On Re-Orienting, Taos, And the Hardship of Heading Home

“I can’t believe we’re leaving so soon.”

A couple of my fellow Wurlitzer residents and I were having dinner together at a Middle Eastern restaurant in town. A chalkboard on the wall described its’ vision as promoting peace “through evolving people’s consciousness and taste buds.”

We slunk down towards our pita, homemade in the name of harmony, and commiserated about the fact that being in Taos is not unlike being on a different planet.

“Three months seemed so long,” someone said. It had been about two since we arrived. Then, departure seemed a remote, un-envisionable destination. Now it feels like a brick wall toward which we’re being driven, unwittingly.

I was reminded of this conversation a few days later, in a yoga class at the airy, light-filled studio with wood-beamed ceilings where I have been spending much time. As he guided the class through a series of physically demanding postures, the teacher reminded us to re-situate our bodies at every opportunity—to take each chance, whether bent in a soft forward fold or standing in a fierce warrior pose, to take stock, soften the breath. The usual yoga stuff. Except he used a particular phrase that struck me: continuous re-orientation.

That’s what we have to keep doing, always, he said.

Not only in our bodies, of course, but in our minds, our selves. We’re constantly re-orienting, in terms of our internal state, but, probably more often, based on our external context: where we are, and with whom. It’s unconscious, how we gently rotate our manners and personas depending on what surrounds us. It’s also exhausting.

Taos, somehow, demands less of that action.

The space is so open, so generous, the community so eclectic and spiritual, one can almost feel the mountain holding out it’s arms: inviting you to relax, stay a while, be whoever it is you’re meant to be, at this very particular moment in time! It’s the opposite invitation of a hectic urban environment, with its message of Keep up! Get someplace! Keep busy! Do something!

It’s not difficult to understand why so many permanent residents have come here as an escape from previous versions of themselves: post-divorce, post-mid-life crisis, post-professional reinvention or spiritual awakening. To say nothing of the breathtaking scenery, the perimeter of spacious sage fields and rolling peaks, Taos demands that you know what you want (the space will strangle you otherwise), but it allows that desire to take whatever shape.

And then there’s the fact that my co-residents and I don’t actually live here. (Yet.) Most of us have really lovely lives in the places we’re from: New York, San Francisco, England, Atlanta. Good partners and cozy apartments and supportive groups of friends. It’s no reflection of our home lives that we are so loathe to go back.

But going back means (in addition to leaving the majectic scenery and life-altering green chile breakfast burritos), going back to that normal pattern of constant re-orientation.

It’s difficult, and perhaps, for most people, undesirable to lead a purely creative life. Most of us who choose to make art a part of our lives must also wear additional hats to get by: in academia or advertising, journalism or graphic design. Even those who don’t have other relationships in which we play different roles—daughter, girlfriend, brother, uncle, friend. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it does require a constant re-situating of our identities and minds.

Being in Taos has given us the rare opportunity to focus, as exclusively one can, on the creative piece of ourselves.

And in that sense, it’s no surprise that the prospect of going home, of returning to the “real world” in which we must inhabit not just one but a whole series of selves, in which we must be constantly re-orienting to the people and places around us, sounds hard.

On Moving Back to a Place

Here is a significant sampling of the very few things I know for sure:

1. I would like to eat a Golden Pride breakfast burrito every day forever.
2. There is no place I would less like to be than any car in any city during rush hour.
3. Tomorrow is the weekend. I think.
4. Moving back to a place is a funny thing.

I’d hate to overwhelm you with my profundity, so I’ll stop there.

As you may have guessed (okay, one last thing all of us know: the last item on any list tends to be the most important/punchy), it’s that last one I’d like to discuss.

Because, for the last six months that I have been living in the Twin Cities, a place I lived before, but not in a while, “a funny thing” has been the awkward zenith of my descriptive capacity.

