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Beautiful Splinters

Outside, rain beat the last leafy hangers-on from their branches as rivulets cascaded down the clapboard, its longstanding paint bubbling out—lesions awaiting a lance. Overly-saturated potted plants brimmed with water as the unceasing rain fell down, down, down—quietly lingering in every one of the yard’s myriad depressions, slicking the pavers pocking the weed-cluttered, soggy grass.

Lamplight glowed dully, illuminating the living room, the air heavy with the smell of buttered, peppered eggs bubbling in the dented cast iron skillet. Laughter filled the house as my sister and I recounted past family foibles. And then, as we quietly watched JoJo bat around her toys, a nature-inspired metronome broke the silence.

Drip

Drop

Drip

Drop

Spanning a badly patched seam, a strand of rainwater dribbled down the sunporch wall, over a painting, and pooled onto the chipped, white floor. After wiping down the painting and shuffling it aside, I piled towels along the floor, and situated a bowl beneath the small bubble slowly expanding along the ceiling.

A few months ago, when I recognized that I couldn’t stay here, I realized why it was that I sequestered myself in this cracked, rotting shell in the first place—chose to stick with it for another year.

I needed to heal, rebuild, and transform myself. And Gay Gardens was my cocoon.

But as I watched the dripping slow, and the water pool in the shallow bowl, I recognized Gay Gardens had done her job; I chuckled quietly, and dabbed the water rings on the floor.

Over the past year and a half, this little cottage and I forged an imperfect, symbiotic relationship—and this marked the beginning of its graceful end.

***

Weeks later, my head was nearly inside the oven, my eyebrows level with the wiry heating element. JoJo puttered up and gave me intense side-eye until I retreated from my Sylvia Plath-inspired attempt at staying warm. I sighed, watching my breath cloud dissipate.

Hours before, at my behest, the handyman pounded on the hallway’s walls.

“Jesus, you’re right. This isn’t even lathe and plaster. It’s fiberboard. I’ve never seen it…at least not in a house anyone is still living in. I mean, wow. I bet you get cold.”

From beneath my hoodie and coat, I exhaled deeply in his direction, following the rapidly cooling cloud with a vacant stare until he continued with his line of questioning. Soon thereafter, he left, citing that he’d be unable to fix the heating system.

Roughly an hour before he arrived, an antique dealer perused furniture and haphazardly sorted collections of keepsakes earmarked for sale, cherry-picking pieces for his shop.

Once a curated refuge, Gay Gardens has quickly become a staging ground. The structure remains, rotting quietly, nobly. But the home I created has been reduced to piles of once cherished items, each sporting a fluorescent price tag—an intended passport to others’ waiting hands.

After he left and I drew up his list, I scanned a tabletop cluttered with planters. They’d been so vital when I moved here; I needed to plant things—watch them grow. Scouring deserted thrift store shelves, the warped cabinets of a hoarder’s house, I’d seek out chipped and worn, dust-covered planters and revive them. Filled them with soil and the hopeful starts of a new plant. I yearned to see the planters’ glazes glow in the sun, the tiny greens nested inside them slowly pushing upward, filling out their translucent tendrils, the ends dripping with nascent buds.

But now their vegetative charges would grow without me—under someone else’s dutiful gaze.

***

The night before my heating system failed, I sat on the sunporch floor, my hands shaking—hovering over the small, identically sized boxes labeled “Mementos” as JoJo dragged her bed closer to the spectacle.

Quite suddenly, I was awash with anxiety. Because I knew what was inside the boxes. They didn’t contain newborn velociraptors or pictures of Ron Pearlman dressed as Vincent from the eighties television series Beauty & the Beast. The menacing “it” they held was more biting, more terrifying: paper.

As I opened the first box, JoJo gently rested her paw on my hand. She stared intently, tears forming at the corners of her eyes as they always do. I nuzzled my head against hers and took a deep breath.

“Thanks, baby girl.”

And then I started ripping. Cards, Post-its, little musings and love letters I’d squirreled away were reduced to bits, quickly filling a garbage bag. Then two.

Hours later, I looked from the emptied boxes to my palms, cross-stitched with paper cuts—the last, necessary wounds to heal.

I have to make room for less in my life.

***

Condensation pooled along the weathered mullions, occasionally overflowing, collecting along the warped sills. The heat finally kicked on, and my sinuses flared in response. Beyond the clouded panes, a humungous neon star glowed atop the steel mill downslope, casting its white light up into the backyard.

As the wind moved through the trees, rocking them side-to-side, the diffused light fell upon the garden’s withered remains. The entrance door hung open—warped and water-bloated; the veneer cleaving from the hardy core. Soon, the walls will come down; they’ll be transformed into ad hoc displays featuring all the bits and bobs to be paraded out for the subsequent yard sales.

Between passing cloud banks, sunlight glanced across the turquoise kitchen wall, amplifying the brilliant greens and cool blues. I stood and stared—through the wall, into the not so distant future, where everything around me has been reduced to splinters that once framed a brilliant life chapter.

Photo description: A view from the living room into the hallway, which is painted bright turquoise.

We’re all fragments striving to piece together a life that, at least from the outside, appears fortified, secure; but the inside is sometimes empty, a looming vastness into which the echoes of dreams reverberate and quietly die.

And in this future ruin, I pieced myself back together—filled that emptiness with something meaningful. I didn’t cure an insidious disease or eliminate poverty. But I made this particular place better. And, in so doing, proved to myself that I could, once again, make it on my own—that though I may be fractured, my edges roughened by experience, I’ve embodied the beauty of this self-reflective process, and know that my subdued resilience helped me survive, and molded me into the person I’ve wanted to be.

