Monday, January 19, 2009

kittens, rainbows, sunshine, and bush

I owe you an apology!

For those of you stopping by yesterday to get the normal dose of sunshine, kittens, and rainbows that you've come to expect from There Will Be Breakdowns, please forgive me. I have a good excuse for yesterday's crank-tastic entry: caffeine.

I finally admitted I was an addict last year, after an attempt to quit drinking coffee left me so snippy with my customers at the Lotus that one drunken fellow threatened to punch me in the face. Me! This incident inspired me to take a good, hard look at myself. I came to the conclusion that caffeine isn't that bad of a drug as far as addictions go, and with the enthusiastic encouragement of my friends, who missed the happier days, I decided to never quit drinking coffee again. From that day forward, I have owned my addiction; I have borne it with the pride of an American!

When I took off on my Vantasy, I left my coffee maker in the care of a friend. Because of this, that, and the other, and the fact that he lives across town, I had not yet the chance to reacquire it, with its sleek, stainless steel carafe, at the time of yesterday's posting. And my dire financial situation has induced a spending freeze, which means no more trips to the neighborhood cafe (editor's note: this also means I had to cancel my inauguration day Brazilian wax appointment, during which I was going to celebrate Bush's last day by making it my bush's last day. Living in Vanta C meant that certain hygienic maintenance routines were ignored, and... well, you get the picture. But this is slightly off the topic of today's blog, and probably wildly inappropriate, so I'll end this digression and get back on track).

So, yesterday, instead of drinking my daily cup o' joe, I drank GREEN TEA. Green tea! By the time I wrote my entry, the withdrawal headache was in full force, I was super cranky, and desperate to give somebody hell. The bartender and the men who have been touring my van seemed like the best candidates, so I let 'er rip.

Y'all are such sweet, suppportive readers, though, and probably didn't deserve all that gloom and doom. So here are some sunshine, kittens, and rainbows for you:

Reasons Why Life is Beautiful and Wonderful Now That I'm Back in Portland
1. I finally got to build my fixed-gear bike, and I rode it yesterday.
2. I get to Jazzercise any time I want, and working out with Trina makes me happy.
3. When I walk Ralgh, I run into people I know.
4. I can bake pans of brownies, filling my apartment with the aroma of chocolate.
5. Most of the people I care about live within a few miles, and I can see them whenever I want.
6. Not having a job means endless potential. The future is wide open!

I'm bringing sexy bike (yeah)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

the van sandwich

Way back in August, on my very first blog post, I wrote:
"Spending my days running around, trying to get my van ready often leaves me in a heap on the floor, trying not to cry, terrified that if I can't even prepare for my trip, I'll never have what it takes to actually go."
Awwwww. I was so cute back then! Little did I know that the Vantasy is like a sandwich that has incredibly tasty barbequed tofu filling with a delicious secret sauce, but it's served between two slices of moldy, stale, rock-hard bread that's been dropped on the floor and has little hairs and fuzzies all over it. And you can't just open the bread up and take out the filling and eat it separately, oh no. You have to eat the whole damn thing, nasty bread and all.

What I'm saying, folks, is that, suprisingly, the before and after of this trip (AKA the 'bread') have been way tougher to swallow than the actual trip (AKA the 'delicious tofu filling'). I'm having the breakdown of my life right now. I have cried every day for the last week; you could set your watch to my daily sobfest. I am one hundred percent sure that Dillon is terrified of me, and invisions a future of hauling garbage bags full of wadded up, soggy tissues to the curb.

I have been looking for a job for three weeks with nary a bite. And I have been really pounding the pavement. No one is hiring. No one. There are about two or three help-wanted ads per day for bartenders on Craigslist, which I dutifully apply for, even if they suck. And I have exhausted my contacts. Between calling old friends to see if they know anyone who needs anyone, I walk from door to door handing out resumes and fake-smiling at all the assholes out there who have jobs and also have the gall to do them poorly.

