and by extension, every woman, up as a sex object when she let men see her like that. Rachel countered by asking if, since Kitty clearly had such a low opinion of men that she didn’t expect them to control their own sex drives, all women shouldn’t wear burqas everywhere. By policing Rachel’s fashion choices and their effect on men who supposedly possess no free will, wasn’t she suggesting the same thing?

Feminism and fashion add up to a delicate balance: Can we complain about fashions that degrade female power in the world, without restricting women’s freedom? Can we ask any woman, however sexily or tackily she is dressed, to cover up without making her responsible for other people’s thoughts and choices? I don’t think we can. If we argue that any person must choose her (or his! More on that in a moment.) clothing to control the minds of the people who see it, we’re removing personal responsibility from the viewers—an insult to women and men alike.

It’s tough to explain the problem in the abstract. Fortunately, I have a great example, with genders reversed:

I love taking stage combat classes—learning to create safe, but violent-looking theatrical fights with knives, swords, guns, fists, frying pans…you name it. It’s good training for an actor, a great workout, empowering, fun, and a great way to meet fascinating new friends. As an added bonus, most people, male and female, who are heavily involved in stage combat are very nice to look at. Of course they are: They’re actors, so looking good is part of their job, plus they use their bodies all the time. Stage combat folks are athletes, and many are real-life martial artists or dancers, as well. They’re pretty, pretty people. For example, check out the guys in the video below:

Nice-looking guys, aren’t they? The one in the tank top is my teacher, Benaiah. Yes, I and many of my female classmates agree that he’s beautiful, yes, that’s how he dresses most of the time when he’s teaching, and yes, I have to admit that I find it just a little distracting. It takes effort for me to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing (e.g. swinging a sword at someone or stopping them from swinging one at me!) and not to stare at those cut arm muscles, those pecs… I have been tempted to say, “Yo, Benaiah! Would you put on a real shirt already? How do you expect the women in the room to concentrate, with your rippling muscles on display?”

I never have said that, of course. If I ever would, I’d mean it as a joke and a compliment, but it wouldn’t land right. It would simply embarass the stuffing out of Benaiah, who is actually rather shy. He blushes easily, and gets flustered when even a slightly sexual topic comes up in mixed company. (It took him nearly five minutes of sputtering to tell the class, “When you’re doing this move on a woman, angle the cut to make sure you don’t hit her breast.”) He really has no idea how hot he is, or if he has, he’s very modest about it. So why the tank top? Because stage combat class is essentially gym class. It’s hot, sweaty, hard work, and one’s arms have to be free to swing in every direction. He dresses that way because it’s the most comfortable, most practical outfit for the task at hand. Also, I assume, he just likes tank tops. Who am I to complain?

That’s the most important question. If I were to seriously complain about Benaiah’s tank top, I’d be saying that I am incapable of controlling my own hormones, of focusing my own attention. Even if I were that weak, how would that be Benaiah’s problem? Isn’t it fair to expect that I can handle myself, even in the presence of a man in a tank top? Then why do we think so much less of men?

I think (and hope) it seems obvious, with genders reversed, that one can and should control one’s own thoughts and actions, and it’s ridiculous to expect other people to change the way they dress in order to control anyone else’s mind for them. Of course I can focus on the task at hand, and I’m in no danger of throwing myself at the pretty, scantily-shirted man. Why can’t men be expected to have that same self-control?

To suggest that women must dress in a certain way to control the political or sexual or other thoughts of men is insulting to both genders. Yes, what we wear makes an impression—that’s what’s fun about fashion!—but we should all be free to choose the impression we make, and to expect other people to behave well no matter what we wear. We should all wear what we like, and allow people around us to do the same. Or, to quote the poem “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron,” from that great work of 70s feminist literature, Free to Be…You and Me, “A person should wear what he wants to. A person’s a person that way.”