Another thing we sort of kind of all know (last thing for reals this time) is that perspective yields clarity, along with, sometimes, enhanced describing acumen. And so, now that I have temporarily launched myself, hyperactive puppy style, into another kind-of-sort-of familiar place (Taos, New Mexico, where I’ve spent a total of about four weeks in life and have just arrived for a three month writing residency*), it feels an opportune time to take a whack at writing about my return to Minnesota.

As the Internet often illustrates, when you don’t have anything particularly significant to say, it’s nifty to disguise your thoughts in list form. Alas, here you are:

*What happens when you mix together eighteen acres, Taos, New Mexico, three months, and eleven artists uprooted from their jobs/partners/homes many miles away? Stay tuned.

1) People move on/still exist even though you forget them.  

Soon after I moved to Minneapolis, I had a conversation with an old friend in which she mentioned a woman who both of us used to know and whom I hadn’t thought of in nine years.

“Oh, her!” I said. “So, you still hang out with her?”

“Um, yeah,” my friend said, agreeably. (Cause, you know, she’s Midwestern and all.)

She could have said, “I see her a lot,” or “Of course I do,” or, “Just because you leave, Elizabeth, people don’t stop hanging out.” All of which would have been totally fair.

Intellectually, it’s obvious that things continue to exist even when we don’t live near them/ they aren’t on Facebook or Instagram. But the whole “out of sight…” thing isn’t small: we only have so much space to which we can pay attention; tenuous ties and sizable distance inevitably take hold.

2) Minneapolis and Saint Paul are different cities.

This may seem intuitive, but when two towns sit right beside each other and share a boundary so elusive that even natives are often unsure which one they’re passing through, the divergent characters of each place are worth noting.

I went to college in Saint Paul: half my time there was spent within the confines of a bitty college campus; the other half within a radius of no more than a mile. My friends and I explored the occasional Minneapolis diner or record store, but for the most part we stayed nearby, in the well-heeled, Whole Foods-progressive neighborhood that Jonathan Franzen so aptly skewered.

Here’s what I have re-learned in the last six months:**

* Minneapolis hipsters are really really hipster-ish, like, to the degree that, if not for the negative thirty five degree wind chill, you might think you were in Portland.
* St. Paul hipsters are mostly in college. (And later might become Minneapolis hipsters, if they don’t move home to Iowa or try to make it in Chicago.)
* Minneapolis is denser, busier, and more fast-paced.
* Saint Paul (or, as one old friend used to refer to it, “Saint Small,”) has more old-world charm. It’s sleepier, has majestic residential neighborhoods with more character than those in Minneapolis, and is pleasantly less concerned with being Chicago.

**Yes, what’s happening is a list within a list. Believe it.

3) Both cities have a lot of suburbs, and a startling number of them start or end, confusingly, with the word “maple.” 

4) Smells really bring you back! Also, you don’t know anyone anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I met N at a coffee shop near my old college campus: a coffee shop where I’d spent literally hundreds of hours as a student, studying American history and literature and, mostly, preening. The décor was identical, the scent of roasting beans exactly as thick.

The place was packed. I couldn’t stop looking around: surely I’d know somebody there, surely somebody there would know me.

Nope.

My rational brain knows that people and places move on without you; my rational brain knows that nine years is a really long time, especially when expensive and transient liberal arts college neighborhoods are involved. But my senses seem sadly slow to catch up.

5) Sounds also bring you back! And, again, things and people change.

Recently, I went to a yoga class taught by a friend. It was the first class I’d been to in ages, and the music (Hanuman! Hanuman!) and the postures transported me right back to Albuquerque: I began to feel wistful for my old studio and friends there…only to realize how many of them had already left, too; how different the place would be if I were to go back. How, most often, the places we leave are never again the way we left them.

6) New bars and restaurants open a lot!

Right???

7) College acquaintances are people too!