I'm talking about you, bartender at an unnamed location. I tried three times to engage you in conversation, and you, every time, gave me one-word responses. I know it's not because you're busy; I'm the only one sitting at your bar. I think it's because you are one of the millions of people who hate working food service, but are flooding into my industry because your own industry is failing and you see it as a way to make ends meet. Well, I actually LOVE bartending, and I would work circles around you if only someone would give me a damn chance. Please?

Meanwhile, I've been trying to sell my van with the hopes that I'll be able to pay my rent until a job comes through. I had the ad up for a week and got between twenty and thirty calls, but only three people came to look at it. Mostly, people just wanted to ask me questions about my trip, flirt with me, or were interested in the van but not in any serious way. I even had one prank caller offer me $1000 and some goats as a trade. Come on, people! I can't pay my rent with goats!

All three of the people who have come to look at Vanta C have been men, and they have all man-handled her. Vanta C is delicate elderly flower, she needs to be van-handled! These men arrive at Vanta C all puffy-chested, trying to prove how much they know about cars, and they forget that this is still my baby. Hey guys, I still own Vanta C! Would you walk into someone else's house and start jerking things around like you're trying to start an offboard motor? Then why is it okay for you to do that in my van? The last guy that looked at her actually broke the loft bed, because he didn't feel like he had to listen to me when I told him not to slide it out any further. Then, instead of leaving it alone, like I told him to, he insisted on trying to 'fix' it by forcing it to slide back into place. I could see the whole time what was going wrong, and I know how to repair the thing, but he just wouldn't listen to me, the van's OWNER.

I'm trying to keep my chin up, and trying to have a sense of humor about all this, but I think I might be losing it. I have enough money left to pay my February rent and still have twenty five dollars left over. I think I can make it a couple more weeks on what I have, but I desperately need something to fall into place here, and soon.

I'm not sure I can swallow this bread without choking.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Home, for real

This is my time, this is my tear.
I can see clearly now that this is not a place
For playing solitaire.
Tell me where you want me.
This is my time, this is my tear.

Coming on strong, Baudelaire.
Seems to me like all the world gets high
When you take a dare.
Let it rise before you.
This is my crime!

Tear, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Yesterday I moved in to my apartment. There are boxes everywhere, piles of things here and there, and I don't have a couch...

But I can poop in my toilet, whenever I want. I can turn up the heat. I can walk more than three steps in any direction I want to. I slept in my own bed and took a shower in my own shower. Ralgh enthusiastically peed his way around our own neighborhood, and I said, over and over to Dillon, "I'm home. I can't believe I'm home." I never want to leave.

People can live with much less than they think. It was never really a huge deal for me to give things up here and there. Sometimes I had to wear an extra sweater, or find a late night emergency bathroom. Sometimes I ran out of propane and couldn't cook for a day. Sometimes I couldn't find safe parking spots so I had to drive further than I wanted to. Always I had dirty hair. All these things were minor inconveniences, but they had a way of adding up. I didn't climb Mount Everest, or go to Siberia, but I do think I roughed it a bit. Now that I'm home, it feels so good that I can hardly understand why I left.

Of course, I know why I left. I needed to rough it for a few months. I needed to sort my shit out. I wanted to see the country in an offbeat way. I wanted to push myself. I wanted discomfort. I wanted to prove that I could. I wanted to show Ralgh a good time. I wanted change (Barack Obama?).

As my friend from Madison, Brian, says, life is all about moderation. It's about doing something wild, then taking a break and doing something comfortable. Swinging back and forth like that keeps us in good shape, I think, and allows us to admit that we're complex beings and like a lot of different things. Now is a time of comfort and peace for me, while Brian is looking to trade in his comfort as he gears up (see what I did there, Brian?) to build a heavy-duty fixed-gear bike and ride from Madison to Key West next summer.

