I used to live here. One day I was 21 and I had spent a year taking care of the elderly and flying back and forth between LA and Denver, and the next day I had to decide between going to grad school in Salt Lake City or doing something else in any place other than Salt Lake City. And because of Jake, my mentor, one day at the back of a coffee shop in Denver, I chose grad school and Salt Lake City and that decision stayed with me in a vague way until suddenly I'd visited SLC one July and I'd secured an apartment in a building that wouldn't even have its certificate of occupancy until after I was supposed to move to Salt Lake City. One night, it was 90 degrees at midnight in a motel parking lot in downtown Salt Lake and I paced around outside in my underwear talking to my boyfriend while mentally preparing to apartment hunt with my mom the following morning. When we went to see the site of my future home, we were told we needed closed toed shoes because it was a construction site, so we went to some footwear store in a horrible outdoor mall built for the 2002 Olympics on the west side of town and each bought a pair of converse on sale. I bought black and white checkered high tops that I never once wore again until a month ago, and which I am wearing at this moment.
When I come back here, I tell people how I was miserable for two years, but how, on my very last day in Salt Lake City, I fell in love with it, and I sobbed on my drive back to Denver the following morning, car packed with my belongings. People ask me, why were you so miserable?
I was miserable because I knew no one. Because I had to move to the twilight zone version of my own hometown, location of the mountains reversed. Because I had to live in a 15 year old version of the Denver I'd just left, pollution and all. Denver was far more polluted when I was a kid than it is now, but walking into Salt Lake's inversion was like walking back in time.
I was miserable because I lived in an apartment that wasn't ready when I arrived, so I had to live in an extended stay motel for two weeks. This is something all my Utah friends know but don't usually remember. What I did for two weeks was feel bad for myself, take a lot of vicodin, and read The Odyssey. When I finally did move into my apartment, I was the first one there, and the place felt like a hospital. Concrete floors. All white walls. Fluorescent lighting. Long, narrow, sterile hallways. I couldn't get my blinds to close for three days. I called my boyfriend in frustration and tears more than once to tell him how I'd yet again not slept because there was so much light in my apartment all night from the surrounding warehouses and parking lots.
I was miserable because my neighbors were said warehouses and parking lots. Because I lived in the industrial part of town, which one couldn't really call a neighborhood, but which is now seeing an increase in the presence of coffee shops and the people who go to coffee shops. No such thing existed even three years ago. All I had were dump trucks, a taxi company, and a small music venue called Kilby Court. Kilby Court kind of saved me the first year I lived here.
I was so miserable that my only goal for myself was to make one friend in my entire two years at the University of Utah.
My boyfriend broke up with me.
My friend committed suicide.
My friend group was quickly crumbling for a variety of complicated and uncomplicated reasons unrelated but not unrelated to our friend's sudden death.
My former baby sitter and oldest friend was diagnosed with cancer. She died a year after I moved here.
There were people who got in car accidents. There were falling outs. There was vicious gossip.
But there were also parties. Gatherings. Readings. Seminars. Slowly I realized that I'd been hanging out with the same 30 or so people every week for months, and that these people constituted my group of friends. I'd exceeded my goal by 30. At least.
I'm writing all of this because the strangest thing for me over the past ten days has been to remember who I was when I lived here. I was newly 22 when I arrived and soon to be 24 when I left. I lost two people I loved while I lived here. I got broken up with and then I got back together with the breaker upper. My entire friend group shifted from people I met in high school, to people I'd only known in Utah. I only ate captin crunch cereal, frozen pizzas, 6 packs of krispy kreme donuts, frozen mozzarella sticks, and Noodles & Co. I bought a bike but never rode it. I started doing yoga. I started going to spin class. By my second year here, the only healthy part of my life was going to spin class twice a week after teaching back to back comp classes every Tuesday and Thursday. I was working what felt like a real job, even though being a graduate student still doesn't totally qualify as a real job, and I was starting to become a person.