One thing about having gone to school with fewer than two thousand others is that, by the time you graduated, you recognized pretty much everyone in your class. You probably didn’t know their name, but there’s a good chance (especially if they’re the same race as you, which, probably, they were) that you knew them by association: they were on the soccer team, or sang acapella, or hung out with a bunch of kids who smoked severe amounts of pot. There’s also a good chance that you know very little else, say, nine years later, when you run into them at a coffee shop, and realize that, despite having had a distinct area of interest/drug of choice, they are actually a three-dimensional human beings who (like you!) drinks coffee and (like you!) enjoy music and bagels and (like you?) is probably, also, pretty smart and interesting.

I told you moving back places was funny!

I hope you learned something, friends. Or at least, I hope I successfully distracted you with all of the numbers.

 

 

 

Variation on a Theme: Pre-Move Romance Angst, Con’t

“I mean, I’m not going anywhere. We don’t know how long he’s going to be around.”

My friend A and I were sitting across from each other at a restaurant in the University district of Albuquerque, between us two margaritas, one giant plate of carne adovada, and a dwindling number of vegetarian nachos.

One of my dearest friends from college, A was visiting me from Seattle for five days–nominally for a Cultural Studies Conference, but mostly so she and I could afternoon-drink on sunny patios and shop for cheap turquoise. It was the first day of her trip, and–exquisitely accommodating friend that she is–A wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to sacrifice time with the guy I’ve been seeing on her behalf.

“You aren’t getting rid of me in this life,” she said, shaking her head and crunching on a cheese-soaked chip. “Him, we don’t know.”

A’s comment had nothing to do with reservations about the guy himself. She hadn’t met him yet at that point, but once she did it became clear that she would be more than happy for me to stick around the southwest, hitch up with the dude and soon begin making Very Adorable Babies Who Live Closer to Her Timezone and in a Sunny Climate She Loves to Visit.

Rather, she was being practical: mindful of the fact that I’m moving so soon, that there are various aspects of his life that tie him to New Mexico, and various aspects of mine pulling me back to New York. Longevity seems unlikely.

Which is exactly why I told her she was being ridiculous.

I swatted my hand in her direction. “Don’t be silly!” I said. “We hardly see each other! I’m not gonna ditch you to hang out with him. No way.”

A shrugged her shoulder and grinned. “Just sayin’,” she said. “Whatever you wanna do.”

What I wanted to do was hang out with both of them. Which I did. We had dinner together and a tipsy night out that ended with the three of us walking down Central, getting looked at funny because each of my hands was in one of theirs. But really, I wanted to spend as much time as I could with A: time that was already limited by both our grad student obligations. (Grading, grading, and more grading.)

What I didn’t want was to give up my precious quality time with her in order to hang with a guy who–as she said–may not be a part of my life for long.

Except that I kinda did.

Not really. I mean, no part of me wanted to ditch A–not even a little. But I do want to spend time with this guy. He’s smart and fun and interesting and wildly creative in ways I can’t begin to understand.

And I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty about that. I have one month before I leave Albuquerque, and a whole bunch of good friends I’ll be leaving behind, too. Also, as you may know, I spent the better part of this year so focused on writing that I saw no one–besides my dog and fellow yogis–basically ever.

So: isn’t the right thing to do to spend these last with friends?

Maybe. But as far as love goes, we tend not to do things because they’re rational. We do things because they feel good. (And, if you’re me, because they’re distinctly irrational. But we’re not talking about that right now.)

Truthfully, it’s not as though I’m even seeing that much of this guy. But still: as someone to whom friends are as important as anything–not to mention someone who makes it a hobby to manufacture issues in my love life–I feel a little bit funny about giving any time at all to a person I’ve only recently gotten to know.

But, you know, not funny enough to stop.

 

The Perks and Perils of “Mantourage”

My new friend/kickass yoga teacher C has brought many joyful things into my life this past year: moral support while shoe shopping (it gives me panic attacks, seriously), a cookie-baking companion, impressively toned quadriceps.

But perhaps the thing I cherish most about my new friendship with C is her vocabulary. She dispenses made-up words like bad doctors toss off obscure medical terms–you know, as though you ought to have heard them before.

