Sometimes I have fun with my customers.

We’re making small talk waiting for some equipment to power cycle.

“Do you like your job?” – customer

“It a job. Beats what I was doing before.” – me

“What was that?”

“Being homeless.”

“…I’m sorry, what?”

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This is Why You Must Survive

I have been told that this blog is so depressing that some people have stopped reading it, which seems almost funny to me because if anything I soft-pedal how unrelentingly bleak my life can be. For instance, I have not mentioned my habit of telling myself, as many as a dozen times a day, that I am a bad person and that I am stupid. I do this as a reflex when I do something sub-optimal, or worse when I remember doing something sub-optimal, especially if it was of a social nature. That’s the background radiation of my life; that’s what happens to me on a good day. Some mornings, it is a real fight to get out of bed.

Things are looking up, though. For the first time in a long time, I have a real path forward to something better. Even after the euphoria died down, I still kept writing. Now I’m at 56,000 words. I should have a complete manuscript by the end of the year. More importantly, a friend of mine wants to write a intro to PHP book with me. He’s a pretty good programmer, and I’m a pretty good writer, and together we should make a pretty good book. The best part is that I’ll be able to use it as a portfolio piece, and hopefully start picking up some technical writing jobs. Once I have some professional credits and references to my name, I’ll have the start of an honest-to-Goddess career on my hands. There’s something even bigger and better in the pipe, but I can’t talk about it because I don’t know what I can say without jeopardizing things and I’d rather err on the side of discretion.

Socially, things are…choppy. I lost a good friend. She’ll stay lost until she can realize what she did wrong, and why her “apology” didn’t cut it. That might make for some strain with my other two main hangout friends, but I’ve got a third who might be developing in that same circle, and I think I can branch out to find more, as well. It feels a little mercenary and gross to be evaluating friendships for their potential contributions to my mental health and stability, but that’s part of my life now. If I lose a friend, I have to be on the lookout to pick up others or grow closer to ones I already have, or else I could enter a tail spin and have a hard time pulling out. I will die in the dark if I let myself be alone.

So I don’t let myself be alone.

I’m not long for Beaverton, anyhow. One way or another, I’m leaving next year. The Portland area is where I plan to retire; I can’t stand to live here in my youth. Or maybe I’m just restless. Last year I hopped from place to place, constantly in flux. My housing situation was unstable for the vast bulk of the year, only settling out in November. Life changing decisions had to be made regularly, sometimes in a matter of hours. It was survival living, hand to mouth. Maybe I acclimated to it. Stability, at least up here in Beaverton, doesn’t agree with me.

Or didn’t, at least. The restlessness is fading. I feel like I could fall into a rut here. That scares me. Is it because I’ve made the decision to move, or is it because I’m re-acclimating to stability? (Is stability banality? Should I fear it as much as I think I do?)

I am in a liminal space. Not the desperately scrambling “I’ll try (almost) anything” way that I was at the depth of my homelessness, when I was seriously looking for a time and place to experiment with drugs because hey, what’s the worst that’s gonna happen: I end up homeless? This is a more prolonged, and perhaps somewhat more penetrating, evolution. It’s not just new experiences I’m searching for. I’m thinking about where I’m going to be in five years. Who I am going to be. My career is on the runway. My social life is in turmoil but not exactly falling apart. Geographically, things will change in a big way soon. Everything is shifting, some parts faster than others.

I feel good to be alive, even despite all the shit. This is what I survived for. I know I made the right choice in refusing to die. If I’d let myself go, nothing would have changed. My life would have ended in such poor conditions. You don’t stay alive because things are guaranteed to turn out well–although things are up from where they were last year, everything could still fall apart for me, and get even worse this time. You stay alive because if you die, nothing will ever get better for you. How you died in the end, that will be it. But if you survive, you retain the blessings of uncertainty, and of potential.

When things are at their darkest, remember, this is why you must survive: not for false hope. Simply to see if things will change.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

2011 was the worst year I’ve ever had. It seems cliche and self-pitying to recap the reasons why. For the past week I’ve been wrestling with how to write my year end roundup, to meet my obligation to be touching and profound at the turn of the year. Fuck it, I can’t. I’m just so tired. Tired of everything. Tired of the titantic struggles that marked my last three years: get into grad school, get a Master’s, survive being homeless, transition.

So this next year is one of modest ambitions. No big picture shit. No major life achivements. The goal of 2012 is to clean up the wreckage. I’ve finished tying off the bloody stump of my academic ambitions, and settled into a comfortably dead end job. Now I’m giong to learn how to keep my apartment clean. Learn how to cook at home five nights a week. Change my name. Get some new clothes. Little things. I don’t think I could survive another string of failures like the one I had between 2009 and 2011.

I need to be healthy, and to be healthy I need to get my life under control. I want that to be second nature. In my darker moments, I wonder if it ever can be. There are people who work here at the call center who have been doing this for ten or fifteen years. I’m scared of ending up like them. I’m terrified to think that even that might be too much to dream of.

Despite it all, I still harbor a great deal of ambition. I want to go places, and do things. I want to be someone who matters to the world. Even just a small part of it. I want to be more than a drone on the help line. But those are dreams for next year. First I have to conquer being a drone.