And that’s something.

What lies beyond Gay Gardens is unknown—a cloudy picture at best. But within that mental frame and fog, I imagine about 400 square feet with my bed floating out from the wall, surrounded by the plants I’m able to bring along. There, JoJo putters from one sun spot to the next, stretches, yawns, and dozes off. A few other pieces of furniture are scattered around the studio apartment, their valuable surface space cluttered with greenery.

And I’ll be there, assessing my new beginning and willing goodness into it, as I frequently did as I hovered over my planters—the smell of damp potting soil filling the air, the blips of green poking out toward the rising sun.

And I will recognize that I, too, will keep bending toward the light.

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Eden, Slipping

On the darkest nights, when the wind is howling through the tousled trees and leaves are rustling off their dripping branches—and the beams in the attic are groaning, popping from the barometric pressure and moisture—I feel as though this small cottage is a battered dinghy bobbing in a raging tempest. But somehow, its warped, wooden framing and patched, plastered seams always bolster it just enough—holding it firm, silently enduring the onslaught in the dark.

And then, hours later, as morning light diffuses through the seemingly impenetrable, gray cloud banks, I watch the once forceful rain drip lazily from scuffed eaves and rusted, leaking rain spouts.

Image description: a small cottage in the middle of a cleared terrace, with a stone path leading to it.

This, our home, has delivered us, its cargo, to another day.

***

As a kid, my overblown conception of a personal Eden featured a sprawling, multi-room Gothic mansion set in an open, browned field with trees lining its overgrown edges. Never did I imagine a small, dank cottage to supplant that fantasy.

When I think about the beauty of this place—what it has endured—I’m awestruck. Somehow, amid multiple housing booms and a changing skyline, it remained tucked away, sheltered behind behemoth rhododendrons and partially veiled with ivy. Coupled with pervasive rot, its decades-long neglect should’ve doomed it to become a mouldering, collapsed heap on the low, bramble-packed terrace.

And yet it remained upright long enough for a half-broken man and his faithful sidekick to move in and make it the best home they’ve ever had. But now, our time here is inching to an end.

I continue to water my plants, weed my flower beds—knowing that, as the tides swell and slowly pull this refuge from my grasp, I’ll be left unmoored in uncertain waters, reaching for a lifesaver. And honestly, I don’t know what it’ll look like.

My internal refrain has often been, As soon as you’re priced out of this home, that’s it. Back East you go. Mostly because the painful prospect of moving again is blunted by the comforting thought of returning to a place where I first made a home. But with no savings—and no ability to save—and no job prospects way over there, settling into a joyless, cookie-cutter studio miles away from the places I enjoy is my only recourse: debilitatingly sad, but pragmatic.

Seattle is lovely. It’s liberal. It’s scenic. There’s great thrifting. And it’s only a few hours away from Justin Trudeau. But I moved here coupled, with a fiscal buffer; together, it all worked—until we didn’t. Through a combination of begging my landlord and reducing every single expense I possibly could, I managed to pull this place—and myself—together over the past year. Always, though, the specter of another year loomed menacingly, with its associated cost-of-living spikes. But for a time, I was able to occupy my thoughts with surviving, rather than thinking about my imminent displacement as I’d done every moment since I’d taken over the lease. After all, I had another year, full of potential—something would come of my attempts to change my situation.

But here I am, slipping along the downward slope of my current leasing cycle, knowing that begging will do nothing now; even the slightest rental increase will make this place unreachable. The bubble continues to expand in Seattle, and there’s no cathartic burst in sight. With an entire paycheck consumed by rent, and the other pulled apart to satiate the utility, car loan, and credit card gods, I usually have between $5 and $15 left at the end of the month—and that’s if everything else stays consistent, which it never does. Unless you’re in corporate, being single in Seattle means you scrape by—you survive; you don’t live.

Seattle is no longer the grunge scene-inspiring, gritty city of the Cobain years. It’s now a polished playground for the rich—where upwardly mobile Millennials with six-figure salaries wave goodbye to longtime tenants and homeowners—most of whom are people of color who have to watch their neighborhoods be shattered by multi-million dollar box houses with Black Lives Matter signs posted out front, or re-zoned for massive micro-studio complexes.

I was silly to think I’d be an exception—that I, a relative newcomer, and of all the people displaced by Seattle’s boom, would somehow hold steadfast in my battered rental cottage against the raging tides of gentrification.

I fantasized about Gay Gardens being the place where I’d make it as a writer—no one famous, but earning just enough to stay put, save up, and buy this little place as ravenous Microsofties and Amazonians gobbled up everything around me. And then I’d slowly will my other dreams into reality.

I wouldn’t have to think about selling off most of my things just so I could afford to be displaced. I wouldn’t have to imagine the carefully crafted outdoor spaces I’ve built out of nothing being plucked apart by yard salers—bird houses and garden baubles and outdoor furniture snapped up like carrion for crows. I wouldn’t have to eventually hand over my keys and walk up the front stairs to a laden car, looking back over my shoulder at my Eden: the future site of million-dollar mansions. And I wouldn’t have to acknowledge that this place will soon be gone—face the imminence of a backhoe plowing headlong into the living room, its bucketed arm pivoting to level the tiny bedroom where I curled up my first night alone in five years and sank into the inky darkness of the forested hollow around me.

***

JoJo and I complete our around-the-house circuit, and as we reach the front patio, she stares up with her watery eyes, pleading for more time.

“Alright, we’ll go around again.”

