To Move, or not to Move? My Eternal Question.

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Welcome to our home.

When we got married about two-and-a-half years ago, Alex and I moved into a 450-square-foot apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Northwest Washington, DC.

It’s the original tiny house and lacks a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer, and central air. We’ve dealt with three bed bug infestations, the first just weeks before our wedding. Most mornings we wake up at 6:15 AM to our neighbor’s dog barking, or her owner shouting at her even more loudly to stop barking. Our kitchen is home to a breed of (thankfully) small cockroaches.

During the first walkthrough, our landlord explained that the scuffed hardwood floors would be refinished before we moved in. On moving day we discovered that they been covered with matte-finish deck paint, which is impossible to keep clean.

Shortly after moving into the building we complained to management about a foul odor in the hallway. After it persisted for several weeks I went on a sniffing mission to discover the source… a festering pile of poop (from an animal, we hope?) in a stairwell.

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A snowy day in 2016.

So, why have we stayed? I ask myself this question every few months and search frantically on Craigslist for a new home. But after two and a half years, we still haven’t moved. My patient coworkers have listened to me rant on and on about this question, which reflects how much I think about it, which is a lot.

Here are the positives: since moving into building, two other couples we’re friends with have joined us, one right next door. We assemble for impromptu nightcaps, water each others’ plants while we’re on vacation, share clothes, tools, and more, and watched all of the Presidential debates together. Though weeks go by, sometimes, without getting together, its always good to know they’re there. And, they keep extra sets of our keys, which is helpful because I lock myself out… often.

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Our picnic was rained out so we improvised inside.

Our building is three blocks from the metro and two from the grocery store. While yes, we still do drive to the grocery store sometimes (too much to carry!)… the proximity is helpful for forgotten items, cravings, snow days, and simply saving time.

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My window box herb garden in the beginning of summer 2016.

While our windows are north-facing, there’s enough sunlight to sustain my herb garden, which is currently thriving for the third year in a row.

Alex and I have a lot of hobbies, and hobbies come with supplies. My sewing machine and collection of fabric are tucked in my closet and under the couch, respectively. Our camping equipment lives in a milk crate in the entryway closet and our sleeping bags are perched high in the bedroom closet. Alex’s bartending supplies are on display in the living room. Our bedroom is home to four (!) musical instruments. Our books are stacked on custom-built shelves in the hallway. We’ve found places for all of the things we most enjoy having, and the limitation of space has kept us from consuming things we don’t truly need.

And, importantly, our rent is below market rate. Far below market rate, actually, which makes the opportunity cost of moving very high. Rent control is a blessing for the conscious, but a curse if you’re just using it to save up and move up.

Because moving is a lot of work, and the opportunity cost is high, my list of musts for another home is long. I want all of the conveniences: a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer and central air, and I also want hardwood floors, lots of light, outdoor space (or deep windowsills, at least), more closet space. But one-bedroom apartments with these features cost about $700-$900 more per month than what we’re paying now. This is what I mean by opportunity cost: it’s high.

Last weekend, we looked at a giant one-bedroom apartment a block from where we live now. It had all of the conveniences, but the floors were bad. We were on the fence about it for several days. At one point I said to Alex “what if we move there and then something even better comes along?” He responded: “It won’t if you stop looking at Craigslist.”

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It took nearly an entire Saturday to attach these shelves to our plaster walls (thanks Alex!).

I am so restless sometimes, even when life is good. I’m spending my time well, I think, but my phone tells me what else I could be doing, where else I could be, what else I could own. In an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, actor, comedian, and astute social critic Aziz Ansari shared that he once found himself browsing Google for information about what toothbrush to buy. Stepping back and realizing how unnecessary this was, he joked “I’ve never heard anyone say ‘You know how he died? He chose the wrong toothbrush!'” Via the internet, we have access to more information than ever before. But is it helpful? I have a strong desire to make a home, but I can’t decide where. There are too many options. My wheels are spinning.

This spring I took it upon myself to sow flower seeds in the planters in front of our building. The planters had been filled with just dirt and garbage for as long as we’d lived there. So I didn’t know how to feel when, just as my seeds were sending up promising green shoots, I came home to discover them uprooted and replaced by an ornamental tree surrounded by struggling annuals. I suppose my landlord finally took it upon himself to beautify our stoop. It was bittersweet.

Below us, in the same 450 square feet, lives a family of four: a mom, dad, 5 year old girl and 16 year old boy. So, sometimes I feel that my desire to move comes from a feeling of entitlement. I don’t need more. My home is enough.

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Cozy times on the couch in my cozy little home (before the built-in shelves).

But let me know if you hear of any affordable one-bedroom apartments that fit my description…

 

River Whyless Embraces the Role of Musicians in Times Like These

River Whyless recently released a recording of their take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son and have been playing it (in pussy hats) on tour. I’ll admit that it strikes me as a bit contrived, but I do love the song. The visuals in the YouTube video are scenes from the Women’s March on Washington, which they attended.

 

Favorite Music of 2016

In spite of all of the bad news, 2016 was a great year for music. Here are my top 10 favorite songs released in 2016, in no particular order: (and here’s a link to the list on Spotify)

1. Home in Your Heart, Elephant Revival

Alex and I had a front-row view of Elephant Revival at the 930 Club in April. They began the show with an acoustic rendition of Ring Around the Moon that rendered the venue hauntingly silent from the first note. Seeing Bonnie play the washboard live added a new dimension to my appreciation of their instrumentation. I bought their (then) newly released album, Petals, at the show and nearly scratched a hole into “Home in Your Heart.” I’m a sucker for strings and simple harmonies with words about home.

