Category Archives: Life’s Work

I’m a Fucking Bohemian Sleeping on a Thai Floor Mattress in an Empty High Rise Apartment (And Also Turning 40)

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I was going to call this blog “Minimalist, at 40”.  But, I met someone at a party and told her I was a fucking bohemian sleeping on a Thai floor mattress in an empty high rise apartment. And she thought that was a much better title.

I ordered my Thai floor mattress from Amazon.com, and shipped it to my friend Aubrey’s (since I don’t have an address other than a PO Box in Texas and my parents’ house in Colorado).  After a month away from Austin for work, when I arrived at Aubrey’s place and realized it had arrived, we excitedly opened it, rolled it out on her floor, and laid on it, head to toe to each other.

I’d been showing people photos of it.  “You’re going to sleep on that?”  “That does not look comfortable.”  Not everyone got it.  But the idea of an empty room, with this mattress and a floor pillow, excited me.  I could picture my focused existence in this space, where I’d whittle my wardrobe down to a highly fashionable minimalist capsule, exercise or novelize for entertainment, write, work on my taxes, and sleep worry (and rent) free.

The first night I slept on the mattress, I woke in the middle as one does in a new apartment, thrown by my bed’s firmness and general location on the hard floor of the living room.  I pulled the mat into the carpeted walk in closet, having decided the bedroom carpet was unfit for contact, and slept there, with my cases around and dangling clothing dusting my head, until 12:45pm the next day.  I’ve not had a bad night’s sleep since moving back to the living room and adding a thin foam top to my bed.

I’m currently living in a downtown Austin high rise, empty save for a small table and two chairs, the mat (furnished with pillows and bedding from my storage unit), my clothing and toiletries, a large floor pillow my dog is finally adopting as his bed, and random things left by my friends who are actually on the lease.  The joy I felt when I arrived to find there were three bath towels, floss picks and Q-tips, a place to sit, and a ton of leftover food – things I didn’t have to move, buy, or throw away later.  I could use them.  High rise camping is the new glamping, and you don’t need a boyfriend with better gear than you to do it well.

In a month, I’ve accumulated more than a dozen shopping bags, a new printer, a picnic set sent as a gift, and a pair of boots.  It feels like too much stuff, not in the least because I have to move it all out of here soon.  It’s weird how much you can get for free in the sense that you don’t spend money on it.  Friends leave town for work and I end up with their produce. People visit weekly and take me out to dinner.  I’m invited to parties with favors like free glassware and condoms and Quaker chewy oat bars.  A dog wash, a pen, a meal, a photo booth picture of me and my friends on that particular day when I was doing this thing.  It’s true that money is only energy and energy moves things around.

Moving all the time reminds me how much I don’t need stuff and much of it only serves the purpose of forcing my decision on its fate.  I’ve been trying to write down what I do every day, or week, and perhaps I’d have more time for this type of reflection if I didn’t have to track so much literal baggage.  I realized, with my constant shifting of places and things, how much I was forgetting my experiences.  How much I had enjoyed them.  And how much I’d never experienced real practiced minimalism until I put all my things in storage and slept on the floor in an empty apartment I wasn’t paying for.

Things break, making decisions for me that I wasn’t aware of.  Turns out I don’t need a cold brew pitcher.  It reminds me of my post college existence, when my pants were getting holes and (trying not to use credit cards) I only bought clothing at “Out of the Closet” thrift store.  My foot got wet because my expensive Frye boots are ready to be resoled.  “Sporks” I purchased a few years ago for camping (something I rarely do in the wild) are used and washed several times a day, and I’ve broken two of four because I use them to stir and flip anything I cook in my mess kit on the glass top stove.  It’s comforting to feel a purposeful end, the productive nature of life, the finite usefulness of every literal and metaphorical thing.

I feel my own jackknife-like qualities.  I’m amazed at my resilience and flexibility, having stayed in five different places (not counting hotels) since leaving my “luxury” apartment in August. I’m able to sleep instantly and heavily, to get by without the Today Show every morning and that thing I make strawberry peanut butter smoothies in.  To jump into different homes and jobs and working relationships.  And, leave them behind.