Leaves cascade down from the gusting wind, their brittle edges reminding me that I won’t experience another fall here—staring out from the sun porch’s wavy-glassed windows while cradling a cup of hot coffee.

I’ll be somewhere else—probably in a large apartment complex in Tukwila with paper-thin walls listening to my neighbors squabble. But, with hope, in the depressing box that awaits me, I’ll be able to save enough money to pay off my credit card—racked with car repairs and heating bills rather than fanciful vacations and pedicures—and save enough money to move back to the East coast, or someplace I can actually live.

The wind nips my back as I run my hands along the weathered wood pallet garden wall. I clutch it hard, my knuckles turning white.

I wanted to build so much more here.

Back inside, as I warm her towels in the dryer, JoJo claws her way up into my lap. Her head, heavy with sleep, thuds quietly into my chest as she blows a snot-laden sigh into my orange cardigan.

I rest my chin on her tiny head, exhale deeply, and murmur through tear-clouded eyes, “Wherever you are is home.”

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Yes, We Can

It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions I felt today.

Albeit a day filled with immense hope and indescribable optimism, there was an undercurrent of something else – of mourning. And as I marched down Seattle’s glutted streets with over 130,000 other peaceful protesters – staring up at rooftops to see firefighters, window-washers, and apartment residents waving on and screaming in solidarity – I recognized that this is a strange new nation. We are fractured. And no matter how hard anyone tries to pick up the pieces and painstakingly rejoin them, they will never fit back together again.

This farce of an election has cracked something inside us all, and we have a duty to acknowledge it, name it, and rail against that which threatens the safety and security of this great nation, and the world. We owe it to ourselves and the citizens around the world who raised their voices in solidarity with us today.

My hope is that this mantle of justice is taken up and shouldered by us all, and that we don’t chalk up today as some kumbaya moment. This “moment” must keep going far beyond today – in rhetoric and action; in everyday practice, we must always push forward. We must remember our humanity, and the power we wield when we band together.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Today, I’m thankful for my fellow marchers across the nation and globe, especially my awe-inspiring mother and sister who trekked to DC; they’re the two strongest women and role models I’ve ever known.

For the knitter at the bus stop who gifted me a beautiful pink scarf.

For the new friend who pulled up at the glutted bus stop and gave three of us a ride.

For the friends I bumped into and texted with throughout the march.

For every single child I saw filled with hope, and screaming at the top of their lungs for change.

For the seniors walking arm-in-arm, holding signs aloft reading, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.”

For signs calling out all the -isms, and the importance of understanding and recognizing intersectionality.

For the blind marcher wearing a sandwich board reading, “I will not follow along blindly.”

For the great-grandmother who confided to me, “I like all the pink. But I don’t know about the pussy hats yet.”

For the eagle that flew overhead just as the sun beamed down.

Yes, we have much work to do to fix this country. But after days like today, I’m more certain than ever that, yes, we can.

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Doh-si-DOE-si-Dough

After I throw an assortment of event envelopes, overstuffed folders, wire racks, and a styrofoam head into the backseat, I motion to my guest, letting her know the passenger seat is clear.

She opens the door cautiously, her Louboutin stilettos hovering over the floor mat for about five seconds, quivering as if she’s about to step onto a sheet of ice. My car reeks of cardboard, but her heavy perfume still manages to overpower it. I imagine the fragrance name being something like “Wealth Drops” – squeezed from the eyes of locally-sourced poor people for your pleasure.

Before I get in, I do a quick stretch-deodorant check; thankfully, my Old Spice is still holding up.

“Alrighty, off to lunch!” I chirp over-enthusiastically. Given that my colleague and I just got tasked with interviewing this prospective candidate for our boss over lunch, I muster everything I can to keep from entertaining my first thought, which is to bash my head into the steering wheel.

Her expensively manicured hands buckle the seatbelt over her Chanel blazer; she sits painfully upright, so much so that I quickly check to ensure I didn’t knock the headrest at a right angle. But when I look, I’m blinded by the diamond-encrusted Prada glasses, tipped down to her nose as she surveys the immediate area.

“So, this cafe isn’t walkable, then?” she curtly coughs.

“Nope. And you don’t really want to walk around this area. Even if you’re just running to Subway.”

I opt to leave out describing the pedestrian walkways around our building as “stabby.” After all, I’m trying to keep it classy.

Maneuvering through traffic, I try to keep the already awkward conversation moving while avoiding adding vehicular manslaughter to our lunch menu.

“So, what specifically about the position struck you – drew you in?”

I don’t really pay attention to her response, letting the canned question fall into an abyss-like chasm in my mind the minute it falls from my mouth. By the time she finishes, and I follow up with the expected, “Well, that’s great!” we pull into the parking lot.

While she and my coworker get out and grab a spot in line, I circle and search for a parking place. But after I park, I rummage through the pile of crap I threw onto the backseat to ensure the manila folder with my recently printed resumes and talking points for in-process interviews weren’t bent or mangled. Interviewing possible bosses while searching for a different job myself always makes for an interesting experience – and affords me the ability to hone my question-and-answer delivery.

***

Over lunch, the candidate picks at her spinach salad, coating the top with salt and selectively eating only the bacon from atop the leafy mound. The chunks of feta sprinkled among the bacon clash with the large pearls perfectly overlaying her blouse.

Rattling off a few more canned questions, I listen dutifully to her rehearsed answers and nod at the appropriate times, interjecting an occasional “Mhmm” or “Ah, I see.” Whether it’s because I’m full, or the day has gotten to me, I start to drift off. It seems I can’t escape the exhaustion that comes with interviewing – from either side of the table.