And the republican real estate agent from Southern Georgia I befriended, George, traded in the keys to the rental property for the keys to an SUV and took off on his own adventure to Tahoe and beyond. He'd been talking about it for awhile and I think meeting me was the nudge he needed to make it happen for himself. I saw myself in him when he confided at our meeting, "I'm meant to do something big, something profound."

Now I'm free to sit back and enjoy watching my new friends go on their own journeys, which will be nothing like mine and everything like mine. And I'll find work and start saving my money again, and give my brain a little rest before it starts cooking up plans for the next adventure. But first, I'm going to unpack all my cute clothes and earrings! And I'm going to wear them around and be really clean and primped for awhile!

And, of course, I'm selling Vanta C.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

whatever the weather

Ralgh and I have taken refuge in the warm house of a friend, and for the first time in months, we have the luxury of not noticing the weather. Today, as almost every day since I've been back in Portland, it's raining. I only know this because I had to walk outside this morning to collect my dirty clothes for free laundry-doing. It was a total of four minutes in my cold, damp Vanta C, then I returned to the kitchen, where a steaming cup of coffee awaited me.

I've always tried to avoid being one of those people who talks about the weather. It's boring. Unless I become a Meteorologist, or some serious global warming shit hits the fan, I'll always feel like talking about the weather is sort of like stating the obvious. Sometimes I find it hilarious, though, to really enthusiastically sigh weather reports to people who hear them all the time, like bank tellers and baristas, people who make a living making small talk. "Oh, JEEZ! You're lucky you're working in the air conditioning; it's a scorcher out there!" I'll say, animatedly wiping my brow, and the customer service representative will agree, because it's her job and she has nothing else to say to me. She won't get the joke, though, and I'll walk out the door laughing at how good I am at impersonating a real customer.

But living in a van changed all that. I was at the mercy of Mother (effing) Nature, and she reminded me every day. At Burning Man, the Vanta C became a greenhouse, a place to avoid at all costs. In the Midwest, Ralgh and I shook with the knowledge that we were about to be electrocuted, crouching wide-eyed in fear as late night thunderstorms pounded the roof and quaked the van. In the northeast, our feet and noses went numb and we could feel wind seeping through the cracks in the windows, everything inescapably frigid. In Portland, the rain never stopped falling, our skin swelled with dampness, windows and blankets grew moist with condensation.

Oh my god... I have become one of those people who talk about the weather... All the time!

Being able to ignore the weather is a luxury provided by shelter and warm clothing. If you have shelter and warm clothing, and you still find yourself talking about the weather on a regular basis, then you should maybe consider taking on additional hobbies or joining a reading group to boost your conversational skills. Another option might be reading or listening to the news every morning, and that comes with the added bonus of knowing what is happening in the world, which could come in handy the next time you have to vote or impress a girl or something. You people with your warm clothes and cozy homes have reduced the weather to small talk, when it is really so much more! People are dying out there, for the love of god! Really fabulous, albiet mildly malodorous, women and their dogs are slowly losing their minds and could go completely 'round the bend any time now! And you reduce it to an uncomfortable, half-hearted side conversation while you wait for your latte (at least tip your barista for putting up with you; throw a dollar in that jar!).

Speaking of amazing tips, a lucky barista in NE Portland clocked out of her shift last week and rode her fixed gear bike home while wearing my wedding ring, which I uncerimoniously and anonymously removed from my right hand and tossed in the tip jar. And I didn't even force her to listen to me talking about the damn rain.

iPhone Scribble

Just a little expressive art project. I feel better now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

tramps, vans, and resumes

Yesterday and today were new lows on my Vantasy. I'm a little bit depressed, I must admit.