When I think about Salt Lake City me, I feel like I'm thinking of someone else. Some old, kind of annoying friend I used to have. I was a mess. I reveled in destruction. My favorite song lyrics at the time were maybe that's what happens when a tornado meets a volcano. I wanted to burn everything to the ground. I wanted to break people. I wanted to break myself. A month before I moved away, someone jumped off the roof of my apartment building and died in my parking lot as I pulled my car in after evening yoga. I was listening to Beirut's "Vagabond." Left a bag of bones, trail of stones/for to find my way home now. But in retrospect, those two years were not miserable because of all of the things I've recalled above. Those two years were miserable because I was 22-24 years old and I was in the fire of becoming. I was learning how to be intentional. How to make choices. How to be something other than a mere extension of my immediate past. I was growing up. And it was awful. And I wouldn't relive those years for anything. I see my students now, how they're not even there yet. How they're in the pre-adulting phase, which can be just as bad in different ways, though for me lacked the self-awareness of my own process and struggle that 22-24 brought. [It is important for me to note that I imagine looking back on this 25-30 age in a few decades and having similar thoughts, but what matters to me now is that I feel a sense of peace that I never felt then.]
When I drive around the streets of this place now, I think I am looking to meet my old self. I feel unfulfilled or incomplete in some way here, like I have some kind of unfinished business. All those hikes I never took. All those bike rides that never happened. The friendships I only came to value after I moved away and they remained in tact. I want to find that old me, likely ordering a Santa Fe wrap at the Einstein's Bagels on South State Street. I want to watch that me fill up her fountain soda, wait under flickering fast food chain lighting, not because I want to tell her that it will all be ok, but because I want to remind present self where I came from, because I want to remember that this was a hard fought battle from misery to happiness, because I want to reassure myself that I made it through something once and came out a better person.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
I'm sitting on a couch in the walkout basement apartment of a cute little house on Denver Street in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I'm smiling because this street in the place where I used to live shares a name with the city where I was born, and my dream is for everything and everyone I love to collapse time and distance, merge into each other like a double exposure, except I would need a quintuple exposure: Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Colorado, New York City, Buenos Aires. My heart just gets spread farther and wider the older I get, and it's hard to sustain. Today I walked into a grocery story and cried because I missed it. Just a grocery store. Smith's. Which is Utah's name for its Kroger owned store. But it's the first grocery store I ever went to when I moved here in August 2010 with my then boyfriend. We talked to the deli meats guy. He told us things about Salt Lake that I forget by now. I spent so much time in that grocery store because I didn't have that much else to do here, and I was miserable, and sometimes I would just go there and call my best friend from home and walk around the aisles and talk to her, and usually she'd be at a grocery store, too, because that's what we did. We called each other from grocery stores and then never found what we wanted to buy because we weren't focused. I think I accidentally spent 30 minutes wandering the tampon aisle once because of this. I bought a bright yellow teapot at Smith's. I still have it. I bought so much terrible food at Smith's. Sugar cereal, buffalo wing flavored potato chips, candy, ice cream, 6 packs of krispy kreme donuts. This town saw the worst of me. Old me would have rolled her eyes so hard at new me today when I bought vegan wraps, spinach, yogurt, granola, berries, cold pressed juice, and veggie burgers. I embarrass myself anew every day. Like when I sobbed two days ago because I hated my new hair because I've never dyed my hair and now I let my stylist talk me into doing a balayage but now I actually like it and walk around smiling like a fool.
The dog is sleeping at my feet. We drove here yesterday. It was a gorgeous drive. Desert. Mountains. Low hanging clouds. Bursts of rain. Driving up into the Salt Lake Valley always feels the same to me, no matter when I do it. Like I'm driving up to something unknown, passing all those brightly lit LDS churches in the distance, like beacons not meant for me.
I'm meandering. I've spent the past nearly two months since I last posted just trying to navigate life. It's not be pleasant. I mean, there have been many wonderful moments. Mostly wonderful moments, actually. Just a lot of busy, too. I spent so much time preparing for qualifying exams, which I didn't ultimately have to take this semester, but which I might have had to take and had to wait till the last second to know about. I finished teaching my desert class. I revised my entire dissertation idea, which I'll comment on briefly soon, and that resulted in my needing to do a lot more reading and research and thinking. And in the midst of all of that, my very best friend lost her sister suddenly. The day after I last posted, in fact. And I've spent this time trying to think through how to be there for someone in these circumstance and how to feel about loss [again & again] and what emotions are helpful and what emotions are harmful. I've realized recently how important who I spend my time with is to me, and I'm learning the older I get to be more careful about where I go and what I do and with whom. Because some people are toxic, and they pull you away from yourself in the worst ways. And none of that has anything to do with this particular loss at all except that sometimes loss sheds light in corners you didn't except to look because suddenly, once again, you're seeing things more clearly, more painfully, and with sharper vision. These two ideas probably shouldn't be in the same paragraph, but I'd be lying if I said that my mind didn't connect them. Death is a shift in the tectonic plates of how we know ourselves, and my plates shifted is all. So my semester finally finished in a burst of sadness, reflection, relief, and resignation. But it's ok. Everything's ok. It always is. Like my dear friend Meg says, #EverybodysGonnaMakeIt. Even when they don't.