In my daze, I recall my most recent in-person interview, and fantasize about the possibility of leaving, of starting anew in a position where the “DOE” salary in the job announcement translates into something meaningful – either something close to what I’m currently making, or even a little more. Like most cities, Seattle’s liberal culture and attractive amenities come at an absurdly high cost of living – something that doesn’t exactly mesh with a nonprofit salary. What’s more crushingly painful is the fact that I’ve never made as much as I’m currently making, and am terrified that I’m trapped – that I’ll never escape, and be forced to spend my professional years in a gray cube.

The clang of our interviewee’s fork falling onto the floor snaps me back to the dull present. I mutter an, “Oh, I see…” in response to her latest name-dropping line, and glance at my phone.

“OH, we should probably get going!” I boom excitedly. I’m so ready for this misery to be over.

When we return, I rattle off an email to the hiring committee with my feedback, none of which is positive – the title of the email reading: No Hire.

After I hit Send, I hope that a prospective employer isn’t doing exactly the same thing to me.

***

Nearly a month later, I’m wrapping up the phone conversation with my soon-to-be new boss.

I hang up, and scream so loudly that Joanna freezes in place, and even sinks a little into the floor.

It’s happened.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll submit my notice. All the work-related nightmares of wrapping up one job and starting another will surely follow, but for now, I plan to cherish the excitement that comes from changing directions – to charting a new, needed path.

This year hasn’t been easy, but hopefully this is a turning point.

***

The HR lead facilitating my exit interview has hung her head no fewer than three times and moaned lowly, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”

I nod, assuring her that every anecdote I’ve relayed, every painfully problematic Office Space-like bit of commentary is absolutely true.

She scribbles down everything down on her pre-printed questionnaire. With every statement, I feel a little lighter. When we finish, I return to my cubicle, exhale, and start pulling out pushpins, amassing papers into a large recycling pile.

I’d hoped this job would be the one; alas, it’s been everything but.

***

Today is my first day at my new job. Like a Kindergartner, I’m terrified, exhilarated, and sleep-deprived.

When I step out the door, I begin writing another chapter.

I hope it’s worth a read.

I hope I make a difference.

I hope I feel proud again.

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To Grow or Wilt

It’s around 6:00. It must be. Joanna’s signature high-pitched whine punctuates the dark bedroom as she rustles up through her crate blankets to greet another day.

Before my mind even registers the ungodly hour, my body, zombie-like, starts shaking off the night’s shallow slumber as I propel one leg off the bed followed by the duvet-snagged other – and then stoop down to the small blue crate nestled against an Eastlake vanity.

Predictably, Joanna feigns sleepiness in a halfhearted attempt to cajole me to scoop her up so that she, the exhausted one, can be rubbed and doted upon for approximately two minutes before she’s harnessed to visit her favorite garbage-dotted bushes along the sidewalk.

The front door’s loud thwack and my jingling keys do little to rouse Toby who, judging from snores and grunts, is still covered in his towel fort atop the living room’s sagging Victorian hexagonal chair.

Outside, typical characters are performing their morning scenes – the jogger clop clop clopping along the pavement; the flyer stapler bash bash bashing one more concert announcement into an already thickly layered telephone pole; the neighborhood druggies hack hack hacking up partial lungs while lighting up in alcoves where the faint morning light still hasn’t penetrated. Mini trash tornados circle and die in the street, and the sky threatens a morning shower. Joanna sniffs castoff food wrappers and smashed jalapenos outlining where the late-night hot dog vendor set up to entice drunken revelers to convalesce with compressed, meaty bliss.

Back inside, filtered light warms the apartment ever so slightly, and the dogs settle down with their post-breakfast treats while I indulge in a few cups of hot cocoa – my recent, somewhat successful attempt at limiting my coffee intake. The expected chocolatey skim forms on top, which once stirred vigorously, settles into the thickened mixture swirling around in the jadeite mug. I sip and gulp, and then rub my favorite geranium’s rough leaves – letting their peppery fragrance kick me in the nostrils.

It’s one of those mornings framed for reflection.

We’ve packed a lot into the last three years: we moved across the country; I started a new career; we moved out of our first CA perch, our tiny Koreatown studio, for our WeHo digs; we adopted Toby, then Pearl; Andy got another job; we got marriedPearl passed away; Andy got a promotion; we moved to Seattle; I finished my manuscript, and got a new job; we adopted Joanna; Joanna broke her leg; we decided to stay strong and lean in.

And now, in a few months, we’ll be moving again – but this time, only a stone’s throw to a larger place where we can let ourselves root in Seattle’s ever damp soil and save up for a house. We’re re-learning to focus on the good bits that sustain us – whether it’s overfilling our apartment with greenery, or enjoying the fact that Toby and Joanna have finally bonded.

A greenery-filled house is a happier house

They've bonded!

And acknowledging that life is a string of unscripted, unknown experiences, from which we can either choose to grow or wilt.

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Leaning In

Life is weird. If being an autonomous agent in this world teaches you anything, it’s that. You can plan and scheme and outline your entire future – or even just your morning – and everything can change without pomp or circumstance, without some clouds parting or an internal voice telling you “This is your moment.”

Things change. People change. We get older and more tired. But something that few of us leave behind fully is a taste for life, for the sweet, sometimes unexpected bits sprinkled into our daily existence like toppings over ice cream. And right as you’re squaring your jaw, drawing a hard line, you break into that bizarre, alien sweetness – an experience that, again, throws you off balance just enough to make you pivot and change course.