The initial thrill of being back home has been replaced by the creeping despair of being homeless. Today I think about the book Nickled and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, in which she temporarily gives up her upper middle class, educated life to become working class for a few months, and then writes a book about her struggles. I've always had a problem with the one insurmountable shortfall of that book: that you can never truly be working class if you were raised middle class. Sure, she can bury her checkbook in her underwear drawer and promise herself not to touch it for a few months, but she can't take away her education, her sense of security, fallback plans, stable family support system, ingrained sense of entitlement, command of proper English, orthodontically improved teeth, etcetera, etcetera. All I'm saying is that while I appreciate her trying to draw attention to the plight of working class people, it feels a little paternalistic for her to write the book for them, and I'm not certain that it's possible for her to really pull off writing about the experiences of the working poor when she will never be a member of that group.

That said, I think that today I developed a teeny, tiny awareness of the hopelessness of finding a job as a homeless person. I don't live on the streets. I have friends who let me take showers when I need them. I am educated. I don't have any addictions. I have connections and a pretty stellar resume. I voluntarily chose my mini-homelessness. But I feel grubby. I don't have any nice clothes. I put my expired make-up on in the dark and hope it looks okay. But no matter how I try to pull it together, I don't feel clean. I feel like a van tramp.

I don't think my situation has anything in common with that of your average homeless person. I just know that my situation has me suddenly depressed and feeling ugly and unkempt. I feel like I can't bear to walk around peddling resumes and fake smiling. "I'm Eva VanTramp Darling! I look and feel like I live in a box! Hire me!" And if I feel this miserable and hopeless, then I sort of understand why real homeless people just give up.

How I feel I look: cracked out*

*this picture was taken after getting drunk, carefully applying lots of dark, heroine-chic eye make-up, sleeping on it, and then putting lipstick all over my hungover face and driving in the morning to Walmart for a joke family photo with my friend Amanda, who used a similar make-up application and drinking technique. We're still waiting for the photos, but I guarantee you'll be seeing them posted on my blog.

Living out of my van, amazingly, lost all its tolerability the moment I rolled into Portland. I want my life back. It's cold and rainy. I'm trying to be patient, but this is starting to feel like an unbearable limbo. I am ready for heat and showers, and room for yoga, and naked time reading books on my couch, and drinkng beer while assembling a casserole. And the relative security that comes with being a member of the working poor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I forgot to knock on wood!

Friday, immediately after publishing my victory post in which I boasted, "I never, ever, even once needed to use my AAA membership," I closed up my laptop, walked to my van, and drove to meet my friend Rachel downtown at the Lotus. And my tire blew out.

After over four months and 10,000 miles around the country without a problem, after four ten hour days of driving a little faster than I should have from Texas, through New Mexico, through a blizzard in Arizona, through the infinite-laned freeways of LA, through the snowy mountain passes of northern California, through sleet in southern Oregon... I arrive home and have a blowout while driving fifteen miles per hour, IN FRONT OF THE LOTUS.

The tire exploded, I screamed, and Ralgh almost rocketed through the windshield out of sheer terror. Shaking like a leaf, I fumbled for the emergency flasher switch. It took me a solid thirty seconds to turn the blinkers on, which, in emergency time is equal to a week. Nothing labled "emergency" should be this god damn difficult to figure out. Anyway, blinkers finally on and Ralgh calmed, I called AAA, dumping out my entire purse in the process of looking for my unused card. When the operator answered, I knew that I was saved, and that's when I burst into tears.

This experience taught me four things:

1. That the $60 I spent on my AAA membership was the best $60 I ever spent. I've had AAA for three years now, and every year I get my money's worth. I've been towed twice, locked out at least four times, ran out of gas once, and, now, had a blowout. And when the AAA guy finally showed up to change my tire, I saw that I had been sent the hottest AAA driver in the entire world. It was worth the sixty bucks just to watch him use the jackstand (why didn't I get pictures?!)!