After a few months of this homelessness, I feel clearer all the time.  People are attracted to my glamorous non-committal existence.  I can’t help but to be myself as I’m vulnerably tied to my environment as much as it can accept me or spit me out. Most days, I’m pretty confident in what I’m doing. I have no one else to answer to and I’m always having a conversation with myself about it.  You can’t hide in an apartment with no furniture.  You’re left with you and your choices, recalibrating weekly.

I should have been a freeloading bon vivant years ago.

Carrie Bradshaw slept on a piece of foam in an apartment where a lady had died the month before, and covered herself with a white mink, her only possession.  This is what passionate people do.  We follow the sun.  There’s always sun.

And… 40.

My fortieth birthday is days away.  Just a few weeks ago I teared up at its mention.  I’ve passed cavalierly by most adult milestones thus far, but the timing of my chosen unsettledness seemed particularly dumb.  I was dreaming of buying a home, and instead decided to skip rent for six months and drive around to take different jobs, living with family or renting rooms on the fly (hence the free empty apartment in Austin).  Someone I knew was living a life I had fantasized about in the desert, and seemed to have gotten it pieced together just in time for their fortieth.  I felt failed, alone, and unsure of why I’d be anywhere just at the moment when I’d chosen a PO box over a lease.  In retrospect, that seemed like a declaration of my not belonging.

It took me a pouty moment to realize I’m living the goal I set for myself three years ago, after my first trip to West Texas.  That was to transition to freelance work and live between Texas and Colorado, and to do so by obtaining clients in Austin.  Which I’ve achieved differently than I imagined, and not without pain and loneliness, but nonetheless, the door opened to me, I walked in, and I’m here.  And, I felt slightly better.

My friends then expressed their desire to celebrate my birthday in the Airstream that is my next living situation, and for me to have a special outfit for the occasion.  My sadness about forty changed because: I am truly so happy.   I didn’t have role models like me when I was growing up.  And therefore, I never knew that I could be – could feel the way I do now, as the person I’ve come to be, far outside of my former Catholic girl’s presupposed result.

I’m not even living a “lifestyle” or doing “van life” or a “digital nomad” or “feminist AF” so much that I don’t want a man or a family.  It’s not sad or political to be a never married childfree poly-city forty year old woman.  I’m just doing what I’m doing and has worked for me.  Okay, it is political, but because the patriarchy makes it that way!

Next month I stay in the Airstream here in Austin, where I live, have my license plates, and a new but fierce and fiery pack of female friends.  I will turn 40 and celebrate with my witchy wolfpack, in this place, in the mild Texas weather.  There will probably be country music at some point and a bonfire, because Texas has hosted the best parties I have ever attended.  And I’ll feel grateful for my freedom, my joy.  I feel it in my skin.  There is love.  And I am so lucky.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Career Burnout or Mid Life Crisis

I resent being called middle aged because I plan to live much longer than seventy eight. But, I am almost thirty nine and a half years old, and we do expect to have figured some things out by now right?  Like, by forty, as a friend said, perhaps we’ve achieved some of what the future self who’s “got this” has been expected to accomplish.  That seems a middle aged proposition.

Or, maybe it all (life) seems to fall around us, repeat predictably, exhaustingly, in patterns we think we can alter for so long.  Then, we give up.  Give in to our unshakeable shortcomings, or stop trying altogether.  The boyfriend we keep dating, over and over, we just want to date that guy for the rest of our life, in all his incarnations, eat his copious servings of not quite till we’re unable to move.

I want to live in my painfully flawed way in peace, be released from dealing with the endless bullshit of my adult professional life.   Released from being asked, no expected – to care about said bullshit.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t care anymore.  I’ve been shown it’s not worth it.

Part I: Career Burnout

I, like many creative professionals, work in an extremely competitive industry driven by both brand whims and dwindling budgets, consistently recalibrated by evolving technologies and consumer adoption.  However, the people willing to both work in the industry and do so for low pay hasn’t changed at all in my 18 years in the workforce. Hence, the hamster wheel.