Hmm…I suppose this means that, when I see women younger than me in low-low jeans with their thongs and ass cracks hanging out, I can’t say (at least not out loud), “How can you wear those ridiculous pants?” They’ll probably be thinking the same thing about me, with my Mom jeans that go all the way up to the top of my hip bone. This will take work and a sense of humor, but a world where every person took responsibility for his or her own thoughts and  actions,  where we could all wear whatever we like, without it opening us to attack, political or personal, really would be a better place. I promise to work on it. I hope you will, too.

PhoneIt’s been over a month since my last post, but I’m here again, and here to stay. As I look back on my misspent month of March, I keep thinking of the 2004 movie The Forgotten, in which (spoiler alert, though it’s a spoiler for a terrible movie, and so no great loss) Julianne Moore plays a mother who is part of an experiment run by aliens from outer space. The aliens have set out to prove that Earthling parents can be made to forget their children entirely if one just hides the children and messes with the parents’ minds. Moore’s character refuses to forget, no matter what the aliens do or how many of her fellow humans (including her psychiatrist and her son’s father) insist that her son never existed. Then the aliens have to kill her because, you see, otherwise she would be proof that the experiment had failed.

And that’s what I hate about that movie, and about any argument about science that fails to understand what science is and isn’t, or how a scientific experiment, or any experiment, really, works. Here’s the deal: An experiment is simply trying something to find out what would happen. To be a scientific experiment, you would make an educated guess (hypothesis) as to what would happen, and then try something to find out if your guess is right. (To be truly scientific, then you would have a large sample for the things you’re testing, and at least one control group, but I’m digressing now.) And what if your guess is proven wrong? To a true scientist, or anyone who loves the true nature of an experiment, that’s wonderful! Whether your guess is proven right or wrong, the experiment is a success. You now know something new. Going back to the movie, the aliens have succeeded in finding out that not all humans can be made to forget their children. The experiment was a success. The only failed experiment is one that tells you nothing.

How does this explain where I’ve been all March?

Well, I tried two experiments in the realm of moneymaking, or attempts to get something resembling a “real job.” The first was blogging for Examiner.com as the Denver Knitting Examiner, which sucked up what little time and mental energy I had after my day job (more on that below), and got me just a few readers. Since Examiners are paid exactly one penny per page view, I made less than $0.50 per 200-1,000-word, researched, originally written blog post. Based on the statistics on my start page, this is about average for the site. It may have been worth my while anyway if I was having fun, but my posts on the very narrow topic of local, current, knitting news bored even me. Finally, on a particularly stressful day, an Examiner editor wrote to complain about the capitalization of my posts’ titles, which did not fit Examiner’s unusual and bizarre-looking official style. She further said that she had “fixed” them for me, but when I went to my site, I saw that she had no understanding of grammar and parts of speech, so the new headlines didn’t fit Examiner.com’s style, my style, or any grammatically consistent style. I thought of sending her a copy of my copyediting resume to establish my credentials, and then arguing with her, but I realized that I really didn’t care. Based on my first experiment, Examiner.com is, to my mind, not worth the effort I put in, or any effort at all. I’ve shut down my Examiner page. I may write for pay by page view sites with different structures in the future, but the Examiner’s setup did not work for me. I’m much happier writing my own blog, for free, than writing the overly constrained one for pennies…or for promised pennies. I’d like to publicly note here that Examiner.com never paid me even the $10 or so I earned during my month with them.

My other experiment was taking a temp receptionist position, for $10 an hour, with an old friend of my dad’s and his wife in their accounting firm. (All of Dad’s friends are old friends, since he’s been dead for 20 years now.) I might have known better. Because I haven’t been making much money, and I’ve begun to feel guilty about not having a regular job, I tested some long-standing assumptions: 1) I hate reception work, especially when it amounts to writing down messages for one or two people who simply think they’re too special to answer their own calls or use voice mail, and I can do nothing to help the caller, myself. Such jobs make me feel like an impediment to any real accomplishment, stress me out, and piss me off. 2) I won’t work for less than $12 an hour, unless the job really is volunteer work for a cause I care about. Less than that makes me resentful, and isn’t worth the time away from my freelance gig hunting. 3) I am fascinated by almost every field of endeavor, but accounting bores me to tears. I can just bring myself to do my own taxes each year because I like being a law-abiding citizen, but I can’t bring myself to care about anyone else’s taxes or day-to-day finances.

