The Pasts of Women and End Tables

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’ve yet again failed at shopping for end tables. One wouldn’t think that this most “first world” of problems would lead to anything more than going to some other store to look. One would also have to be pretty new here, as finding a blog in the banal is kind of how I roll.

“I can’t just go to a store-store and buy a thing that’s for sale just because it doesn’t offend me. I want what I want, or I don’t want to pay for it and the idea of just walking into a place that sells furniture and slapping down a credit card just seems so…consumerist.”

Jen is on the receiving end of this phone call and I’ve already warned her that I’m probably having a serious low blood sugar moment.

The ultimate answer, as it so often is, is to go to an antique store. To buy something that wasn’t constructed in China and isn’t made of particle board. Something from back when “cherry” meant solid cherry and not cherry veneer glued to pine. Something with a past and a story. The answer today is to go home and clean something, craft something or paint something. But, for the love of God, to not spend Saturday sitting in Rivergate Mall traffic.

I return home to continue the project of going through everything I own to compile a closet worth of stuff to put in a yard sale. It’s part of phase 3: ditch the Ikea furniture you bought on Craigslist and deliberately, mindfully choose furniture that you like. On purpose. Like an adult. While it is true that no one really “needs” end tables in the way that they need food or water, I’m a nester, and I’m tired of nesting on hand me downs and things I bought because they were cheap and not because I loved them. Everything else in my house is there because I love it: the pictures, the cats, any other people who might be around…why does the couch get to be the one thing that gets to be here simply because it was really cheap and it didn’t fill me with contempt? It doesn’t make me feel like I’m home. It just makes me feel like “here’s this place to sit.”

(As a side note, “cheap and doesn’t fill me with contempt” is a phrase a redneck might include in the “what do you look for in a partner” section of a match.com profile.)

I so much prefer the cheetah print chaise someone gave me: it is fabulous and comfortable and when I sit on it, I think of the friend who gave it to me. I look at my nightstand and think of the little old man who sold it to me, telling me the story of where it had been since it was made almost 100 years ago. I look at the bed frame and think of the tiny songwriter and his tiny wife and how I liberated it from their guest room as the tiny songwriter told me stories he’d heard. Stories about the father of the guy I was dating at the time, who was also the reason I needed a bigger bed. Nashville is a small place and Craigslist makes strange bedfellows, no pun intended.

Part of the process of bringing in intentional furniture is clearing out unintentional things: art supplies left from a past life I don’t plan to revisit, quantities of hand-me-down dishes that I will never need, text books on things like ActionScript 2.0 (ancient!) and accessories I have outgrown. 35 year-old grown women needn’t own large, plastic jewelry in heart shapes and candy colors. I could deny this fact, but denial just makes me feel sort of sad and ridiculous, like a 60 year-old woman wearing sweatpants with “Juicy” written across the butt. You have to know when to walk away. If you’re lucky, you feel like you’re walking toward something better, despite its lack of bright plastic hair accessories and Catholic schoolgirl skirts.

Halfway through cleaning out my craft closet, I found the box containing my negatives and contact sheets from photography class. These negatives are snippets of a life whose residue I am slowly cleaning from my craft closet.

So many pictures of my life at 24. Mark and me in a Halloween store. Me sitting in my office at Vanderbilt. The horrible, scary shower in the apartment on Louise Ave. A younger, sprier Mr. Puss. A younger, less attractive version of myself with hair down to her butt and a penchant for wearing said hair in long pigtails. There are a couple of rolls that look like the world’s most depressing ad for the Cherokee nation, where I’m sitting in the foyer of my apartment building wearing a baggy t-shirt and shoes that should only be worn by an angry feminist from 1995: chunky Mary Jane creepers whose only redeeming quality is being shiny. I remember a blur of long days, 3rd shifts and feeling like I was living in someone else’s body. My recollection seems accurate: I am smiling in only 3 of the 50 or so pictures of myself, most of which skew toward “art school dramatic” a tad more often than they should.

Still, I am glad for these pictures. They are little time capsules of an era that was a blur. They make me wish I took more pictures now. They make me sad that no one will let you photograph them anymore because they’re afraid of what you’ll put on Facebook. They make me wish I owned an SLR camera and had someone forcing me to make time to use it. I must have done something right: my teacher tried to get me to switch my major, but I didn’t want to spend my life photographing weddings.

All of these pictures also make me wish I could send a letter back ten years to the girl in those pictures. The one glaring impatiently at the camera, wearing chunky feminazi shoes and Willie Nelson braids.

It will get better in every way that you hope it will. In five years, panic will leave you, almost as if by magic, but mostly because you stop caring in exactly the right way. In six years, you will close on your first house. In seven years, you will lose the weight that Paxil gave you. In 9 years, you will get a job that you love. In ten years, the boss at that job will tell you you’re kicking ass at that job and you will get a raise. You will try to go buy end tables and fail, only to realize that, if that is the biggest problem you have on a Saturday, you’re doing pretty well.

Through all of this, there will be times that are hard. You will keep putting one foot in front of the other and walking right through, emerging a little bit stronger than you were, having learned to anticipate the hard things and step over them like a ninja. Should you fail at this, there are plenty of people who will help you step until you find your balance.

24 year old self, I know it sucks right now.
Stay with me.
It gets so much better.

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