2. Damn Sure – Laura Gibson

Also in April, a friend and I ventured to IOTA to see Laura Gibson touring her (then) newly released album Empire Builder. Her performance was as emotionally raw as the album, which draws on the aftermath of her cross-country move to New York City for graduate school. “Damn Sure” is about the irony of leaving good things behind.

3. Best Kept Secret – case/lang/veirs

I discovered case/lang/veirs shortly before Newport Folk Festival and angled to get a good seat for their set. While recent festivals haven’t been as politically charged as the years of Baez and Dylan, with The Staves’s loud and clear “don’t f***ing vote for Trump” as an exception, k.d. Lang’s closing refrain from “I Want to be Here with You” echoed pre-election hopes.

The hungry fools
Who rule the world can’t catch us
Surely they can’t ruin everything

4. Vincent – Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo starting making records in the back of his parents’ car, hence the name Car Seat Headrest. Vincent is on Toledo’s twelfth album, which he released at the age of 23. The song reminds me of the rock and roll my dad played for me

5. Life Crisis – River Whyless

River Whyless played an earnest set at Newport Folk Festival and were my most-listened to band in 2016. In addition to Life Crisis, Bath Salt, Miles of Skyline, and Cedar Dream III are favorites.

6. Wendell Kimbrough, formerly Director of Worship Arts at my church in DC and currently Artist in Residence at Church of the Apostles in Fairhope, Alabama, released a highly anticipated album of original hymns this summer. He gave me a rough cut of the album when we visited last fall, and “Eternal Weight of Glory” quickly became an anthem of hope during a difficult season in my career, this verse in particular:

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

In line with the name of the album, Psalms We Sing Together, Wendell toured the album in churches on the east and west coast this year. Wendell has a gift for writing songs to be sung by a congregation and shared how he uses Sunday mornings to experiment and iterate.

7. Hey Big Star – Kishi Bashi

Kishi Bashi’s third studio album, Sonderlust, was released in September 2016. Though Sonderlust was written during a season of heartbreak in Ishibashi’s life and is more reflective in tone than his previous work, Hey Big Star reminds me of the poppy hooks that make me a fan.

8. Ophelia – The Lumineers

Ophelia is another delicious ear worm from the Lumineers. This episode of Song Exploder tells the story of how it was created.

9. Sia – Cheap Thrills Remix

I first heard this song during the leg series in a Monday night pilates class of which I was a frequent flier, and it made me smile every time. I chose the Spanglish version because lyrics are distracting when you just want to dance.

10. Become Younger – Peals

Peals sent their first album, Honey, to Bob Boilen on a thumb drive inside of a jar of honey. Sounds gimmicky, but the music’s good enough to justify it. This song had me tapping my feet from the first time I heard it on All Songs Considered. The interwoven, rolling melodies remind me of what Sufjan Stevens did with strings on his early albums, and the electronic instrumentation on the Broken Bells’s self-titled album.

I was giddy to discover that Spotify created a list of my most-listened to songs in 2016. It looks about right to me; these are my go-to tunes for that extra boost of energy at work or a soundtrack for a weekend road trip. In my opinion, fun things like this, in addition to avoiding the obnoxious and sometimes uncomfortable (!) ads, make that $9.99/month subscription totally worth it.

My “Why” for Blogging

I’ve hemmed and hawed about blogging for years. Do I have anything unique to say? And if I do, need I share with the world? What will people think?

For the following reasons, I’ve decided to JUST DO IT:

  1. I’ve written professionally for 7+ years, but never as myself. I’ve ghost written for an international trade advocacy organization, community health center, and now USAID Learning Lab. It’s about time I find my own voice, and say what I want to say.
  2. I’m turning 30 in about six months and don’t care what anyone thinks about me anymore. This is a new revelation. Remember when Facebook had a place for you to list favorite music, movies, quotes, etc.? Afraid of being pigeon-holed by my preferences or regret them later, it took months for me to decide how to fill that out. I know that I’m running the risk of being embarrassed by my current thoughts and opinions down the line, but I know that I’m on a journey of understanding myself and the world, just like everyone else, and I don’t need to apologize for who I am today. In his Michigan essay, Sufjan Stevens argues that it’s okay to be found wanting and still want to be known. We often spend so much time fixating on who we want to be that we miss out on being known as we are.

“Perhaps we don’t like what we see: our hips, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts, our sudden bursts of energy, our sudden bouts of depression. Don’t worry. Put away your mirrors and your beauty magazines and your books on tape. There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered. This is where you belong.”

3. I love the creative process. It’s how I work, how I cook (sorry/thanks Alex!) and how I like to think about the world. Iteration is my M.O. I find these words from Ira Glass so freeing and inspiring:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

4. Reflection helps us learn, and writing helps us reflect. If I’ve learned anything from my job on the USAID LEARN contract, it’s the value of stepping back. As an Enneagram Type 1, I’m always doing this, but I often spin and spin and don’t go deep in my thinking or document it. So this is an attempt to do that—to record what I’m thinking about and learning.