I wondered if I’d been cheating myself out of opportunities by clinging to these assumptions, so I took the job. Now I’ve confirmed all of them. I hated the job, and it sucked the life out of me so that I could barely get keep my Examiner blog going and keep up with my stage combat class (more on that in a later post), let alone find any other freelance work or do anything else for fun. I also added one more assumption, now proven, to my list: 4) I should never work for those people, and should be wary of working for any of my parents’ friends. While there is hope that people older than me, and even people who knew me when I was nine years old, might be able to see me as a peer, an intelligent, educated, skilled adult worthy of respect and empathy, my bosses were not such people. In the four weeks I was there, they didn’t bother to pay me, ask for my timesheets (which I’d compiled on my own, unasked), or tell me when I would be paid. They often set up my work so that I was alone in the office, waiting for someone to come by to pick up a check or some financial papers, and unable to take a break and get my lunch (while they were out to lunch, themselves). When I spoke sharply to the telemarketer who had called me back six times in a row and then started to swear at me, one of my bosses chastised me for “shouting at callers,” and continued to bitch the incident daily for the next three weeks. When, exhausted, I accidentally locked my keys inside the office as I was leaving on a Friday night, trapping me in the office building (as I couldn’t drive anywhere, and if I left the building, couldn’t get back in), I called one of my bosses for help. Her first suggestion was that I camp out in the lobby for two days until the cleaning crew came by on Sunday. When I pointed out that I actually had a life and responsibilities outside of her office (not mentioning that I also like to eat at least once every 48 hours), she seemed surprised, and suggested I call AAA, have them break into my car, and ask them to hotwire it so I could drive home. When I pointed out that AAA doesn’t hotwire cars, nor does any legal business, she told me to call a locksmith. Only when the locksmith arrived three hours later, charging me $40 (half a day’s salary, before taxes) to tell me that the only way in was to destroy the lock, did she agree to drive for half an hour to unlock the door with her key. And when I quit the next week, pointing out that this job was killing my freelance business and thus losing me money every time I came in, and I gave them two weeks notice to find and train my replacement (a job that could be done in two hours by calling any temp agency, as I told them), they replied, “Well, two weeks would put us right up against tax day. I don’t think we’ll bother to find I replacement. I think we’re going to, um, go ahead and, ah, have you just work the two weeks and be done with it.” I thought for a moment that they were joking, but then I realized that these people didn’t know what a podcast was, what iTunes was, or how to use Google, let alone how to quote Office Space. They weren’t joking. The next day, I brought in my organized timesheets with a note pointing out that Colorado labor law requires them to pay me by the 10th of the next month, and a letter of resignation that carefully explained the point of two weeks notice, that it was a courtesy and not a requirement, and that I was taking mine back. At the end of my work day, I announced that I was never coming back, left my letter and timesheets on my desk, and I was free.

I learned a good deal from that experiment, annoying as it was. I’m tempted to take other assumptions from it, such as: 1) I’m not cut out to hold any job, 2) I hate answering all phones, 3) I can’t stand anyone my parents would associate with, or 4) I should avoid all accountants, but none of those is true. I just shouldn’t do that exact type of job, for $10 an hour, or for those people. Ah, and most important: If a job sucks that much, I can leave, and I will. Life is too short to lose money hating one’s job.

My next experiment: I wonder if someone would hire me to deliver pizzas, and if I’d like the job. My hypothesis is that I’d have fun, and make pretty good money. I’ll tell you what I find out in a few weeks.