So when I told her about the sudden burst of male attention I’ve been subject to lately, struggling to pull our sweaty clothes off in the bustling changing room, post-class, she didn’t miss a beat before pronouncing: “Sometimes mantourage happens!”

“What was that?” I asked, bending my head toward hers. “Did you just say ‘mantourage‘?”

“Yep,” she replied, “It’s one of my words.”

(Interlude here: Once, I was out at a rock show with a group of women. After we left, one of them regaled us with the story of her extended flirtation with the bass player. ” You know,” she said, dramatically flipping her hair as we walked down Central. “I was his first pick. I am always first pick.” I need hardly write that this comment caused all of us to vomit a little bit in our mouths. I do not mean to suggest that I am always first pick. I’m not. Or second, or tenth. I do not claim any more attention than anyone reading this. Only that, like many of us, when attention comes, it comes all at once–and when it doesn’t, um, it doesn’t. Moving on…)

I happen to know it was pure coincidence, but, after that “Man Up Or Shut Up” post I wrote recently, one of the guys I’d had in mind actually manned up and asked me out.

A few days later, out at a bar, another cute dude asked for my number. Then I got back in touch with a guy who was flaky when we met months ago, but who now seems eager to reconnect. Then another guy, one who I’ve had a flirtation with for approximately two years, finally asked whether I had a boyfriend and wanted to go out with him.

Have I mentioned that no one has looked at me since August?

It actually hadn’t occurred to me, either, until I started prepping myself for a night out. (You know: putting on pants that aren’t pajamas, shaving.)

“I just realized that I haven’t even kissed someone since August!” I told N, as I admitted to some measure of nerves.

“Really?” she replied.”It doesn’t seem like it!”

“I know,” I said. “It’s cause August was a very busy month.”

It’s true: in August, everyone wanted to date me. Okay, not everyone. Really just two people, one of whom changed his mind by Labor Day. But still–for a minute there, it all seemed unreasonable.

And then fall happened. And yeah, I did do some hibernating. But not totally–what I call “hibernation” is some, less social person’s version of a normal, active social life. Early bedtimes notwithstanding (thank you, insomnia and early morning yoga shift), I’ve been out and about a decent amount.

And, for four months, I may as well have not had breasts. Besides some occasional, unproductive Facebook flirtatiousness–a pastime that most guys I know have fessed up to habitually indulging, since that HuffPo piece–each time that someone asked what was up with my love life, I cheerfully replied: “Absolutely nothing!”

Besides the hibernation factor, there was also the whole mentality thing: I really did talk myself (and, perhaps, you) into “not wanting anything” for a while. But come on, we all knew that was bullshit. No one wants attention from the opposite sex because it’s practical–we want it because it feels good. Because we all need regular reminders that we are sexual creatures. And that we can, sometimes, connect in that way.

So, had some handsome fella come my way at some point in September, or October, or November, I doubt I would have turned him away.

But he didn’t. I saw some handsome fellas during that time. They’re around. But they didn’t seem to see me. (Or, perhaps, they did—but didn’t do anything about it. The nerve.)

Until, suddenly, a few did. Which brings us back to “mantourage.” As C says, sometimes it does happen. Begging the question: why? I don’t look any different this week than I did three or six or ten weeks ago. I’m pretty sure my scent and wardrobe haven’t changed. So why, now, do I seem suddenly more attractive to the opposite sex?

Perhaps it’s similar to the boyfriend factor: aka how, when you have a boyfriend, you seem more desirable. You’re more confident, you’re not looking, you give off some mysterious “you can’t have me, therefore you want me” odor. Guys flirt with you more.

Sad as it seems, just a hint of male attention can lead to a major confidence boost. So maybe that’s what causes “mantourage” to take place: one spurt of interest leads to another. And then another. And then another. Until you’ve got enough suitors to form a minyan–except that none of them know any Hebrew because, as we all know, Jewish men prefer Catholics.

