State of the Steven

I did it again. I mentioned my upcoming move in an offhanded comment on Heather’s blog, and she said, “And does this mean you’ve made a decision?? Spill!”

One again, I was absolutely certain that I had talked about this on the blog, but I haven’t. I scrolled back through the last few posts, and when I talked about this in February, I was still thinking about it and I hadn’t locked anything in.

So with that in mind, I thought it would be a nice time to do an overall check-in, a sort of “State of the Steven” post as it were. We’ll start with the topic I already brought up-

I’m moving! I spent a lot of time thinking about the things I mentioned back in February, and I talked the ears off of anyone who would listen about the possibility of a move. Most of the people in closest proximity to me figured out that I was definitely going before I knew it myself.

I did a ton of research, looked at dozens of possible places to live, talked on the phone with one helpful-but-also-standoffish realtor, and took several “virtual tours” of possible apartment buildings. Just a hair under two weeks ago, I signed a lease for an apartment in Arlington, VA, just outside of Washington DC. I have about ten weeks left in Florida then I’m headed up to the new place in August.

map of where I will be living relative to DC
The red pin is approximately where the new apartment is located.

On January 1st, I posted about my theoretical goals for the year, and one of them was blogging more consistently. I’ve obviously let that one slide, so let’s take a quick look at a few of the other biggies:

Health, exercise, and sleep: I started out the year strong on this one, but then we got a pandemic. My access to the treadmill went away. Grocery shopping involved more and more junk food and beer. All the things that keep me sane like live music and trivia out with my friends went away for more than two months. Time began to lose all meaning, thanks to the stay-at-home orders, and my sleep went off the rails. So overall, I would say this goal could be better.

Travel: Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the stay at home orders have killed this one. I’ve had five trips involving air travel killed so far this year, and one remaining for September is in serious doubt. I’ll probably be going up to DC in late June, partly to collect keys to my new apartment and partly because the planned Seattle trip with my sister got squashed and we’re trying to make up for it with a smaller East Coast city-hop. We have to wait for touristy things to open though; if we went now we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Live Music: This is an utter failure, again because of the pandemic. I’ve honestly lost count of how many shows have been canceled, postponed, or rescheduled, but it’s more than twenty so far. The picture to the right is the little whiteboard in my office. The left column is cancellations and it’s only shorter than the other column because I erase shows once a refund is received. The right column is any show that’s been postponed but hasn’t said anything else about the status. If a show gets rescheduled, I’ll either erase it from the right column or move it to the left, pending a refund. I’ve given this WAY too much thought.

And some of the smaller goals from the January 1st post-

  • See more Shakespeare – I watched a little on YouTube, but the pandemic has put a kibosh in this one. Still, there’s a great Shakespeare theater in DC, so I’m optimistic for the future.
  • Make a decision about moving – Finally, a goal that I can actually say is DONE. All that’s left now are the move itself, the acclimating to a new city, and so forth.
  • More decluttering – I’ve actually done a heap of this in preparation for my move- I got rid of the kitchen stools I never sit in, the second television I don’t need, some other small furniture items, and a few odds and ends. I still have way more than I really want to bring for an interstate move, but hey, it’s a start.

How’re you doing so far this year?

18/52

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com

On being alone.

Over the last two weeks, my social calendar has thinned out a lot. Everyone is trying to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19, and social distancing is super important for that. In my area, there’s a curfew. Restaurants are not permitted to open their dining rooms- delivery and takeaway are the order of the day there. Grocery stores are limiting their hours. Companies and schools are transitioning largely to work-from-home where possible. For those scenarios that can’t be done remotely, lots of layoffs are happening so that their employees can try to find something else or sign up for unemployment. And so it goes.

While I understand and agree with the reasons behind all of this, I’m very frustrated with the end result. I’ve lost nearly a dozen concerts from my schedule, as venues close in an abundance of caution. I’ve canceled airfare and hotels for two different out of state trips, and there’s another two that may be on the chopping block over the next week. My weekly trivia and monthly karaoke are canceled for the time being. The only thing left on my calendar for the next ten weeks aside from work stuff is MegaCon and one doctor’s appointment. I suspect both of those could wind up canceled before much longer. (Edit: Two hours after this was posted, MegaCon was rescheduled for June.)

For most of my friends, our new weird quarantined reality is a big adjustment. For me, it’s not really all that different than my previous life. I work completely remotely, live alone, and eat most of my meals alone. I actively enjoy not leaving my apartment- I can stay here for days without ever feeling bored or stir-crazy. There’s always something for me to do here. There’s a pitfall, of course- the longer I stay in, the harder it is to break the inertia and get out.