Anyway, one of my main adventures since March was AWP in Minneapolis where I got to see all my Utah friends, my best friend from college, and some of my LA friends. Two of my very best humans met each other, and I got to see my friends read and I got to buy way too many books [like $400 worth, I swear to god], and I got to see a little bit of this strange city in the middle of the country where bridges connect all the tall buildings downtown and you never have to go outside because it's basically the tundra and the hallways smell like Subway but the Guthrie and the Walker Art Center and the Mississippi River are all amazing.
I've mostly been hanging out with these fools and playing with my Nikon.
I've been eating A LOT of dessert. Mostly with my partner in dessert crime, but sometimes when my neighbors bake me things and other times when I'm just out and want a treat.
They painted the Bates Motel up the street from me completely white for an art piece called "Projection."
I got a little exploring done in LA even though I have no idea when I had time to do this.
Oh and my parents came to town last week and we rented an airbnb up the coast in Carpinteria, just south of Santa Barbara and just west of Ojai, so we explored all those places with my puppy. We ate a lot and played a lot of gin rummy and didn't get in any fights even though I am sometimes difficult to travel with because I am so used to being alone [and prefer it].
|Our little weekend airbnb in Carpinteria.|
The rest of my life has just been about working with Malta on her fear stuff; reading and thinking about my new dissertation project about interfaces, cities, street art, surveillance, and the materiality of language; hanging out with my neighbors; watching a lot of excellent TV shows; doing yoga; and reflecting a lot on where I'm at and where I'm going. More and more each day, I love my apartment, I love my apartment complex, I love my neighborhood, and I love Los Angeles. I love how comfortable I am there. I love my community, especially my dog commune of a living situation. I've been traveling much less and it's given me a chance to slow down and think about what matters to me. I think the thing that most stirs up my insides into an existential storm is not knowing where I'm going to end up. Because I am so ready to buy a house and live in a place and establish a life. Except that's ridiculous because I do live in a place and I have established a life, a life I love, so why do I feel like I'm waiting for something? Graduate school isn't permanent, and something inside me knows that and longs for the stability of a job. So many of my feelings are counter intuitive. I want roots, stability, a job, but I want adventure, travel, change. But I hate change. But I want to always be on the move. I tear myself in different directions, and it always gets worse at this time of year when I get to leave LA and decide how to spend my time. I inevitably always end up back in Colorado and then wish so badly that I could be ready to just move there for good. But if I did? I would miss LA terribly. I would think maybe I should be in Salt Lake where it's like a cheaper twilight zone version of Colorado. I would think, what city, what town in the world am I missing, what life am I missing, by choosing this? I have always been this way. Capable of loving where I am deeply while simultaneously longing for something else. Fortunately this longing never diminishes my experience wherever I am. If anything, it pulls me deeper into the moment because I know the moment is temporary.
Why are you reading this? This is boring. Every once in awhile I just need to write all this stuff down. As usual, I wrote a way better version of this in my head while driving 500 miles on I-15 from LA to SLC yesterday because driving is my meditation. When I am driving, I am in that perfect state of being nowhere and having nothing, and so being everywhere and having everything. Sometimes I wonder when all this stuff in my heart will get too heavy to carry. All the people I've loved. And the places I've lived. It's getting harder to store them all inside me. I am making new room all the time, but when will I run out of space, or the desire to put forth the effort to pull things ever inward? Hopefully never. But I'm feeling tired lately. Heavy. Maybe that's just the result of another long winter. [Yes, even LA has long winters. Winter doesn't mean snow. It means darkness.] My greatest regret in life is that I can't be a ghost, that I can't haunt anyone or anything, that I can't be everywhere at once, that I can't put some of this weight on someone else for awhile.