This past year has been full of heartache and changes. We’ve said gut-wrenching goodbyes, moved from a desert to FernGully, had plenty of hiccups, and started all over again.

As freeing as moving here and there can be, I’ve found myself waiting for that inevitable push elsewhere, using a bad day or passerby’s glare to fuel some choking ember into an inferno – raging and demanding change, being that ostensible evidence that I belong somewhere else.

Not long after we rooted in Seattle, we both started having misgivings. Perhaps we succumbed to Seattle’s permeating dampness, its seemingly impenetrable gray skies; or maybe we just needed something in the world around us to reflect our internal dialogue. So, yet again, we vowed that perpetual motion was the only way out of this overwhelming, emotionally draining welter. And where better to funnel our efforts than toward the place where we first met, where we first made a home together – on the other side of the country.

Returning to a place you consider home almost seems a given these days. Or maybe it’s just a product of getting older, realigning priorities – all of those revelatory moments you witness onscreen and never imagine actually taking hold in your own consciousness, made audible by your two lips and shaky vocal chords. And for a while, we began to pave our road back to Raleigh, imagine house-hunting around our old haunts, remembering all of the goodness we shared with family – genetic and chosen. But, as I’ve said, life happens.

***

A few minutes into my 90-day review, I know everything is about to change. My director is leaving the organization, and I know with the utmost certainty that it’s only a matter of weeks before the other member of our dwindling department raises anchor and sets sail too. I swallow. I smile. I say all the things a professional would – interjecting humor where necessary, blunting cynicism with sarcasm.

And so the shift begins. A week after she leaves, my other teammate departs, as I’d suspected he would. So, it’s down to me.

This is it. There’s no point investing my time or energy here. 

But the departmental chaos reveals a chance to propel up the ladder a few rungs faster than I’d imagined. Coupled with a few other wrenches that’ve been thrown our way, we have a lot to consider, more than a few decisions to make.

***

It’s easy to run away; it’s harder to stay, absorb, learn, grow as much as you can, and have confidence that, no matter what, you’re doing something because you want to – not because you have to, or because it’s what’s expected at this point in life.

So, we’re leaning in. We’re staying in Seattle – for now.

We’re acknowledging that where we are today is incredibly different from where we were in May, when we first set foot in the Pacific Northwest. And that’s a good thing. And we owe it to ourselves to keep making it as good as possible, to let the ink dry on this latest map we’ve scribbled down before wetting the quill again and drafting a new one.

For me, the scariest character in all of our conversations has been that familiar specter – the great and powerful Unknown, which gobbles up fear and optimism, dreams and nightmares. And we never know if what we entrust to it will ever manifest down the line in some guise – vindicating or damning us.

But at some point we have to look beyond the paths we see ahead of us and take stock of what encompasses them – limitless beauty and opportunity and, yes, that terrifying, ghoulish Unknown bathing in a soup of ambiguity.

Left, right, back, or none of the above?

You can yoke yourself to the trite saying “There’s a time and place for everything and everyone” – that when you hit some arbitrary number of years on this earth, you must fall in line.

Or, you can acknowledge that there’re lots of places, and time enough to do some exploring.

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A Legacy

A shattered Guy Fawkes mask leers out from the murky puddle; bits of paper and food wrappers bob up and down, congealing with saturated, shredded cardboard into a slimy slurry that laps at the curb. Ahead of us, a crow hops across the street, its beak protectively clutching a shimmering condom wrapper.

Toby dances and shakes in the perennial mist that blankets Seattle’s November skies, and angles for a dried patch beneath an overhang. Across the street a vacant thrift store looms quietly – the antithesis of its former thrumming self, alive and full of hipsters squealing about some vintage jorts or acid-wash jeans. But now the door fronts are laced with graffiti, and tarp housing is rigged in one of its deep entryways.

Like crumbs, makeshift signs dot the sidewalks every morning – some quoting scripture, others soliciting drugs; but most are tragically direct: “Help.”

We’re a pretty fucked up species. We see the problems plaguing us and just increase our speed, damn the torpedoes, and charge ahead – as if pure obliviousness will actually do something proactive. We choose not to act appropriately, not to help.

Every single day, I do just that. To an extent, we all do. For me, it’s become an unfortunate side-effect of living in big cities. Throw in horrible world events, and I close myself off more, assume the worst in people – only letting random moments remind me that, at a base level, plenty of people are good.

***

It’s getting close to quitting time at work, and I glance at Facebook and notice something about Paris. So, in typical techdrone fashion, I simply Google “Paris” – nothing more, just a word, and boom; there it is: world news at my fingertips. My head feels heavy, and I turn to look outside. Cars pack the bridge near my office, and the wind-tousled trees bend this way and that. Still, I have a few hours to go. I feel trapped.

On my way home, I stop to grab some groceries and movies for the weekend. We need an escape from the week, and, as guilty as I feel for thinking it, an escape from the burgeoning Paris headlines. As I pull into the lot, I notice a man I’ve seen before. He stands by holding a familiar sign, with his faithful shepherd laying on a towel a few feet away.

I come to find out his name is David, and his dog’s name is Legacy. “Legacy” is actually an acronym, most of which I forget immediately; but I do remember “love,” “goodness,” and “caring” are sprinkled in. The duo lives in a battered Ford Expedition, visible halfway down the block. Cars pass by, and I can feel people staring. But I just keep talking to David. Legacy rouses momentarily, eyes me suspiciously, and then takes a keen interest in the bag of kibble sticking out of the grocery tote.

David and I continue our chat, and we discuss white privilege, social responsibility, and animal welfare. We just talk about life. And laugh.

