One of the most challenging things for me this year has been living in my tiny studio apartment. When I decided to downsize back to a studio, I didn’t imagine having to be quarantined in it or work from home in it. I did pretty well. I don’t need a lot until this summer decided to be a ‘scorcher.’ I don’t usually even mind heat and humidity, but I’ve never had to work at home all day in it and then sleep in it. This has been a new challenge, especially seeing patients tele-health, and I look like I’ve just gone for a ‘long run.’ Years ago, when I moved to Hawaii (it’s sort of hard to even believe), but I knew no one there. I was going through a divorce. I got offered an incredible opportunity to start a new mental health program for active duty soldiers in the Wounded Warrior Battalion. I applied for the job late one night at like 12:00 in the morning. It was a total crapshoot, and I got it. I got rid of everything and drove my jeep across the country to Oakland. The jeep had to be totally empty to ship, so it was me and a suitcase or two. I had no plane ticket. I figured I’d wait, stay with my friends in the Bay Area, for a week or so, as my jeep made it’s way and then just go. I bought my plane ticket online the night before. I landed the next day, barely able to carry my own luggage, got a rental car, and sought out to find housing. Hawaii was unique, in that, time was of the essence in finding a place because hotels are outrageously expensive. It’s not like on the mainland where you can drive to the next little town over and stay at the Motel 6. They have you. I got pulled over that first day for ‘talking on a cell phone,’ this is before Bluetooth and all that. Hawaii was a ‘hands free’ state, and I had never lived in one before. The officer said, ‘Where do you live?” I was like, “I don’t have a home.’ It was an interesting exchange. I think he thought I was insane and over-my-head, and he let me go. Rentals were so highly priced. It was taking much longer to find a place. After a few days, I was highly frustrated and definitely thinking, ‘What did you get yourself into?” Then this story came on NPR about a girl reflecting on moving out of a ‘shitty’ apartment she had called home for a few years. Her reflections on how she felt when she moved in, how she grew when she was there, and how even the smallest, most inconceivable places can become home. The next day I found a ‘room to rent.’ It was sort of crazy. It was literally a bedroom sealed off from someone’s apartment. I learned I didn’t have a mailbox when a very large, built Samoan man approached me about getting my mail in his box. I was told by the girl who rented me the place that ‘we shared a mailbox.’ He was not told the same. I had to get a PO Box and never really had an address to tell people where I lived. I could give them the building number, but then I’d have to say, “I live on the fourth floor, the third door down, on the leeward side (this meant even when the Trade Winds blew, no air entered my apartment). The only air that filtrated in was the smell of marijuana from both apartments next to me. It was sort of ‘surfer’s dorm.’ It was cheap, but it was very close to the ocean. I never thought I’d live in that box for three years. The Samoan man would become my friend and ally, when I would shut my door too hard and one of the glass window shutters would break, I’d sweep it up and always get cut. He’d hear it and come to check and bandage me up laughing. It was ungodly hot. There were bugs bigger than I’ve ever seen and yet it eventually was my home. I have lived in so many dumps. My first one was after returning abroad from London. I had a semester to finish. I was rushed to find a place and my friend stated there were some ‘open studio apartments’ in her building. My mom, for the first time of many, almost fell through the floor, but it was mine. In that apartment, I wrote the poem I’m going to share today. I got ‘mono,’ and really fell in love for the first time. My friend, who suggested it, became a lifelong friend. The spaces we live in become so defining in some ways. The nicest apartments I’ve had, I’ve stayed the shortest amounts of time. The shittiest, the longest. It’s not like I ever see them as something they are not, but they do represent times in my life. I grew in those places, often was stretched at times. I know this is probably my last stop in 1) moving and 2) living in dumps. When I move next spring, it will be for a ‘long time,’ and I will put a lot of energy into it. The surfer dorm was a wonderful place to live. It was in the heart of Waikiki. I could walk wherever I wanted. There were beaches and great places to run. I survived there for three years because of the location. I basically lived outside and returned to sleep. With quarantine, that style of living changed this spring. I wanted a place that had a bit more space, was a bit more home-like. I began to read ads dreaming of living in different places. It reminded me of this poem, which I wrote when I was living in my first tiny studio, where I was notorious for drinking wine and writing poems in my bathtub. I was reading postings for apartments and I did come across an ad and I believe the headline was, “Great for Making Love in the Afternoon.” The way this apartment was described felt so home-like. It also alluded to the fact that the only reason the tenants were leaving is because ‘they were breaking up.’ I pictured them writing the ad and reflecting on how this home had been such a comfort and character in their relationship. I decided to write the poem that follows about it. It also just seemed fitting to post today because so many are struggling to find affordable housing. I remember looking out into the courtyard of my building (where my windows face). I live in essentially an old hotel room, now rented as a studio. I looked out and there were maybe three lights on out of all these rooms. It felt like two other people lived here. It’s amazing in the last few weeks how many people have moved in. I imagine, many of them, having to leave behind bigger apartments or homes due to ‘not being able to pay the ridiculous amounts needed for rent,’ having to downsize due to job loss or other reasons and my heart breaks for them. Still, it’s a moment of time, and through this all, I continue to believe things happen for a reason. I wish I could share with them the beautiful story I heard on the radio that day in Hawaii, after I had sold all my possessions and was realizing I was going to be living in a ‘room.’ The story gave me hope and perspective that one day I would leave that room and it would be a part of my history. What happened while I was there would become part of the story of my life and, like everything we leave, there’s a part of us that always stays behind.
“Apartment for Rent”
The ad reads ‘Apartment for Rent,”-
perfect it says,
for making love in the afternoon–
if you want to live in this place when she leaves me,
you better call soon!
The ad is in front of me
I am picturing its walls painted of smile,
pleaser that I am.
On this day when the world feels like a stray girl,
this room offers the idea of place,
songs that remind us of gentler afternoons.
faster than the flicker of things that glow,
I dial you to tell you of this room
speak softly and clearly
lest you not understand why this means so much to me
like silly love songs about kittens licking your hands
as you pet the romance of springtime imagery
spread out on wooden floors
in absence of constructed disorders.
man’s way of saying,
“I’m tired of feeling alone.”
tired of books and dialogue
of constructing rooms of one’s own
yes my body is mine
yes my heart beats only to keep me alive
yes my yawp will one day become my music,
and in this ad,
it says the apartments acoustics
sound better when needing is not a symptom
when someone else has something to say
about what that silly song about kittens
really intends to say.
I like it cause I’m there…
hot in an un-air-conditioned box in Brooklyn
with no furniture, very litte art
some lamps that collected dust,
a second hand rug,
and a record player picked up at the thrift store
the ad says decorate however you like
it’s best lived in that way
it also mentions the lesbians who owned it before
had only enough money for bottles of wine,
they didn’t write enough,
they ate salads and drank decaffeinated tea,
and of course, made love in the afternoons.
I am writing you this because I called already.
The apartment is mine if I wish
All the while I’ve been writing to you, I’ve been waiting for you too..
inside a cliche apartment
with a rootop and a view
two kittens and a bed that echoes
smaller than what I imagined
larger than what I can afford
just as love always is overpriced
and delicately put not as you dreamed
still when it’s time to move away
the ad will read
the best apartment in town
perfect size for love making in the afternoon.
deal will not last forever
please call soon!