The amazing ups and downs of my life (settling into a new home, worrying more than I need to about my mom and her recovery) have slowed my progress, but I am still working through Martha Beck’s step-by-step self-help program, The Joy Diet.

I actually have kept up my daily dose of “Nothing,” as Beck calls any basic meditation practice, but only because she’s pointed out that one can quiet one’s mind while safely driving a car. Since the idea is to let one’s thoughts and emotions flow by without getting hung up on any of them, I find that my driving is actually more safe, not less so, when I’m trying to meditate. I’m not lost in a daydream, and I’m in the present moment, so I’m more alert to every bump in the road and sudden move from other drivers. Since I’m now back to living in my house, but visiting my mom’s every day to check on her, I feel better knowing that I’m spending my time wisely during the 45-minute drive each way.

I’m also getting quite used to menu item #2, “Truth,” a series of questions Beck suggests we ask ourselves after a meditation session. I haven’t had any more truly surprising revelations, like I did when I first tried the exercise. I think I’ve simply become more aware of my underlying thoughts and emotions, so this exercise comes as a gentle reminder now, rather than a slap in the face. I’m quite relieved to find that the process gets less scary as one gets used to it.

Now I’ve spent two weeks trying to wrap my mind around item #3, “Desire,” and I’ve been struggling with it. Beck’s book laid out the first two steps so clearly, but while chapter 3 gave her philosophy of desire, I felt less clear about what I was supposed to do with my desires on a day-to-day basis. Beck asserts that we can and should have everything we truly want. If we want something immoral or self-destructive or evil—for example, to punch our boss, to kill our ex, to leave our children, or to have another six or seven beers—that want is only a cover for a deeper desire that we think we can’t have. We really want love and respect from our boss and ex, and only want revenge because we feel we can’t get it; we really want peace of mind, not seven beers in one sitting; and so on. Our true desires always feel warm and safe, and are the best for ourselves and the world.

I can get on board with that philosophy. In fact, I believe that I have always known what I truly want out of life, and thinking of those dreams makes me feel great. I just don’t know how to get them, and don’t fully believe that I can.

Once I’ve come into contact with my true desires, though, I can’t see from The Joy Diet how to incorporate them into my daily practice. Instead, I’ve been practicing the “Cherishing” exercise from another of Beck’s books, Steering by Starlight. (Yes, I’m becoming quite the rabid Martha Beck fan.) This exercise simply involves imagining that one’s desired outcome has already happened. I already have that boyfriend, that business, that play. I’m already watching my mom smilingly waving her once-painful arm. Beck assures us that imagining every day makes our dreams more likely to come true. In any event, the exercise is fun. It feels good to have what I really want, even if, so far, it’s only in my imagination. I feel more confident, more hopeful. I’m ready for the next step.

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

It’s good to be a freelancer. Right now, I’m in the house I grew up in, and right after administering another dose of Vicodin, I’ve just finished the last of the work projects I’ve struggled to get done this week, and I’m taking a moment to be deeply thankful that my life is so amazingly flexible.

Let me back up. At about 2 a.m. this past Tuesday, my mother was still bustling around her house, putting laundry away and generally tidying up. She trotted up the steep stairway to the second floor like she has hundreds of times over the 36 years she’s lived in that house, with her arms full and not bothering to turn on the hall light. It was so dark in that hall that, once Mom turned aside to set the laundry down on the hall table, she couldn’t see which direction was the rest of the second-floor hallway, and which was the stairs. Sleepy and disoriented, she picked the wrong way and, intending to take a step down the hall, stepped into thin air above the stairway, then fell head over heels down a full flight of stairs. She broke one arm, dislocated one shoulder, torqued her neck, and bruised several of her ribs.

