Today was the day to seriously get down to business, and that meant standing in my underwear next to the front door, making a nest out of the twigs from my dead ficus tree. I had to stand there, because that’s where the bag full of dead ficus branches was, right by the door, ready to be thrown away. I have been paying rent on this new apartment for about twenty-two days, and last night was the second time I slept here. These hours here today were my first time being here alone.
The ficus tree is the first item I moved into the apartment. For the first week or so, it was the only thing here, aside from the refrigerator and the stove. But those aren’t mine. My ficus died alone here in the apartment, with only the attention of the large appliances. Eventually I had to move everything else in. I’ve been hesitating significantly with the last, most vital item, that being my physical presence.
For weeks I have felt strongly compelled to make mini houses. These weeks might possibly the exact span of time in which I have not been moving into my new house. The other night, I spastically declared to my friends at a dinner party, right before we were about to eat dinner, that I wanted to make a dollhouse, and proceeded to gather all the necessary cardboard and tape and toilet paper for making bed spreads, and started making a miniature bedroom on the dinner table while everyone else tended to preparing the dinner. I think my friends were a little annoyed, and who wouldn’t be? They were taking care of the needs of the real world, making adult sized food which I was going to eat to keep my adult sized body going. Meanwhile I was engrossed in assembling a tiny room which could at best only accommodate a hamster. I don’t know any hamsters.
An optimist might offer the consideration that I have been practicing homemaking. At a scale which I can tolerate. A tiny room is perfect for housing my tiny attention span for spending any time there at all.
The truth is that I am just plain scared. If I were someone else, listening to me describe my fears, I would definitely come to the conclusion that the person who is afraid to move into her apartment is exhibiting hesitation in the face of taking responsibility for herself. “The house is such a literal metaphor for one’s own spirit, this person is no doubt a little bit afraid of looking at herself, and of growing into the greatest version of herself possible.” All this is probably true about me. I probably need to inspire myself by thinking about people who have challenged themselves to really inspiring levels such as Ghandhi or Nelson Mandela. Was Nelson Mandela afraid when he first moved into the prison cell where he spent the next twenty five years of his life? What is more pressing to me right now, however, is that I am literally almost too scared to spend the night alone in this apartment. Last night was scary enough, and I had someone here with me.
I am scared of the dark.
I am scared of having to get up to go to the bathroom in the night, and that while walking through the kitchen I will look at one of my belongings, and I will see it morph into something that I don’t recognize.
I am scared that my mind will let go of control, and spin into a vertigo of terror.
I make an exception for the monsters though: of them, I am not scared. Back when I first got this place, a friend investigated the basement with me. It sits directly below my unit, and it’s the kind of basement that you’d go to pains to avoid visiting. Unless you like dark low ceilinged rooms filled with strange shit, holding oddly shaped doorways that lead to more dark rooms and more weird shit. The part of the basement that sits right below my bedroom is a sealed off room, that has a glass window visible from the front of the building, but no doorway into it. I guess it’s just a crawl space filled with old pieces of wood and dirt which raises close up to the ceilings and renders the space pretty unusable. I peeked in through an inconvenient window from a corner of one of the basement rooms. It was too dark to really see anything inside of there. I was starting to work up a good freak out about the fact that this room HAD NO DOOR, until my friend told me that about all the monsters who lived in there and how they are going to do a really good job looking out for me.
me: “so, you are saying that they are really nice guys, right?”
jacob: “oh yeah, you can definitely trust them.”
me: “They stay down there and take care of anything that might actually be scary?”
Thinking of the nice monsters down there makes me feel actually safer. They are really different from me, but we respect each other.
Walking around the new rooms of my apartment, I can feel the awkwardness of myself being here. The spaces aren’t used to me yet. So far they don’t seem to care whether or not I stay.
And I therefore consider possibly not. My things are all here now, but they are sitting in a pile of boxes and at this point they could just as easily be moved elsewhere.
I hadn’t owned the ficus tree very long before it died. I had seen it over at my friends’ house, where they had put it out on a porch that didn’t have any heat. Ficus trees grow outdoors in places like L.A. They can’t take the cold. If I were in the mood to consider total paranoia, I could draw sketchy parallels, and tell myself that the tree trustingly let itself be moved into a new place, and just look what happened to it!! But his move was simply doomed by a lack of heat in the new place (the porch). My place is nice and toasty. The odds look a little better for me.
My friends who have lived in the same town as me for years are well acquainted with the dramas that surround my moving in procedures. But, why me? Why am I the one who is bad at moving in? Aren’t I limber and fluid and mobile? I guess it’s the process of getting my fluidity to slow down and pool up for a while in one place, which can be a challenge.
I moved into a studio apartment in Olympia, and immediately tore out the carpets and refinished the wood floors. It made the place feel more like my own. A big stack of boxes which hadn’t been unpacked sat in the middle of my kitchen floor there for three months after I moved in. One day my best friend came over from her apartment next door and with a burst of energy started heaving the boxes out of the center of the room, pulling out the contents and sending them towards where they belonged.
In the past, I guess I must have felt less lucidly aware of the difficulty of the process. It might be a sign of my maturity and current clarity that I notice the effects of each little gesture that I make towards actually living here. I notice how little I feel at home in these rooms, and wonder if I could ever actually feel calm and rooted in them– considering being at home in such a strange place, in these moments, can seem almost vulgar. It feels like a widow considering a new affair. From that thought, I usually flirt for about 45 seconds with the idea of just moving out asap, and then I remember that I signed a six month lease and that I have to live somewhere, at which point my attention wanders to something tangible like wondering where the garbage cans are so that I can dispose of the dead ficus limbs. It’s just change. Change happens all the time.
Each little word I write here is a pixel of change. They pile up as I lay here on my bed, typing, threatening to multiply themselves into a sensation of cosiness.
And thank goodness, because at some point, I’d like to get over these mini dramas, totally trust hat the monsters are on my side, and get busy working my way up to that more noble Nelson Mandela stuff.
(((All the photos above are of artwork by Dan Flavin. Some are from an exhibit in Chelsea, and the others are from his permanent installation at The Chinati Institute in Marfa, Texas.)))