Which, I must say, I find very inconvenient. I’ve tried dating multiple people at once. It doesn’t work. I have trouble concentrating when I’m dating one person; when there’s more than one to think about, I may as well be my 101 year old grandmother with all six of her grandchildren simultaneously traveling on airplanes. I’m a wreck.

So the fun part, for me, isn’t about actually doing much to take advantage. And nor, as we’ve seen, is it very much fun to contemplate why. But I won’t complain: turns out it’s pretty nice to just sit back and feel flattered.

Sometimes mantourage does just happen. And, apparently, you’ve just got to let it.

What Not to Get Me for Christmas

Two things I’m pretty sure I’ve made clear before: one, I bake a lot. Two, I have very awesome, very generous parents.

Said two things collided when I went home for Thanksgiving: creating a scenario in which I stood in my parents’ kitchen, helping my mother chop carrots, as they announced that they had an idea for a Christmas present they’d like to get me. (So yeah: we’re Jewish, but we celebrate Christmas. Or rather we used to, before all my brothers got married and my parents were less interested in taking late December vacations. But those are two different essays).

Anyhow. Quite pleased with themselves, they announced their bright idea to buy me a Kitchen Aid.

I know: when someone offers, enthusiastically, to buy you a very expensive gift that is also extremely thoughtful, not to mention utilitarian, you’re supposed to respond with equally enthusiastic gratitude. But normal social conventions don’t apply with parents–at least in my world, no matter (or perhaps because of) how awesome and generous they are.

So instead of reacting with, “Oh my gosh, thank you!” I barely looked up from the wood countertop as I exclaimed, “No! Not yet!

As I proceeded to tell them, I have long associated getting a Kitchen Aid with getting married.

Part of this is practical: the things are damn heavy. I can’t count how many apartments/houses I’ve lived in since college, and I don’t know how many more there are in store. It’s enough to schlep around the piles of sweaters and scarves that I’ve  managed to accumulate, along with the Cuisinart I bought myself years ago and the approximately six hundred books that I don’t even want to discuss. Anyhow: a Kitchen Aid seems like the kind of thing you don’t get until you have a real home: not just a place where you live, for now.

“That is so sweet of you to offer,” I, finally, mustered the decency to tell my parents. “But I don’t think I want to have one yet.” (As I assured them, I actually kind of like mashing butter with a fork. I also get sincere pleasure from mincing garlic and lemon zest. Gotta get it where you can.)

A couple of weeks later I was at a downtown Albuquerque coffee shop with A when, staring off from her laptop, she asked whether I ever thought about buying a house.

I had the exact same response: “No!” I said. “Not yet! Not until I’m married!

We both laughed as I told her about the parallel conversation I’d had with my parents. “I guess those are the two things,” I told her. “A house and a Kitchen Aid.”

Let’s be real: there are lots of reasons why I don’t, at this moment, consider buying a house. Mostly, this: that the money I have saved up could barely send a ten year old to summer camp. For four weeks. Much less purchase a 1-2 bedroom. Also, I don’t even know where I want to live.

But it’s true: the thought of buying real estate while I’m single does seem kinda radical to me. Perhaps I’ll wind up changing my tune, but for now, I’d like to find a partner before I find property.

And on both counts, this attitude seems a bit outdated: It’s the 2000s! I’m an independent, strong-willed woman on her way to a terminal graduate degree! I consider myself progressive! Borderline alternative! I do yoga and (as of this week) drink kombucha, for Christ’s sake! Shouldn’t I be enlightened enough to not think I need a man to make large investments–of real estate, and, particularly, of sturdy kitchen appliances?

My friend C, also a compulsive baker, has a similar mindset about the Kitchen Aid. She’s always expected that the man she’s supposed to marry, you know, the proverbial “right guy,” will buy her one.

I admire C’s hope–and have every confidence she’ll find her man, and her mixer. But for me, it’s different. As we’ve discussed, too many years of manic dating have dissolved just about every fantasy I once held about my future partner: from the color of his hair to what kind of books he’ll read. Certainly, I don’t have any expectations about what he’ll get me for a holiday gift.

