I have always thought myself good at nesting. No, obsessive about nesting. Moving around a lot as a kid turned me into one of those people who can’t go to bed after moving into a new place until at least the bedroom is put together. Pictures don’t have to be on the walls, but things do have to be put away and the room has to be box-free. I want to wake up knowing that I’m home and not having the scary “where AM I?” feeling, only to realize that where I am is my new home.

With that said, after over 5 years in my house, some rooms still feel unfinished. The living room has mocked me for years: at first, it just wasn’t a priority. Then, there wasn’t much I could do because there was no money. Now, there’s money, but I can’t seem to find the motivation to pull the trigger.

I shopped for a couch for 4 months. Leather is good with cat claws and cat hair, but leather is expensive. A good leather couch will stand up to cat claws, but should I (as a still-single lady) really think about spending 3 grand on a couch I may get rid of if I move in with someone? And who says I even need a stupid couch anyway? When did I start letting Martha Stewart-esque rules of middle-class living dictate how I should live?

I’d been thinking that not having a comfy living room was the reason I didn’t have people over more often. Then I thought “hell, if they came over, there would be nothing to do. And I hope they like salad cause I can’t cook anything.” My house is just built for single life, top to bottom, as I have never been one who “entertains.” Entertaining makes me nervous, and all of my friends have comfy living rooms. I have learned to cook a few things, but they’re all vegetarian. It’s hard to lure friends to your house with the promise of butternut squash on a bed of quinoa.

After buying a nice area rug and moving around some furniture, I called a temporary truce with the couch situation and spent the couch money on something I actually DO care about: an Xbox and a giant TV. Every time I think about that couch, it feels like a symbol. It makes me feel encumbered, as though I’d finally own something big enough that I couldn’t just pick up and go if someone offered me a job in Europe or something.

This is completely silly, though. I have two cats, a piano, a number of huge pieces of furniture, a room full of clothing…and A HOUSE. I have put down roots despite myself. Some of the roots are even literal: if Google Street View was more on the ball, it would show a year-by-year progression of my front flower beds, getting bigger and more colorful as I got older and started caring about things like watering plants and when one should split irises. In the fall, I will add “tiller” to my list of possessions. I have jumped the shark.

Still, I wonder if the lack of couch makes my house unwelcoming to visitors. If it makes my house seem like one of those houses where no one really lives and you shouldn’t touch anything. Asking someone if your house feels welcoming is a bit like asking someone if your house smells like cat pee: people will grade on the curve to spare your feelings, but only your mother will say “well, it’s more the poop that’s an issue…”

I bought an automatic cat box to fix the poop smell.

Maybe there’s a reason why mom keeps asking if I’ve found a nice couch.

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 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.

Widowmaker: The Horror

Some people have bad hair days. Thus far, I’ve been having a bad hair lifetime. We’ve been at odds for over thirty years now, with my hair being full of cow licks yet devoid of body, and me punishing it for just being itself. It has survived being permed, colored, and put into ponytails of all sizes and configurations. As my mom would say, “fried, dyed, up and tied.” My hair even survived middle school mall bangs. That the picture is from DANCE team, not cheerleading. I will admit to being the co-captain but will point out that I wanted to dance to Prince and not Vanilla Ice. We spelled out “ICE” with our pompoms at the end. Shoot me in the face.

Anyway, I can understand why my hair would hold a little ill will toward me. It has devoted its life to burning out vacuum cleaners and clogging shower drains, when not sticking to the insides of my shirts and tickling me. When shopping for vacuums, I refer to my hair as The Widowmaker. Last night, it went too far.

I had already cleaned out the part of the shower drain that I could reach, and the shower was still draining slowly. I emptied a bottle of Drano into it with no luck. In a moment of insanity, I reached out of the shower and grabbed the plunger. This accomplished nothing, aside from shoving the clog further into the pipes and filling the water pooled at my ankles with chunks of tried rubber and microscopic, mentally horrifying fecal matter.

“What have I done? I might as well have just stuck my feet in the toilet.” HORROR.

So, I stepped out of the shower (washing the lower half of my legs AFTER stepping out of The Horror, as if that would help) and went to Home Depot to seek out Red Devil Lye.

I strongly suspect that Red Devil is illegal or out of business, because it’s hard to find now. Instead, I got Drano “Kitchen Crystals,” which I took for a good substitute because they come in a metal can which yells “DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING.” A good life strategy in general, especially if you’ve just swallowed lye and value your esophagus.

When the kitchen crystals didn’t work after I poured them into the regular drain, I took off the cover to the overflow trap and poured some in there. Toxic vapors? Yes. Draining tub? No.

So, I went to the ghetto hardware store close to my house and got a hand crank snake, per Google. While this gave me a good workout and allowed me to stick my hands into water swimming with lye, it only produced one small bit of hair. One pipe hasn’t produced this much frustration since Baby Jessica. Before I called a plumber, I’d try one more thing. Liquid Fire.

This was what the salesman tried to sell me the FIRST time I went to the hardware store, but I wanted to try the snake because the bottle of Liquid Fire kind of scared the shit out of me. You can pour an entire can of Kitchen Crystals in a tub and (apparently) wade around in it. The Liquid Fire bottle pretty much said that my legs would be reduced to oozing stumps the very millisecond they came in contact with Liquid Fire. The warnings read like the Happy Fun Ball commercial from SNL. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT LIQUID FIRE. DO NOT TAUNT LIQUID FIRE.

It took two rounds, but the Liquid Fire eventually cleared the clog. I thoroughly cleaned the shower, giving it an extra spray of bleach, just to ease my mind about the whole “might as well stick my foot in the toilet” thing.