Thanksgiving

One of my most vivid UC Santa Cruz memories is of the dorm house’s RA knocking on my door and inviting me to the Rainbow Theater’s Thanksgiving Day Play and Discussion Group–do you enjoy your turkey with a side of GENOCIDE!?

For the next few years I couldn’t really enjoy the holiday. In the back of my mind, I had this irritation, this sense that I somehow had to justify my lack of guilt. Because let’s be honest: my ancestors stole a fucking continent, but I don’t want to spend the holiday thinking about that. But I never really felt thankful, either. I felt obligated to feel thankful. Or, no, I liked the idea of being, not thankful per say (I don’t believe in a deity to thank) but appricative. I liked the idea of taking a day out of our hyper-consumptive lives, sitting around with friends and family and appricating what we have instead of fretting about what we don’t. But however much I thought the idea was beautfiul, I never lived it. I never felt appricative of anything but the day off and the free feast. And somehow, this insistence–not entirely unjustified, if a little shrill on my RA’s part–that we temper our apprication with the understanding of the grim history behind white settler expansion gnawed at me. Frustrated me. Made me realize that I wasn’t thankful.

I don’t have that problem anymore. Neither the guilt, nor the irritation. I understand the history, I remember it. But I don’t let it prevent me from enjoying a day of being happy for what I’ve got. Because this year, I have something to be truly thankful for. This year, I have a real reason to stop whining about what I don’t have, and take a moment to count what I do. I did before, but now I know, now I can feel it.

And what I have is this:

I have a place to live, that I pay for with my own money from my own labor. I have food that I eat that doesn’t come with a side of foodstamp flavored shame. I have hormones that my doctors can’t deny me anymore. And most of all, I have friends who saved my life.

I am thankful not to be homeless. I am thankful that I can transition.

I am thankful not to be alone.

November, Sweet November

One of my clearest memories of San Francisco is the last time I saw the city from a good vantage point. This was after my expulsion from Thrillhouse. I’d landed on a friend’s couch in Oakland, and caught a ride back to the city with her on her commute. (By the way, Liz, if you’re reading this, thank you.) She couldn’t drop me at my destination because she had a tight timeline to get to work, so she drove me to her office and I walked from there into downtown. She works for a publisher that lives up on a hill in the south part of the city, and as you walk down the road from their offices you’ll crest the hill, which drops off so sharply you can see over the roofs and across San Francisco. I began the long walk downwards. The plan had been to catch a bus, but I ended up walking the whole way to the library, where I was going to return some books for the last time. In just a few short months I’d learned to navigate the Mission and its surrounding districts almost as well as any town I’d been in. Looking back on it, I don’t think I realized I’d probably never be coming back, and yet I ended up taking this long, solitary walk through the southern half of the city, as if I were saying goodbye. In San Francisco I was scared, helpless, and dependent upon the goodwill of others, but there was something about that time that made me feel awake, like my life was finally starting. Some taste of risk made it real. It is not my home there, and never was, but I will always love San Francisco for the rare, painful sense of being alive.

Since I moved back to Portland and started working again, I’ve lost that. Now I’ve got enough money to eat and buy an occasional book and not feel guilty about it at all. I have a sense of security that has been so long departed from me that I scarce know what to do with it. I have a work week, and the weeks tick by smoothly. I look down, I look up, another month is gone. But not this month. Because this month, I start making bad decisions again. This month it gets scary again. This month is Transgender Awareness Month.

And this month I come out at work.

A Room of One’s Own

As of about 1 pm-ish on September 19th, I had signed the lease on my new apartment. This ends a period of homelessness that began with a full scale crouching-behind-the-bushes-sobbing nervous breakdown on December 18th of last year. From that day to this week, I stayed on couches or borrowed beds all up and down the west coast. Some times were better than others. When I managed to stay with family, things were usually pretty good, but there were a few solid months there where I would have considered living in the proverbial van down by the river to be a significant upgrade. I never slept on the streets, but at times it was a pretty near thing.

Even during the good times, I was always acutely aware of being homeless. Sleeping in one of my father’s spare bedrooms doesn’t sound like it counts as homelessness, and indeed it was a vast improvement over Thrillhouse, but even in the best of times the helplessness gnawed at me, as did the shame. I’ve nearly killed myself on three significant occasions this year. I was suicidal so often I developed a new taxonomy to describe the various flavors of suicidal ideation. I’ve had periods of strained relationship with nearly every member of my family. I’ve had the unique, um, joy, of realizing that I had become a parasite on the people I care most about. I’ve noticed myself becoming at once more empathetic and more callous, acutely feeling other people’s suffering and then deliberately turning away from it in a way I didn’t do before. My planning horizon for major life decisions was, at one point, habitually set to about 48 hours, because that’s as far as I could reasonably predict what I would be doing, or in what city I would be.

And this week it finally ended. I’ve been employed full time for a little over 2 months now, and I was finally able to put together all the elements– lease, location, roommate, money– needed to pay for my own roof. I spent the day on the verge of tears of relief.
Today, with the help of a friend, I finished moving my stuff into Bitch Castle. Now I’m strutting around this bitch like I own the place, because for all purposes that I’m interested in, I FUCKING DO.