“People think I’m out here begging and lazy and homeless by choice. But I work, and do what I can to keep gas in that.” He points to the Expedition. “And, you know, keep Legacy here safe.”

Completely disinterested, Legacy sets to licking his privates.

“People say ‘Home is where the heart is’ and my and Legacy’s hearts are tied together, so we can never be ‘homeless’.”

We start wrapping up our conversation. David nudges the bags behind a dying shrub, and I turn to go. But he interjects one last thing.

“You know, there’re three types of people I encounter. The ones who ignore me. The ones who stare right through me. And the ones who sort of get it and actually do something decent.”

He leans and extends his hand. I extend mine. And there, in a random parking lot, we two strangers become less estranged.

I don’t lose it until I get back to the car. Raw emotion floods out, and I lean my head against the headrest. The neon Target light blazes through the mist, drawing in hoards like a bug lamp. I snuffle some more, not really knowing why or for whom I’m crying. Maybe for David. Maybe for humanity in general.

We have a long way to go as a species – to recognize that we’re all pieces in a massive puzzle, that we all fit together. That every person, every being is valuable – that together, we accomplish amazing things.

All we have to do is remember that we can – bit by bit, hand in hand.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Good morning. Be advised: I’ve had coffee. You can approach.

As recorded in this un-posted post, I found Wednesday a little challenging:

Oh my gods. Do you ever just have those days where everything you do turns into a giant poo ball? WELCOME TO MY TUESDAY!

But really. It’s 11:30 and this is all I’ve accomplished:

(1) Sent a query.

(2) Wrestled sidewalk meat away from Toby.

(3) Sent the WRONG FUCKING cover letter for a particularly interesting job.

(4) Gone Devil Wears Prada on the asshat moving company that still owes us for fucking up some of our furniture.

(5) Deleted yesterday’s three job rejections, including the one for this job.

(6) Repeatedly screamed “FUCK the FUCKING FUCK!”

(7) Guzzled a pitcher of iced coffee.

(8) Realized that some people’s dogs on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook have more likes/followers than my blog.

(9) Read about a stay-at-home gay dad turned writer, checked out his Instagram feed, and was bombarded by shirtless photos that made me want to EAT A CAKE AND THROW IT UP JUST SO I COULD EAT IT AGAIN.

(10) TYPED EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS.

I’m in such a foul mood. And the most annoying thing about it is that it’s one of those that I know I can snap myself out of, but I sort of don’t want to at the moment. I JUST WANT TO GIVE EVERYONE MY RESTING BITCH FACE AND END IT WITH AN ALL INCLUSIVE MIC DROP.

Not only did everything in the world rub me the wrong way, but I’d completely misplaced Wednesday.

forgifs.com

source

I haven’t hidden the fact that moving to Seattle has been harder than I initially thought it’d be. I figured we’d land on our feet like we always have, and I’d snag one of the bazillion nonprofit development jobs floating around, and we’d live contentedly happy lives smack in the middle of Capitol Hill and marvel at the amazingness of life.

That’s just not how it’s panned out.

Granted, we like where we live and we’re constantly marveling at the amazingness of life, but we’re also aware that this move has drained us a bit. What’s more, it’s reminded us of what we’ve been missing, and what we want.

Last weekend we ventured out to immerse ourselves in Seattle’s LGBT community (after all, one of our goals before moving out here was to get more involved), and we figured we’d do that by going to visit the location of one particular organization that seemed to be a crazy-awesome hub for LGBT activism. So, fortified with coffee, we set out with equal parts exhilaration and anxiety – because starting over in a new place is always difficult, as is meeting new people.

We walked up, got excited by the fluorescent sign, swung open the door, and walked into a tiny room stacked with books – whose keeper was completely passed out at his desk. After tiptoeing around a bit, stoking the now smoldering embers of our excitement with the slightest fuel – LOOK, THEY HAVE AN OLD, YELLOWED COPY OF SUCH AND SUCH – we started heading for the door, at which time the attendant awoke. I asked him where the “larger center with which this place is affiliated” was located, and just got a blank stare in response. This was it. Thoroughly dismayed, we donated the few bucks we had in our wallets, thanked him, and left.

To the organization’s credit, it was there – present for the community as a resource and support; that’s incredibly important and I don’t mean to minimize it.

But the fact of the matter is, over the past few years, we’ve craved community on this coast and haven’t really found it. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet wonderful people and make a few friends. Still, even in the liberal enclaves, we’ve yet to encounter anything remotely as accessible, opening, and welcoming as the community-centric LGBT Center of Raleigh – where we met, and a place we love.

LA seemed more about appearance and income brackets than community.

Seattle seems more about fragmented, insulated social bubbles into which it’s nearly impossible to break.

Naively, we were expecting that same sense of community from our Raleigh days to be amplified in these larger, more liberal cities. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite. And the very particular sense of loneliness that’s resulted has been what’s been pushing us to move around, to find a fitting answer – even when the most logical solution has been staring us in the face.

Wednesday night, after Andy surprised me with tulips and a sweet card even though I was being a monstrous beast, we chatted over pizza and peach pie. And then watched Revolutionary Road. Whenever we’re thinking intensively about the future, and any big changes ahead, we always watch it.

We watched it when we decided to venture out to this coast.

So we watched it again when we decided to move back.

Wednesday was a big day.

***

So, we’re giving ourselves a year or so before we head back – after all, we just got to Seattle and there’s a lot of interesting stuff here to explore, and things to learn.