Side bar: Liquid Fire AND Kitchen Crystals smell like perm solution, which should definitely make you never want to get a perm. If nothing else, perming will make your hair angry. You do NOT want to make your hair angry. Trust me on this.

I am now officially 26.

“You know, after you were born, dad and I had to sell our house and go back to apartments for a while.”

I think mom told me that in some attempt to say “hey, if you have to sell your house…it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened to someone.” I don’t find that very comforting, but I appreciate her attempt. I remember some of what happened in those years where we apartment-hopped. I never felt safe. I never got comfortable. I was seven years old, checking the door locks before I went to bed. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let that happen to me once I was running things.

I have developed an unsettling pattern of behavior these days. I ignore the bills because I can’t look them in the eye. This only makes things worse, eventually because I end up having to pay late fees on a bill I already couldn’t pay by its due date. I decided that I’d stop that pattern of behavior. I’d make a serious effort to pay the bills the day after they arrive. At least then I’d know how much short I’m coming up and have time to try to do something about it before the bill was overdue.

Thus, I paid bills today. I started with the mortgage because, if nothing else, in big red letters, I am not going to lose this house. It was too hard for me to get here. I haven’t been able to put hardware on the kitchen cabinets yet, and that’s ok, but I’m not going to lose the house.

“You’d type this stuff for me? You wouldn’t be insulted by that?”
“Tony, I’d walk in front of you and throw rose petals on the ground if you’d pay me.”

I figured that I could work 30 or maybe 40 hours a week doing data entry somewhere while my real job figures out what its deal is. I could do both, as long as Colombia keeps making coffee. Thing is, I can’t even seem to get called for a job in data entry. Not even by people who haven’t seen me. I think it may be time to start lying. My name is Amy. I just got out of college. I took some time off after high school. I am 26. I type quickly, and I love to file things.

I’m supposed to be working on a logo today, but I can’t stop crying.
I secretly hate freelancing.
I do it because I have to.

I don’t want to spend my time wondering what evil-assed things I’m going to have to do to get someone to pay his or her invoice. I just want to do my work and get money for it. And maybe also full dental.

I’m tired of writing well thought-out cover letters, only to receive an auto-response from a robot with a human name, telling me to sign up to be a secret shopper or something. In the days before the internet, at least a job listing really WAS a job listing. Now there’s a 50/50 chance that it’s just some ploy to get you to sign up for some stupid service.

I have told Jen that she’ll know when it’s really bad when I sell my car for a scooter. As is, I’m cashing out my other 401k.

A Nice, Soft Place to Die

There are some neighborhoods where, if one lets one’s lawn get a little out of control, a neighborhood association of some sort comes to put down the proverbial smack. In other neighborhoods, people just wait for Metro to write you a citation (this has happened to a friend). In my neighborhood, one knows that one’s lawn is getting out of control when the neighborhood crackheads start knocking on the door to offer their services. Trust me, you don’t want to hire a crackhead. They’re unreliable and they neglect the trim.

In truth, it had been time for me to mow the yard for a few weeks, but the weeds that had sprung up had the most lovely purple flowers. My yard looked like a field from the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie. But the crackheads had begun to arrive and the lawn really was getting to a length that may have seemed like an invite to mice, so I broke out the mower yesterday.

I had mowed about eight feet, looking about a foot in front of the mower, when I came about two feet from mowing into a dead cat. It was at the very edge of the yard, hiding in the 10-inch-high flowers. I let out a loud gasp, regrouped, then immediately Twittered about it. Priorities. I think this was The Cat Formerly Known As Cat I’d See In My Back Yard. Oh well, buddy. Those cars really DO come flying around that curve, don’t they?

I realized later that Murphy has a perfect view of The Body from his perch at the big picture window in the living room. I wonder if he is now aware of his own mortality, or if he thinks The Body is just asleep, or if he notices The Body at all. Then again, when The Body was The Cat, it would come up to the office window and yowl to taunt Murphy. Maybe he knows more about how The Cat became The Body than he’d like to let on. If there is a way to kill another cat without actually leaving the house, I’m pretty sure Murphy would have mastered it. Note to self: do not piss Murphy off.

Making mother nature your bitch, Part 1

As many of you may recall, I promised a while back to give you a full report on my relationship with my new push reel mower. Dad warned me that I would find such a mower to be “….uh….a good workout….let me know how THAT goes.” Luckily, my friend Google was right: modern push reel mowers really ARE pretty easy to push. It’s pretty much only a workout if I rake afterward, which I tend to do because I haven’t gotten the bag attachment yet. I’m not sure a bag attachment would be any good unless the grass is wet, cause it tends to just fly out to the sides a la Bugs Bunny.

I like him, though. Well, as much as I’m capable of liking an instrument of summer torture. I can get down in the ditches and funky spots (which are about 80% of the yard) without worrying about a rock flying up in my eye or slipping on the grass and chopping off one or both of my feet. The push reel also makes a rather amusing Edward Scissorhands noise.

My neighbors seem to be a tad bewildered by this newest of weird-ass behaviors. One teenager asked me, “is that cutting your grass?” “Well, it better be! Otherwise I’m out here pushing it around for nothing!”

There’s a spot in the backyard that’s under a tree and filled with clover (and rocks) instead of grass. Rather than continue to mow this, I will be establishing a cemetery in the back yard. Some day soon, I’m going to use my new jigsaw (purchased at a yard sale for a whopping 4 bucks) to cut out some headstone shapes and then have a PWOT party. Paint Your Own Tombstone, that is. There goes the neighborhood!

In other news, dad’s most recent medical update email says that his brain cancer is doing well, but they’ve now also found cancer in his liver. Sister and I have been instructed to wait until after Christmas to book place tickets, since Christmas day is the last day that the cruise tickets will be refundable “if anything happens.”