Adulting Unlocked

I bought a house a month and a half ago. It's weird to say that I own (well, half-own) something now. I've never owned anything to speak of, really. I've never bought a car or a boat or a motorcycle, all things that one might say are worthy of the title "ownership." I guess one could say that I am the owner of two cats, but I prefer the term "guardian" or "cat mom," which conjures a slightly more altruistic relationship than ownership. 

But owning a house? I own a physical space. I own a piece of planet Earth, even if only the smallest fraction. 

People have been telling me what a life-altering decision I've made to own something. It's going to take me decades to pay it off, and if all goes according to plan, it is going to be my responsibility for many, many years to come. Have I basically just adopted a child without knowing it? My first thought as I walk the empty rooms and my footsteps echo, is that the house must be given a name, and that it would be neglectful not to. She is waiting, receptive. Her walls are blank and her windows let in all of the light. The back patio looks out over a big tree (a real tree! in Kensington!) and this house just seems...well, happy with itself, as much as a house can appear self-contented. It is like she is reborn and naïve to all of the things that could happen--the oppressive curtains or blinds we could use to darken her view of the outside world, the tenuous Ikea furniture we could build with missing pieces, and all of the tacky colors we could paint her walls. She deserves more. The moment I leave her, I wonder if she's okay to be left alone. 

Buying a house is an emotionally turbulent process. I'd like to think of house hunting like going on Tinder. You get pretty good at knowing when a house is a hard swipe left just based on the pictures. You get indignant when the house doesn't look at all like its pictures. You have your heart broken when a dream house is pulled out from under you. You have so little information to go on, and only a few minutes to really decide if this is the house you want to commit to. The house could lie to you, not telling you about its venereal disease or its crumbling foundation and daddy issues. And finally, when you find the right house, you just "know." 

So you've found THE house. That's not the end of it. From there, you end up questioning your entire life plan. Buying a house means digging your roots in deeper to wherever you live. It means being responsible for things like broken drain pipes and leaking roofs and god knows what else. Compromises are made--dreams of roof decks or dog parks dashed in favor of other practicalities, like kitchen pantries and multiple bathrooms. You must decide which flaws you can readily accept, which ones can be fixed later on, and which ones are deal breakers.  

Home ownership is adulting on crack. Someone basically takes all the adulting things ever and dumps them in a giant pile around you, and you have to figure out how to swim in credit checks and insurance. I've become versed in a new language with terms like escrow, lien, and contingency now a part of my vocabulary. I've been to the bank more in the past three months than I've gone in the past few years. To complete this purchase, I repeated my signature twenty or so times, my handwriting in constant flux. If not for the multiple witnesses, I would fear that someone would question my ability to consistently produce a stable signature.  How many ways I can possibly prove that I am me? I wonder if I will ever have to prove my identity in so many different ways ever again.

So now I own THE house. And it's empty. It is mine to fill with the things that best represent who I am and what I want. I share this house with another human being who is no longer just my roommate but my co-owner. Our ownership has complex layers to it. We do not fit the mold of what society says home owners should look like. We had no choice but to sign under "spousal signature" because categories have not been created yet for our model of ownership. Although home ownership among friends is becoming increasingly common, it is still something that people scratch their heads at. I think these are generally the same people who frown upon single parents who intentionally have children on their own. If I want to adopt a house-baby and call it my own, I can do it with whomever I damn please, and I wait for no grand life plan to unfold. I do that shit myself, because really, how many years of Craigslist roommates and shady landlords can one human being take? I think the ball of indecision that is me was ultimately swayed to say fuck it, let's buy a house because I can NOT go back to cohabiting with used condoms, clogged toilets, and unwashed dishes that don't belong to me and linger longer than necessary.  

So. Back to the house. There is the elation of new love followed by a little bit of residual doubt. Did I make the right life decision? Maybe. I also want to travel the world, maybe have a rebirth somewhere where I learn to speak the language fluently and get mistaken for a local. I want to have a corgi colony or someday be able to afford Crossfit again. I think we assume that ownership on a grand scale cancels out all of the other hopes and dreams we have. And by "we" I really mean "I." Ownership is a big deal. It's the thing that prepares us to care wholly and absolutely for something--or someone--that we chose to invest in. 

Also, proximity to dive bars and good tacos doesn't hurt either. 

The Give Up Abyss

This is not going to be a happy post. Actually, I'm not really sure what kind of post this is going to be, because I am writing it while I'm still feeling some pretty raw emotions. I'm too sad to even eat my mac and cheese, which is a big deal because I love eating so much and I get hangry if I don't.

Not sure where we're going to end up, readers, so I'm along for the ride as well. Either way, I will probably look back on this tomorrow and have a markedly different reaction. 

This post is for writers, and artists, and entrepreneurs, and really anyone who has tried to do something an awful lot for many, many years and is struggling to balance that good old American perseverance with a dash of realism and a smidge of getting older and more impatient and a whole lot of realization that you are the rule, not the exception.  

