I enjoy housesitting for the obvious, conventional reasons.
You know, the occasion to raid a fridge for everything approximating sugar, vinegar or sustenance. The chance to recline on a leather couch and watch cable. (Living, as I do, without a TV, I benefit from the occasional reminder that 900 options of channels quickly translates to a choice between Golden Girls and Bethany Geting Married?). The opportunity to pal around with a 120 lb. rottweiler named Fido whose most aggressive move is a mild effort at vertical elevation in those moments when he anticipates a (not-too-long) walk or a dropped morsel of breakfast burrito.
As I lazed around yesterday afternoon, alternating my attention between a short story collection, the dogs, and a marathon of America’s Next Top Model, I thought of yet another reason I enjoy it that I’ve never quite been able to articulate–one largely unrelated to sloth, gluttony or rottweilers.
Shock of shocks, what got me thinking was one of the stories. It was by the writer Pam Houston, with whom I got to take a workshop last weekend, in Taos. If you haven’t read her, do. She writes funny, insightful and heavily autobiographical fiction about being a smart and successful woman with chronically poor judgment about men. Imagine my interest.
I’ve been reading her second and lesser-known collection, “Waltzing the Cat,” in which all the stories are linked and have the same narrator. They deal with her misadventures finding a man, but also with her quest for place.
In one, she describes her first encounters with a wise older woman who becomes a close friend. The woman disapproves of all her male interests, but gives her advice that is seemingly unrelated: “Find yourself a place you belong in the universe,” she says. “A place where the dirt feels like goodness under your feet.”
So, you all hear a lot about my anxiety around finding a man. But for all that angst, I feel pretty confident that one of these days somebody good will turn up and–the hard part, I know–I’ll be able to recognize him. What I’m less certain of, and in some sense feel more anxious about these days, is figuring out the place I belong.
I’ve talked a bit about my tumultuous feelings toward New York: the complex I’ve got about having grown up there, always assuming I had to move back, eventually realizing I don’t, and sometimes still feeling like I do. You may recall the time, a couple of months ago, when I went to London and had an epiphany that I should definitely move back to Brooklyn.
What I didn’t write about was going to Minnesota for my reunion approximately four days later and coming to the a similar conclusion that I should definitely live there. (“Is this making you want to move back here, like it is me?” I asked my good college friend H–now pretty well settled in New York–as we took a nostalgic roam around our old St. Paul haunts. “Not really,” she said. “Maybe you’re just realizing that you want to visit more often?” she suggested. “Hmmm,” I replied. “You might be right.”)
Or the enthusiastic pang of “Maybe I belong here!” I had the last time I visited DC in January. (“There are so many cute young Democrats!” I exclaimed to wary friends. “And that one new bar on 11th Street is so awesome!” “You just like it cause you don’t live here anymore,” they said–reminding me of the three years I spent whining at them about pink khakis and intense personality types. “Possibly…” I had to acknowledge.)
Christ, while watching the guy on Man v. Food visit the Pike Place Market this morning (while also grading, thank you), I even found myself recalling that lovely weekend I’d had four years ago visiting my good friend A in Seattle and thinking, “maybe I should live there!”
In one sense, the level of distress I feel about this is entirely ridiculous: I have two more years to be in Albuquerque, and lots can happen in that time. In another sense, though, I think it’s pretty logical. It’s hard to not know where you want to be, where you belong or ought to end up. To live in seven apartments in four years and never really know what you have with you and what’s buried in your parents’ basement. (Don’t get me wrong–I am very, very grateful for that basement.)
Which brings me, at long last, back to that reason I think I secretly enjoy housesitting. While I remain far away from figuring out where to put my roots, much less actually settling them, I appreciate the chance to vicariously enjoy other people’s roots. To pretend that I’ve already gone through all that: made serious, thoughtful decisions about the color of paint in my living and dining room. Framed things and hung them, deliberately. Bought the kind of of pasta and canned goods supply that one only buys when one knows that one is not going anywhere for a very long time.
In other words, the kind of things I am eager to do but know that I can’t until I figure out, at the very least, what place I want to be. Which, I’m realizing, may be even more important than who I want to be there with.