Here’s where my gratitude comes in: A friend who lives nearby took Mom to the hospital to get x-rayed, diagnosed, prescribed, and patched up. When she got back home, she called to tell me the story, and at that moment, I was able to toss my laptop computer, my guitar, my knitting, several books, and a week’s worth of clothes into my car and rush right over. I’ve moved into her house for at least one week, and possibly longer, depending on what her doctor says at her checkup next Monday. I don’t have to worry about missing work, because I can work from anywhere. I don’t have to ask anyone for time off, because my time is entirely at my command. I decide when I have to work in order to meet a deadline, and when it’s time for a break because my mom needs me to fix her lunch, open her prescription bottle, or bring her a better pillow. I have no idea how I would have managed this if I’d had a full-time, in-house job, but as my life is, I have have been able to meet all of my work deadlines while hearing my mom tell her friends on the phone, “Don’t worry about me. My daughter is here, and she’s waiting on me hand and foot!”

No, it’s not fun to see someone I love in pain. Yes, it’s getting tedious to keep driving off on little errands, opening bottles and jars, and making yet another cup of tea. Yes, it has been a challenge fitting my work projects in around my worrying…but accidents happen. Illnesses happen. Heartbreaks happen. Relatives need extra care sometimes. Sometimes friends need someone to listen to their stories, or just a ride to the airport. I’m happy to know that I can make room for anything life throws at me.

Courtesy of Stockvault.com

Courtesy of Stockvault.com

As I settle into my new, rent-paid, call-it-mine, honest to goodness long-term home, I’m reveling in something that most non-nomadic Americans take for granted. In fact, most folks with homes have the opportunity to do this many times every day, and they actively avoid it. We spend thousands of dollars every year trying to avoid it. Advertisements abound, on TV, radio, billboards, and in magazines, promising to eliminate it from our lives. Still, I have to say it now: I love cooking! Cooking is how my favorite past boyfriends won my heart. Cooking is why I love Thanksgiving Day: Growing up, it was the one day of the year when my typical 80s suburban, both-parents-working family cooked a meal from scratch, beginning to end.

And now, after three years of fast food, frozen dinners, and canned soup, I’m cooking again! After two weeks of getting used to my new home (This is my home! Mine! I really live here!), last Friday I finally felt comfortable enough to make an epic trip to the grocery store. Now I have only to saunter down to the kitchen to find butter spread, milk, yoghurt (plain and flavored), cottage cheese, pita chips, bread, peanut butter, three kinds of cheese, and oh, the vegetables! I have fresh potatoes, asparagus (on sale this week!), avocado (ditto), a bag of salad, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and my favorite staple, cabbage. Then there are the veggies in the freezer, next to all of those beautiful chicken breasts. I have a full box of Cheerios and one of Wheat Chex, and enough baking ingredients to whip up a batch of Toll House cookies on a moment’s notice.

This is a luxury I couldn’t have in my pure-nomad, house sitting days. When I knew I’d be changing houses in two weeks or two days, it didn’t make sense to buy a full package of any ingredient. I couldn’t stock up when something was on sale. I simple carried a small box of canned vegetables and soups from house to house, and if I was really settling in, I bought just enough Lean Cuisines to serve as dinner for each night before the next move. The only fresh milk, eggs, or vegetables I had were those that my clients begged me to eat before they spoiled. And while I was saving money on rent, I was spending quite a bit on Noodles & Company and Chipotle.

So now I’m cooking. I love the tightwaddery of making things from scratch. I love the creative process of putting food together. What I love most, though, is the freedom it gives me to make my meals exactly the way I want them. Today I brunched on a fried egg, overcooked so that the whites are all crispy, and sunny side up, which no diner will do these days, for fear I’ll get salmonella poisoning and sue them. With it, I had nearly, but not quite burned whole wheat toast, and 1/3 pound of asparagus, steam/sauteed in the special way my friend Rachel taught me years ago, flavored with a little olive oil and a little lemon juice. All of this was topped off with my beloved, not-available-in-any-restaurant-I’ve-ever-seen, caffiene-free Pepsi. And I ate it all while still wearing my pajamas.