Today, not for the first time, I questioned whether I am "supposed to" be a writer. Am I trying to be the wrong kind of writer? Am I really just a blogger or poet who thinks she's a novelist? Am I just one of those people who tried to be a writer and now everyone's like "oh yeah, Liz writes really nice emails and holiday cards. Maybe we can get her to ghostwrite our wedding vows or type up a nice appeal letter regarding that parking ticket I got last week." 

To me, writing a novel has always been at the top of my writing bucket list. In fact, I've written three of them. One got shelved because I knew it wasn't ready for the public eye yet, and one was only ever half-finished because I knew it wasn't the novel I truly wanted to be writing. 

I read somewhere that most writers need to write at least three novels before they are "good enough" to actually have something publishable on their hands. I've spent the past two years convincing myself that somehow I am immune to this advice, and that this third novel is it. No matter the cost, I am going to try to get it published. 

I also read somewhere that most writers' first novel is, without question, mostly about themselves. It's a way to hash out childhood traumas and emotional baggage before really getting to the good stuff, the real writing that we're supposed to do. Yeah, I convinced myself that this novel totally was not about me. At all. See, I even made the main character a Mexican American! Totally not me. But I think I lied to myself about that bit too. 

As I sit here reading edits that are well-intentioned, albeit brutally honest, I question whether I know how to create believable characters or put together a cohesive story. As I sit reacting to the comments on the page, I realize that I've become one of those dreaded writers who internally mutters "she doesn't get it!" Of course us writers would all like to believe that our grand vision and our metaphors and our local references (hello, row homes and hoagies) are our stroke of genius. We don't want to admit this even to ourselves until this supposed genius is questioned.

When some of us get our first real, hard dose of critical feedback, this is where we first question giving up. I'm no stranger to having my work torn to shreds. I've cried over many keyboards and questioned myself (ok who am I kidding, I was totally just doing that five minutes ago), and then usually a few days later, I pick up the broken pieces of my self-esteem and start all over again. I've never thought to capture this moment in writing while I'm actually feeling it, but I thought that maybe it would be helpful to do so now, because this is definitely the closest I've ever felt to giving up, or starting over, or some combination of the two, because are the two synonyms or antonyms? It's hard to tell. Each time we feel soul-crushing rejection or criticism, we get a little closer to the edge of the Give Up Abyss, and we have to ask ourselves: what is our limit? Do we have one? 

A friend of mine recently told me that she took down her blog because she realized she was not going to be a writer, and that she had come to terms with that (and if she is reading this, I apologize for calling her out on it, but I'm going somewhere with this, I think). And I remember feeling incredibly sad, and wondering if I would someday reach that point as well. What makes it okay to give up on something? To compromise? To keep pushing at the same project again and again, refusing to accept that it's simply not working? I'm not sure which of the three options is best. Compromise sounds like a logical solution, but there are layers to it: for instance, I'm willing to compromise on perhaps writing a different novel, but not abdicating novel writing altogether. At least, I've been at it for seven or eight years and I'm not there yet.

In our thirties, we have to decide what level of compromise on our dreams we're okay with. Many of friends are getting married and having children now, and I'm not in that boat at the moment, so I don't feel the pressure to scale back just yet. But maybe that is an additional three nudges towards that precipice. Debt is an additional five. Personal tragedy? Well, that could push us forward or back. 

Us artists who've been at it for what feels like a while start to get a feeling that we're close. I convinced myself I was close. So, so close. Do not turn around. Do not trash this manuscript, and for the love of god, stop completely overhauling the plot because you think it isn't working. I approach editing with a jackhammer, not a garden hoe. I delete characters without remorse. I make them fall out of love. I kill them without saving the versions of them that used to be, just so I'm not tempted to change my mind later.

I'm trying to keep a level head about this. I know what my flaws are, and it hurts to have them pointed out to me when I am trying so hard to fix them. I know that people will always ask me "so when are you gonna get that novel published?" and that I cannot expect them to understand how emotionally charged that question is for me, because I wish I understood how many more hours of practicing my craft I needed before I had a passable product. And yes, that's what it really is at the end of the day: art turning into product. If I'm lucky enough, critics will read said product and exalt it back to the level of art. 

Right now, I have absolutely no clue what I'm going to do. I do not know if this novel gets shelved for a newer, better one, whether I go back in with a garden hoe or a bulldozer, whether I start blogging my little heart out until I feel like my own fiction doesn't feel like lying to myself. 

I hope that someone else finds comfort in this post, especially if you are teetering on edge of the Give Up Abyss (I don't have a more creative name right now, so that's what we're going with. Abyss has a nice post-apocalyptic ring to it). 

I'm sure tomorrow I'll get up and get back at it because that's what I've always done up until now, but each time gets a little harder. I think this is the part where I say something uplifting like "and then I climb aboard the wreckage of my novel and fly off and OVER the Give Up Abyss, because each failure helps me to soar towards success." Or something. Yeah fuck it, just don't go near that abyss in the first place. Or if you do, you better figure out a way to climb back out, even if you're terrified of heights like me.

Damn. I still made this post cheesy in the end anyway. Here's to being uncensored, and real, even if tomorrow I go back to editing posts and unpublishing and republishing them a bajillion times because I noticed a typo. My characters might lack emotion, believability, and depth (according to my editor), but huzzah! At least I don't.