You build your career to the point of somewhat comfortable money and boredom, and then you realize: the money never really came, the artistic satisfaction never really came.  And people are still asking you to care.  And you don’t want to work that hard for shit you don’t care about, and money that’s disappointing.

And your reasons for not caring – they are basically the answer to everything you ever wondered about.  They are the answers you have been waiting for your entire adult life.

Part II: Mid Life Crisis

Now that you have these answers, (see Part I), you realize that everything you expended your time and energy on (i.e., building a career, your urban professional lifestyle, paying rent that increases yearly making your pay raises inconsequential) was complete bullshit other than the connections you made with other people, who were everyone from the random people you laid to the guy on the frontage road you yelled at for trying to wash your windows to your EMDR therapist (who you miss).  Everything else was noise, though some of that noise accompanied emotional highs and lows, provided an atmospheric soundtrack to those moments.

But mostly you can’t remember what you were doing.  There were these boring stretches in between the joy, the sadness, the flashes of the best parties you ever went to when you felt like you were holding hands with the universe.  And other ones when you were just really high.

So, why are you doing this?  And why is anyone else doing this?  And why are some of your friends doing it better than you or at least making the money to justify it?  Or having the children to justify it?

You don’t have anything left to justify it.  But you’d like to justify something.

Post Script: Money and Furniture

A current fixation is asking someone I’m engaged in conversation with about taking money from my 401K.  In practice, it’s just getting them to agree with me, that it’s a good idea.  “It’s my money that I worked for, and why shouldn’t I use it?”  I’ll ask.  “I deserve to be able to take a break. I’m almost forty years old and I’ve been working for eighteen years.”  That money is waving at me from its tax free prison.  “I know you’re not retired yet or buying a house,” it says, “but it seems like you kinda need me.”  How on earth can I learn how to apply the lessons of adulthood, without a mere few weeks to absorb them and choose the next step?  Maybe a couple months.

In 2011 I bought a couch from West Elm.  It was slate grey and called Henry.  I researched and prepped for the couch in the three months I spent between my Mom’s and a friend’s after a break up.  I had the cash for the couch.  I was magically moving back into the same apartment I had moved out of nine months earlier, because the new tenant was looking for a subleaser.

On the day it arrived, the delivery men called my cell so I could drive to the apartment to let them in.  It didn’t fit through the doorway.  “See this ma’am,” the man kept saying as he stood wedged between Henry and the door jamb.  “See ma’am, I can’t do the butterfly move to get it in.  Everyone who orders this couch has a small apartment.”  I fucking hate being called “ma’am”.

The couch had come to represent the new, more grownup life I was embarking on without my ex, who still had the futon we had been gifted by friends.  In its failure to fit within, the couch proved my new life to be as lame and sad as the kind of cheap couch I ended up with, that you can put together in your garden level flat.  I had just turned thirty three.

A move to accept a new gig at thirty eight meant starting over in a very adult way.  Again, I picked out my couch, this time a different one from West Elm, who offers financing.  I had money in the bank.  But, unsure of my new position, used the interest free credit.   The couch was set to arrive when I did, as a welcome gift to myself in my new life.  It was two weeks late, and beautiful.  It moved through my normal sized brand new doorway with ease into my brand new luxury apartment.

Months later, I count my dwindling funds and stubborn debts and desperation about future plans and I look at it and think: did I never really deserve you?  Am I just not the luxury apartment sofa-owning type?  I consolidated what’s left of what I owe on it to a friendlier credit card, and now consider it my only sellable asset.

My future plans include things like avoiding rent for a few months by visiting family and helping a friend remodel his house.  Then, choosing a home.  Being okay with laying down there.  Being available for a relationship in that actual zip code.  Putting that couch in the place I live there.  I’m at mid life, I should be able to manage something like this.

I really don’t want to sell that couch.

 

 

 

 

 

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