I expect this glorious pleasure at eating exactly what I want, this satisfaction at opening the fridge and cabinets and seeing a wide array of fresh, nutritious foods, this glee at saving vegetable steaming water for making soup later on, will wear off to a degree. On days when I’m rushing to get somewhere, I will just grab a shaker bottle full of water and artificial protein drink powder. Still, I don’t thing I’ll ever fully get over this joy of simply, directly feeding myself.

sockAs I settle into my home, finally completely unpacking after years of dragging unexamined luggage from house to house, I’ve realized something: I have a lot of worn-out socks. There are the socks I’ve been wearing anyway, blissfully ignoring the holes in the heels, and there are many, many more socks that I’ve stored away because the holes were too big for comfort. Why didn’t I just throw them away? I was too busy moving around.

Now I’m pleased that I still have so many worn-through socks around. As I finally started to look at them, I was reminded of a former boyfriend who kept a bucket full of dead socks, cut down the back of the leg and through the sole to the toe, so they would lie flat. He used them as cleaning rags, and so saved money and landfill space, for he was an environmentalist as well as a cheapskate. (Ah, how I adored that boy!) He could dust, scrub, wipe down, and sop up any mess, then toss the rag into the washing machine to become clean and white and ready to use again. If a job was so gross that he couldn’t bear to wash the rag, (Toilet overflow, anyone?) it was no great tragedy to throw away a sock that otherwise would have been tossed months ago.

Remembering him, I was cutting open my holey old socks, dreaming of soft dusters and counter moppers, when I noticed how truly soft and cushy my socks are inside. I wear terry-lined, cotton-blend gym socks  most of the time, so my new rag pile is fuzzy, luxuriously soft—just what I want on my face when I’m washing mascara off of my eyes at bedtime. Forget cleaning rags. I now have a stack of incredibly comfortable, though odd-looking, washcloths. I keep them under my kitchen sink (lest my roommate walk by the open bathroom door and decide I’m a freak with a sock fetish) and use one fresh, clean, soft sock every night.

You may be more squeamish than I about rubbing your face with something that once absorbed a workout’s worth of foot sweat. I, for one, trust my washing machine to completely de-gross my socks, so I now see only odd-shaped bits of fabric. Even if the washcloth plan is too much for you, I still recommend socks as household cleaning rags. Rags are beautiful things, things we have far too few of in today’s American culture. They’re even sturdier than Brawny towels and more absorbant, they won’t tear or dissolve mid-cleanup, and best of all, they’re free!

The Eye of the Tiger

The Eye of the Tiger

I spent this weekend cat sitting again. No, I’m not on the move already. It’s just that I miss having cats around, since we have no pets here in my comfy home. My roommate/landlady tells me I can get a cat if I like, though she’s not a fan, herself, and so I’ve been thinking and reading web sites about getting a foster cat. That would mean taking in a kitty who lives at an animal shelter, but for some reason is not ready for adoption—she has an illness or injury to recover from, or he’s been in the shelter so long he’s forgotten how to play with people—and loving him or her until it’s time to go back and find a forever home. I’m also still open to sitting for local clients, especially those I know well. Besides, I could use some extra money, as well as the extra fur.

This weekend, I was in Longmont with two cats in a home I’ve stayed in for many weeks during my full-on-nomad days. It was refreshing to pack for just a three-day trip, easily finding everything I might need in my own closet, dresser, and shelves. It felt like a vacation instead of a total home move. In fact, I was surprised to see how calm and productive I was all weekend.

I was more surprised at how irritable I was when I got home last night. My roommate was out for the evening, but I twitched at every little thing that had changed while I was gone. How dare she run the dishwasher (Quite nice of her, actually.) and not unload it immediately? What was a clothes drying rack doing in the office (folded neatly, right next to the washer and dryer)? Why was the door to the unheated basement left open, sucking warmth from the rest of the house? Then I took a moment to be surprised at myself. My roommate is wonderful, actually. She’s easy going, rarely home, and charming and interesting when she is around. After knowing me for a week and a half, this woman baked me a cake for my birthday. I couldn’t ask for a better roommate, and I wouldn’t trade her in for another…well, maybe for Christian Bale or Kal Penn, but it would take quite a lot.

