Quote of the Day

Monday, April 11, 2011

adventures in hobodom, a room of one's own & a lesson in humility

My boyfriend doesn't really like it when I joke about being homeless. "Well, technically, I am. I don't have an apartment, or anywhere I can really call home." But not for long, he counters. "Alright, temporarily homeless."

Let me be clear: in no way do I mean to make light of the plight of the truly homeless, or in any serious way compare my current situation to any of theirs. I'm not trying to bemoan my situation and feel sorry for myself. I'm trying to, I guess, be self-deprecating, humorous. I'm making light of myself. Mostly, I think, because if I joke about it, it won't seem like a big deal. To others. To me.

Because even though most of the time it's not a big deal, even though most of the time I fully recognize that I am far better off right now, even with most of my earthly belongings packed sadly up in storage and living out of a few bags; that I'm lucky to have an incredibly understanding significant other and sympathetic friends to stay with; and that hey! it's only for a little while--even despite all that, sometimes it just is. Sometimes, just for little moments in my own head-space, it's HUGE.

And in trying to figure out why, and stop myself from freaking out, I realized a few things about myself. Because of course part of it was the stress of still trying to find somewhere to live; scouring craigslist, looking at apartment after apartment, being put on hold again and just waiting... waiting... But there was a greater underlying sense of helplessness too, one that made me restless and uneasy. Because, without an apartment of my own to rent, I had been left pretty much at the mercy of others. Now, luckily I happen to know some incredibly merciful and wonderful people and have found an overwhelming amount of support in my current inconvenient predicament.

But here's the thing about me: I hate to ask for help. Or sometimes even accept help once offered. Once in high school I suffered a severe sprained ankle from a car accident and hobbled around on crutches for over a month. Of course people's natural instinct is to help someone on crutches by opening doors, offering to carry books, backpacks, etc., but I was so stubborn in wanting to do these things for myself that I started to get extremely (and unreasonably) annoyed with all the well-meaning do-gooders' actions. Pride? Partly, I guess. But I think even more it's a fear (however rational or irrational it may be) of losing my independence, my resourcefulness, my good old-fashioned can-do spirit.

And it's the same "I can do it myself!" attitude that makes me hate the fact that right now--as an adult, or at least someone who does a pretty good impression of one some of the time--I have to rely on others for one of the simplest basic needs a person has: a roof overhead. But what I've come to realize--and have to keep reminding myself-- is that there is no shame in accepting help, or in sometimes asking for it. Sure it can be dangerously easy to become used to and comfortable with letting others do things for you, and become complacent--and eventually completely screwed when eventually you find yourself all alone and helpless. But allowing loved ones (or sometimes even strangers) to provide assistance every now and then doesn't mean you have to be reliant on them. It doesn't mean you have to be helpless. I don't have to eschew help; I can accept it gracefully and still help myself and then pass it on, instead of lashing out and bearing my teeth like a cat when you try to unhook its claw from the carpet to set it free. And I've found that even when the very last thing you want is to be is dependent, it is nice to know you have people you can depend on.

The second thing I realized about myself is that I am a person who so greatly values--and has often taken for granted--the concept of, as Virginia Woolfe put it, "a room of one's own". I recognize that I'm extremely fortunate to live in a time where equal rights have progressed to the point where women are independent of father or husband and can easily have a room/apartment/house/career/business/empire/etc. of her own. I also admit that I do not aspire to a career as a fiction author. I have been lucky enough to (usually) have a room of my own, as well as income and time enough to write purely for the enjoyment of it. But "a room of one's own" also carries a more personal individual meaning for me. It's a space to think, to read, write, daydream or plan, pick out tunes on my uke without terribly offending the ears of others, to hide from the world for a little while. It's privacy and refuge. A place I can decorate how I want, turn the lights on or off when I want, put my clothes away or leave them strewn about like a colorful hurricane, be by myself or invite company, all as and when I wish. Ever since childhood I think, as far back as I can remember, my room has been my sanctuary.

And so to have that sacred idea of a unique space that's just mine taken away, even for just a little while, is discomforting and somewhat disorienting. Especially when "just a little while" remains an undefined, abstract length of time, dependent on relativism and subject to the whims of roommates and fickle landlords. When the word "homeless"--facetiously used to describe yourself--tumbles off your lips with just a little less ease and a little more forced of a smile as it starts to become just a little more true in your mind with each passing day.

And then the other week I went to a bar. And I got drunk. And lost my purse. It didn't come back. Nor did my wallet or the keys to unlock my car. And in the midst of alternatively trying to cajole and getting huffy with the AAA driver who refused to assist me because I didn't have ID--"What, do you think I just found this key on the ground and somehow knew it belonged to this car?!"--suddenly a mental picture of how I must appear flashed through my head: hungover, mussed-haired, bleary-eyed with mismatched clothes and giant overnight bag slung haphazardly over one shoulder, boots hanging carelessly in hand, twitchy from stress and about a half a minute away from tears of frustration. OMG I do seem like I could be a crazy homeless person trying to steal a car!


what I looked like in my head. ok, maybe without the beard.


Up until that moment, despite the joking and nagging feeling of dependency and instability of my housing situation I had never really felt homeless. Destitute. And standing there with no current home address, no phone, no money, no way to get into my car and no identification in order to prove that it even was my car... let's just say that was about as close as I ever want to get. Because ultimately I had the option--after nearly an hour of phone calls and begging and finally convincing AAA that I was who I said I was--of driving back to four walls and a roof, to comforting arms, a well-needed hot shower and sandwich and bed. And even if it wasn't my own room and even if I had to admit that I needed help, it was exactly what I needed.

And I got even more of what I needed last Friday when I was finally able to (thank the heavens!) sign a lease for a beautiful new home with wonderful roommates. But that lesson in humility sticks with me, as it should; in one swift kick the universe telling me to get over myself, get on with my life, and remember this very crucial fact, which should always be my mantra: That just because things aren't going quite as planned doesn't mean my life isn't pretty goddamn motherfucking good.

3 comments:

  1. I can totally sympathize with part of this. Luckily I have not been in a situation without a roof over my head, I am sometime reluctant to accept help. I generally don't get annoyed, but I almost instinctively respond with "no problem, I've got it", without ever considering whether I've actually "got it". I just not good at depending on people, since too many times when I have, I've been terribly let down. So it's easier to just assume I'm going to do things myself. I'd say in the last few years I've been more inclined to ask for help, particularly after a few too many tweaked backs and muscles, or stress-out sessions. It's not so bad.

    Also, the room to call your own thing, I can really relate to that. I have just enough OCD behavior that if I do not have my own space to do with as I please and expect it to stay that way, I get a bit twitchy. Whenever visiting and staying with friends in the "spare room" or wherever, it always feels like I'm in an alien mine field. "Is it safe to plug in something?" "Can I put my laptop there and expect it to be safe?" "Can I leave out my thong underwear without worrying that someone will come in and see it when I'm not there?" Ok, I made up that last one, but it seemed nicer than "dirty underwear". But yeah, things are never quite right until you have your own 'space'.

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  2. Sympathy. I'm temporarily homeless at the moment too. It's ok, but quite exhausting. My stuff is spread out all over everywhere, and I'm facing four months of changing locale every month. In a way, I'd rather have it this way, but I'm also feeling tired....

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