But there’s a certain sense of relief knowing that we’ll be returning to a place that’s felt more like home than anywhere we’ve lived – a place where we can make a difference, contribute to the community, and feel a sense of belonging that’s been so lacking out here. Plus, whenever we decide to become parents, we don’t want to raise our kid in a liberal bubble, but we also have to be somewhere where we, too, feel supported and at peace.

Until then, though, we’ll keep our heads up and enjoy our time out here – with our Raleigh goal always in sight. And while our journey on this coast may end, we’ll still learn plenty of lessons while we’re out here.

And gladly take them back home.

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Succulent This!

What a witty title. It’s like I’m channeling my inner hormone-raging teen who doesn’t know the first thing about sexy time.

Anyway. GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER AND INTO THE DIRT.

Since Andy has been traveling like crazy, I figured a great way to relax him would be to make him help me bring my crackpot idea of an indoor succulent garden to fruition. Especially since all the herbs I planted died in the past few weeks’ heat wave – except the mint, praise be (because if that goes, we’re doomed).

See, both of us appreciate the calming effects of indoor greenery – especially since we haven’t had anything approximating an outdoor space since Raleigh. And even that was pretty hazardous. BUT NOW, we have a teeny succulent garden in an antique dough bowl. Because we’re raging gays who love to incorporate antiques into anything we can.

How do you construct this wonderful, life-changing succulent garden, dearest Green Guru? you’re asking your computer screens.

WELL, let me show you.

Step 1: Get Yo Antiquin’ Pants On!

If you don’t have superfluous antique dough bowls laying around, you’re a loser and you should hate yourself. Just kidding! You should pride yourself on not being crazy hoarders like us. But if you love American Primitive goodies, or want a unique planter, waddle to your nearest antique store and poke around their outdoor stuff, or look for an old utilitarian box like this one that we just sold.

Get an old box or something

So, like I was saying, find this amazing thing and hold it up so that your photographer can take a cheesy, not-at-all-staged photo.

Completely natural photos are the best, aren't they?

(Also, be sure to wear a shirt with a socially conscious message so that Dan Savage will see your blog post and exclaim to his lovely family that they should go out and do this project IMMEDIATELY and then invite us over to ogle it and laugh at the world in all its weirdness.)

Step 2: The Secret Ingredient!

Add obese Chihuahua.

Toby is the secret ingredient

Kidding!

Step 3a: Walk the Line[r]

Since I didn’t want to damage the actual dough bowl, I made makeshift “liners” out of two large compostable bags (got them at Target). And then I nested a small plastic water catcher in the bottom center, on top of the bottom liner. This way, any water that percolates down should get caught in this reservoir.

Dough bowl lined

Step 3b: Start Layering!

I layered a bit of Cactus Mix (small bag) atop the bottom liner and in the reservoir – just to help absorb any percolating water.

Start layering!

Step 3c: Layer 2 (Take Some Scissors to That Old Bag)

Unlike the bottom liner, I perforated the top liner so that most of the holes were over the plastic reservoir in the second liner layer – so that any percolating water would most likely funnel into it.

Planting with scissors!

Step 4: More soil!

Add soil little by little, spreading it out to leave about an inch of the exposed bag layer around the bowl’s circumference.

Soil, soil, soil

Again, I didn’t want the soil directly touching the wood, so the exposed bag around the edges is for buffering purposes. (Plus, whenever I need to refresh the soil, I can dust off the edges and pull up on these bags – bringing each layer out in one large section.)

Spread it out!

Make sure your hair is perfect

(Also, make sure your hair looks decent.)

Step 5: Succulent Staging!

Unpot, arrange, and plant your succulents as you’d like.

Succulent staging

(Double chin optional.)

Plant'em!

Step 6: Roll the Bowl!

To triply protect the integrity of the wooden bowl, we cut a paper towel roll into strips (length-wise), and then cut those in half. We bent each along the middle and arranged them around the circumference, to (again) direct water to the center and down to the reservoir. (This was totally not part of the original plan, but makes the next step so much easier.)

Paper towel roll border!

Ring around the dough bowl

Step 7: Sprinkle in the Sparklies

Use decorative stone fill (or marbles, or googly eyes) and in-fill the space behind the cardboard pieces, and then cover them – working your way to the middle. We completely filled the outside areas and over the tops of the bags and cardboard first, and then moved inward. We didn’t cover the soil completely around the succulents, just so water could get to the roots a bit more easily.

Step 8: REVEL IN YOUR GREAT CREATION

You’re done! You’ve re-purposed a beloved antique and given it a new life.

It's finished!

And now, our apartment is full of beautiful green things!

More green!

Some of which look like marijuana plants, but they’re totally not. For a second opinion of the marijuananess of our plants, we called Amy Adams, but she was too concerned about her lunatic husband in Big Eyes to be of any help.

Big eyes and eye-popping orange planter

(And pay no attention to that hideous, but necessary fan.)

Now, gaze again upon the beauty and wonder of your creation from another angle. And remember that you did this together. Or solo. Whatever. I don’t judge. You made something cool, and that’s a fun accomplishment.

One last shot

Hopefully I won’t have to write a follow up post explaining that the liners failed and the dough bowl rotted out and all the succulents died.

Until then, we’ll be here in our city garden full of tropical, invasive species that’ll never see the outside world.

Yay, environment! Now, go make something cool – and have fun doing it.

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Downsizing Space, Upsizing Life*

The other day I was reading this hilarious tiny house post by the witty blogger behind Hipstercrite, and found myself screaming, “GODDAMMIT, YES!”