2. That if I'm going to have a traumatic automotive experience, then it's best to do it in front of a bar.

3. That I am amazingly lucky. What if that had happened four days ago while I was cruising up I-5 at 65MPH?

4. That I am awesome in emergent situations. A blowout was my biggest mechanical fear throughout my Vantasy. I actually spent time preparing for it to happen. I made a mental list and practiced it in other times when Vanta C lost control, like when a particularly strong gust of wind tossed us around on the freeway: lift your foot off the gas, but don't hit the brake. Firmly grip the steering wheel, and guide the van off the road, but do not hit the brake! I'm happy to say that on Friday, after I heard the explosion, my mind immediately screamed, "lift your foot off the gas! Don't hit the brake!" I was a rockstar. I belong in exit row seats on planes, folks. I know how to get shit done in a crisis!

Now, if I only knew some cute crafty thing I could make out of a destroyed tire...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

crossing bridges

It's a new year, and a new chapter for Ralgh and I. We are back in Bridgetown, which is, as expected and hoped, still here. We are home, and homeless, and I'm struck by the fluidity of my sense of place. Portland hasn't changed, but we have. We're looking at the city through a different lens these days, and it feels like suddenly all doors are open.

Pulling my new back window from a van in the junkyard

As I crossed the I-5 overpass to the east side for the first time in months, I realized that not only was I literally crossing a bridge, but also figuratively. I've basically spent the last four months alone, meditating. I sunk down deep into a cold lake of despair without a life preserver, on purpose. I refused to allow my normal coping and avoidance mechanisms save me: drinking, hanging out with friends non-stop, working, going out for coffee, men. I didn't abandon these things completely, but I forced myself to recognize that I was using them to avoid being alone and being mindful of painful things which I needed to think about in order to grow.

Posing on a community bike at Burning Man

After experiencing how difficult it was to force myself to feel pain, ask questions, and then allow myself to recover on my own time, I'm not surprised that most people never do it. It's much easier to simply continue to stomp on the same ground over and over, and maybe there's a certain peace in knowing that you never really have to make any tough decisions or realizations. But the payoffs of facing the fact that no one's going to "steer this van" but me, are priceless. Before I left on this trip, I didn't really like myself very much. I knew I was a likable person, I knew I was a good person, but I kept finding myself doing things I didn't like. I lacked direction. I had a dwindling relationship with my family. I was indecisive in my relationships with men. And I hated spending time alone because solitude left a space for thoughts about all these things to creep into my mind.

Rattlesnakes in New Mexico

I was lucky enough to learn a long time ago that for me, the key to success in life is to treat anything that scares me as an opportunity. The instant I notice that I'm afraid of something, I sigh and shake my head, because that emotion is a tip-off that I'm not living as powerfully as I should be. I have a personal rule that once I notice my fear, I have to do whatever it was that scared me. It has been pretty annoying to notice this connection, because it has been shooting holes in all my excuses and highlighting the real issue: fear. Obviously, that's a good thing. I wouldn't have taken this trip if I didn't live by this philosophy. But it also means that my life is on course to be one terrifying or uncomfortable experience after another.

Ralgh, Eva, and Vanta C chillin' in New York

Last year at this time, being alone scared me. Once I noticed that, I knew I had to find a way to take being alone to a ridiculous level until I wasn't afraid of it anymore. Three days ago, when I drove across that bridge into my home neighborhood, I knew I had changed. I took on this unbelievable task. I saved ten thousand dollars. I bought my first car. I took an auto maintenance class and overcame the fear of poking around under the hood. I set my plan, this plan which at one time seemed impossible, into action. I spent nights in unknown neighborhoods trembling with fear when I heard a mysterious noise. I got lost. I made new friends. I never, ever, even once needed to use my AAA membership. I planted seeds for new, loving relationships with my brothers and sister and parents. I froze in the northeast, sweated in Kansas, and sobbed just about everywhere. I bravely faced the misfortune of the end of my marriage. I learned that I am an extraordinary rock star of a woman. I fell in love.

Bonding with beautiful sister Beth in Ann Arbor, Michigan

And now I'm standing on new ground, having crossed that big scary bridge all by myself. The soil is fertile, ready for whatever I choose to plant here. This is a good place to be.