After giving it some thought, I realized that I was bothered only because I have a roommate, any roommate. I’m not used to living without cats, but more than that, I’m really, really unused to living with people. Even the sweetest roommate is a lot to get used to. I’m not used to doors being open when I haven’t opened them, trash being created by anyone but me, tiny spills on the kitchen counter that I don’t recognize. I’ve been far too isolated for too long, and I’m still not used to all this humanity. That’s why packing an overnight bag and running away for the weekend felt, more than anything, like going home.

2009It’s January 23, and I’ve already accomplished one of my New Year’s Resolutions, the one that I expect to have the greatest impact on my life: I am no longer homeless. I actually rented a room in a pleasant, new-ish townhouse, with a very nice roommate/landlady, a garage for my beloved Chevy Metro (and my bicycle, which has been in my mother’s storage shed for three years!), neighbors and neighbor dogs to meet, and a neighborhood to become part of.

Now I have an answer to the icebreaker question, “Where do you live?” I live in Lafayette, Colorado, a suburb of Boulder, a half-hour’s drive away from Denver. The post office where I’ve been receiving mail for the past three and a half years is a few blocks away. It’s a nice, comfortable spot, centrally located to all of the classes, theatre gigs, and contract jobs I’d like to take on. It’s a good spot to have a home office, to organize my stuff, to get to sleep on a steady schedule.

And, of course, to start with, it completely freaked me out. On first hearing about my lifestyle for these past few years, people comment that it must be hard, moving around all the time, never knowing where I’m going to live next month. To that, I say: It’s amazing what you can get used to. It’s also amazing how frightening normalcy can be once one is used to something else. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this place after two weeks here—I’ve started sleeping through the night, actually unpacked some (not nearly all of my stuff), and stopped trying quite so hard to find reasons to be out of the house when my roommate comes home in the evening. As I’ve said, she’s terribly nice, and smart, and interesting, but I have to admit I was extremely (still am, a bit) nervous around her, and nervous about this whole deal. Once one makes a commitment to live in one place for a long time (three to six months was the agreement here, but that’s a long, long time for me), many fears come up:

• What if my roommate hates me? What if I hate her?

• What if I never get used to the roar of traffic outside? What if I can’t sleep here?

• How am I going to keep paying rent month in and month out?

Ah, that’s the tough one. After not paying rent for years, I actually have a savings account that is just about the size of six months rent here, but I hate to see it shrink. I’ve been hustling harder than ever to find more freelance jobs of all sorts—writing, acting, knitting design, secretarial temp work, anything. Actually, that’s one of the side effects I’d been hoping for when I moved here: I was hoping the anxiety, combined with finally having a place to sit still and get some work done, would jump-start my career. Now I’m in the same boat as most of my more “normal,” once-employed and now laid-off friends: I’m worried about how to pay my rent, and I need to hustle to find a job (or in my case, lots of freelance gigs). Then again, unlike them, I know what will happen if I lose my home. I’ll house sit, or travel, or find some other creative way to make due. It is comforting to have lived on the other side. What if I lose my home? I’ll be back to normal, or what feels normal to me.

And no, I’m not changing my nickname or the name of this blog. I still have a nomadic spirit. However well this home works, I will not be here for any length of time that most people would expect for one’s home. I plan to be here a few months, and then I hope to go away for the summer to study theatre. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll come back to Colorado and rent another actual home. Maybe I’ll go back to house sitting. In any case, my mind is still in an impermanent place, open to travel, creative housing, new growth and new ideas.

For now, though, I’ve got some unpacking to do.