Let me first caveat this by saying that, like Hipstercrite, I wholeheartedly acknowledge all the positive things tiny houses represent: environmental conservation, recycling (e.g., you quite literally poo where you eat), de-materialism (it should be a word), blah blah blah good things. Hell, my parents live in a semi-subterranean, off-grid hobbit house in the middle of the woods. (But it’s more than one room.)

The Alabama Hobbit Hole, aka The Mirarchi Homestead

I get it. Being good to the earth is awesome.

But you know what else is awesome? Being good to yourself. Which means giving yourself space enough to think, eat, contemplate life’s mysteries, watch movies, and poo without the smell competing with the chili bubbling on the stove outside the tiny house’s bathroom “door” (it’s a curtain, y’all).

It’s no secret that I love talking and writing about design, mostly because I don’t know the professional ins and outs, and wing it whenever I’m decorating our apartment. But I have to say, if Andy and I ever moved into a tiny house, we’d probably end up getting a divorce approximately 6 minutes after walking through the door. (Although it’d probably make for good reality TV: Two Gays, One Tiny House, and An Obese Chihuahua: Who’ll Come Out On Top…or Dead?!)

We both love having our own space. Which is why our historic apartment in Raleigh was amazing. In fact, the other day Apartment Therapy re-posted our House Tour in their “Pride at Home” series following the SCOTUS decision. That was pretty awesome, not just for its timing and the fact I finally felt like an all-star, but also for the window it gave us into our lives a few years back.

We re-toured it, and remarked about how most of the stuff we saw has since been sold or gifted away. (And it also gave me an opportunity for ample self-loathing when I saw myself in those skinny pants, and my hippie hair. Oy!) Then we looked around our Seattle digs, and realized just how much we’ve downsized since moving from North Carolina to California to Seattle.

I mean, when we first landed in California, we were in a 450 square foot studio apartment in Koreatown, and most of our stuff was in a Gardena storage facility (oh, how little we knew the geography). Which, coming from our 1,100 square foot historic Raleigh duplex, felt like a glorified walk-in closet.

Ah, yes. The living-bed-work room. All in one tiny space! Bah!

Thankfully, the only thing we did right with that apartment was sign a 6-month lease.

And then we were off to West Hollywood – a step up space-wise with an actual bedroom and generous living-dining room. Still, it was maybe 850 square feet – quite a bit smaller than what we were used to. Thankfully, it had a great deal of built-in storage – so all of our random crap (and some furniture) was stowed away.

More space!

But then Seattle happened. We loved the new-old space immediately. But when the boxes kept coming and coming and coming, and the movers bid me a “good luck” with nods to the cardboard box forest behind me, I realized that this apartment was quite a bit smaller than our WeHe digs. (We never knew how big our WeHo place was, because the square footage was never listed.)

Big, open spaces. Big, open spaces. And breathe.

Not only that, but we have one closet.

And when I mean one closet, I don’t mean one walk-in closet and five other closets.

I mean one closet in the whole apartment. Granted, it’s a walk-in, but when you factor in all of the random domestic detritus you always need but have to store (towels, blankets, clothes, coats, umbrellas, ironing board, cleaning products, that one box of holiday decor you allow your husband to have…), you need at least two closets. The only other “closet” we have is completely occupied by our stackable washer-dryer, for which I’ll gladly sacrifice the space.

Honestly, though, as annoying as it’s been having only one closet, it keeps us honest. No hoarding clothes or shoes or furniture. Our space is full enough now, so anything new we bring it means something else goes out.

Except for Fiesta. There’s always room for rare I-will-cut-you-for-that Fiesta pieces. (One of the main reasons why we could never live in a tiny house.)

Always room for Fiesta!

We’ve culled a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean that the only decorative stuff we have is what we see (except for some framed art under the bed – that ain’t going anywhere). And the only furniture we retained are pieces that pull double-duty, except for those necessary chairs. So our sideboards and cabinets hold dishes (all of which we use) and DVDs, and all of our clothes and shoes and coats and tools and gardening supplies are stored in the bedroom dressers and walk-in closet.

Even though this move was exhausting because of majorly downsizing, it was totally worth it. Do we love stuff? Absolutely. But we don’t need more of it to feel like we’ve succeeded in life, nor do we need a tiny house to convince us that we’re leading a quintessentially “simple life.”

And while this is the smallest apartment we’ve ever lived in (and will probably ever live in), it goes without saying that it’s still more than most folks in the world have. There’s something about living in a small(er) space that anchors this in the fore of my mind; it reminds me to be thankful for this little slice of life, and to cherish everything in it – because what we’ve chosen to retain is what we feel matters most.

Plus, it’s sort of fun transitioning formerly decorative stuff into the functional realm (e.g., the dough bowl that used to hold pine cones in my parents’ house, looked Spartan and old and beautifully empty in our WeHo apartment, and will now be turned into a container for a succulent garden in Seattle).

But there is such a thing as too small a space, and I need more than one pan to cook with.

My ideal is to have another bedroom for guests (or, you know, a kid) and another bathroom. (I also like to occasionally channel Mary-Louise Parker in The Client and tell Toby that all I want is “A little white** house with a walk-in closet.” (Nix the white.) It’d also be great not to have to design everything along a wall in our living room, but I’m done worrying about “design rules.”

Our pared down library

I think our space works just fine, and doesn’t look half bad either. So while we won’t be investing in a tiny house anytime soon, I’ll take some of the tenets from that ascetic lifestyle and map it onto our slightly more material-bloated, less claustrophobic 745 square foot Capitol Hill perch.

After all, Toby’s not about to pare-down any of his toys.

Toby isn't letting a single one go. No tiny house for him!

(*I’m pretty sure upsizing isn’t a word. But it should be.)