In my case, it isn’t about the idea of a man, or even of marriage, so much as the idea of settling down. Which, of course, is also code for “growing up.” A Kitchen Aid—and a house–is stuck in my head as something one has when one has achieved that “adult” status. When one has officially crossed over from kid/adolescent/emerging adult to, you know, a real live grown up person.

A transition that, by now, I recognize as perpetually elusive: I’m pretty sure my kid-raising peers feel much the same unsettled angst that I do. Intellectually, I know that nothing, not even those cliched markers of adulthood—getting married, buying a house, having babies—will necessarily, truly signal that I’ve “grown up.”

But a Kitchen Aid? Perhaps.

 

 

 

Notes on Aging, Cont’d (Or: In Defense of Hermitude)

A couple Fridays ago, my friend A came over for a chill night in. We watched a movie, ate some snacks, contemplated a house party for about thirty seconds before deciding on bedtime instead.

The following day, Saturday, we traded texts:

Me: “Remember how I said yesterday that I might want to go out tonight? Now all I want to do is bake a cake. What is wrong with me!?”

A: “I know. The biggest decision in the past hour was to buy or not to buy lamb chops and a beautiful cookbook. Soon, cat people!”

As I wrote in my response, I have always taken minor solace, for this very reason, in the fact that I can’t stand cats.

Hours later, after drinking some wine and making banana bread with my friend C, I went to turn in. (Let us not discuss the hour.) For about ten minutes, I looked around my room–on and under the bed, in my dresser, on the chair/clothesrack beside my closet–in desperate search of my pajama pants.

It was only upon reflecting back on my day–yoga, writing, baking, etc–that it occurred to me to look down: I had never taken them off.

I have come up with a lot of explanations (read: excuses) for why I have become an almost-complete hermit lately: I need to be writing. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. Cake tastes good with earl gray tea and soy milk. It’s starting to get a tad bit chilly.

But I’ve avoided the one that A eluded to in her text: the one that involves realizing that I am getting, a little bit, kind of, maybe, you know, old.

I know: not really. As I told the man who I checked into yoga class last Sunday morning, who announced to me that he “is old” by way of requesting the senior discount: the word is relative, and kind of meaningless.

“Sometimes,” I told him, “even I feel a little old!”

And sure: it sounds funny, and absurd, in the company of a senior citizen. But in other contexts, not so much.

Such as the one in which: I found myself involved in a Facebook flirtation with a 23 year old I know from school, and ran into him at a coffee shop only to realize that we’d yet to actually flirt. You know, in person. (Welcome to the Millenials!)

Or the one in which: come the weekends, I have little desire to go out to bars, to go to parties, to do anything besides hang out with friends, in my house or theirs, drink a little wine, eat some food and watch some Netflix.

Or the one in which: walking home across campus the other day, I realized that I still think of myself as being in my “early” twenties, and have no recollection of turning that invisible corner that landed me at twenty eight.

Okay: so it isn’t just the millenials who are increasingly dependent on nonverbal communication–it’s all of us. And it probably is just a phase (also: winter) that I’m going through, and that I blame for making me more and more resistant to socializing. (Or, it’s just my nature: and I’m okay with that.)

And I’m not, technically, old. But I am older: not necessarily than I feel, but than I feel like I ought to be. I’m not that young anymore.

It isn’t that I want to still be in my early twenties: generally, as I’ve written (aging = more redundant?) I like to think that we improve with age. Get wiser, more confident, know more things. It’s just that it seems strange that I’m not.

So: what, exactly, am I trying to say? Time moves quickly? The years pass faster and faster, the older we get? I thought I’d have my shit together by now a lot more than I actually do?

You already know all that stuff. And so do I. Mostly, I just wanted to tell you the story about my pajama pants. And, to say, in case you’re feeling like you’re a little bit older than you think you should be: me, too.