My extrovert friends are losing their minds right now, but for me this isn’t bad at all. Doing stuff alone has always been easy for me. Movies, concerts, trips to other countries: I’m perfectly happy going by myself. Having companionship for these jaunts is enjoyable, but never necessary. I’ve learned over time that while I usually have anxiety about leaving the house, I almost always have fun once I get to where I’m going.

These are the two warring sides of my personality: the loner and the social animal. Am I an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert? One of my friends told me a while back that he thinks I’m very social even though it’s sometimes really difficult to get me out of the house- he’s not wrong. Crowds drain me. Too much of that kind of noise makes me glaze over. Too much ambient noise (other than music) depletes me.

There was a brief time a while back where I thought that my loner tendencies might be some sort of personal or psychological failing on my part, so I read a bunch of books about being alone. In “Party Of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus, there is a paragraph about how children played with the original GI Joe doll, the 12-inch version that my brothers had. (This is not to be confused with the four-inch toys that came out in 1982 with all the vehicles and accessories to compete with the similarly sized Star Wars toys at the time. The first GI Joe, the 12 inch one, was only one Joe. They didn’t introduce the snow guy and the ninja guy and the metal-faced guy until later on with the four-inch GI Joe friends.).

Anneli Rufus writes:

“Creating scenarios with only a single doll validates the power and wonder of the individual. Even if this is only a molded-plastic individual with painted-on hair and a mass-produced costume, it is a vessel through which the child projects his own visions of himself as an independent thinker, doer, adventurer, and winner. With only a single doll, the child celebrates self-reliance, learns to strategize, and learns the most potent lesson of all: The doll- or the real person the doll represents- requires nothing in order to do things and have experiences. Its adventures are sparked and carried out through ingenuity, imagination, creativity. In playing with a single doll, the child discovers how to entertain himself. A lone doll gives the message that one is enough.”

— “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus

The book goes on to talk about how the four-inch toys came with their personalities already set, predetermined. Reading this, I thought back to my own childhood. Whenever I was playing with my armada of the tiny Star Wars toys, I didn’t follow the preinstalled personalities or their already-written adventures.

Instead, I would put a blanket on the floor in a blobby unfolded state so that it would make caves. Then I’d select one particular character, never a Luke or a Han- generally some smaller, less important character, and I’d make that character go live by themself in one of the caves. I only chose one, and I stuck with that one. On the far side of Blanket Mountain. Far away from the rest of the action figures. When I was playing Star Wars with other neighborhood kids, this usually led to some frustrating times, because they wanted to interact, and I wanted to be a hermit.

I think a therapist would have a field day with that one.

How are you handling quarantine and social distancing?

13/52

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
Header photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-reflection-color-toy-1679618/

That German Thing

Two years ago, in February of 2018, I went to a family wedding in Naples, Florida. My family is large and friendly, and any time a lot of us are in one place, we talk up a storm.    At one point during the festivities,  I was having a conversation with… well, I don’t remember who.  I think it was my aunt, and she put a fairly innocuous question to me.  Two years later, I don’t even remember what the question was.  What I remember is that my answer started with some version of, “I lived in Germany for three years, and…”  Ten seconds later, I was just cringing.

Even now, two years later, I am still wincing at what a pompous, self-important blowhard I can be.  That sentence, “I lived in Germany,” comes out of my mouth way too often.

OK, yes, I did live in Germany for three years.  I’ve been back in the US now for six years, though- twice as long as I was away.  The urge to bring up my time abroad in almost every conversation is a giant lurking, looming thing.  It’s like a pressure valve that I can’t properly close, and it threatens to spew garbage all over nearly every interaction I have with another human being.  It’s infuriating to me.  I replay conversations in my head afterward, over and over, beating myself up about things that I said when I would have been better served saying nothing at all.

My good and dear friend Charlotte wrote a post back in January of 2018 pondering whether being an expatriate was still part of her identity even after being back in her home country for more than three years.  One particular section from her post got me thinking:  “Now I’ve settled down in my life back here. I still feel years behind people my own age, and feel like this is the “this is what you could have won” section of a gameshow.

When Charlotte wrote her post, I had also been back home for about three years, and I was already feeling many of the same feelings and doubts.  Repatriation can be kind of weird and stressful.  I’ve said many times before that living abroad can be like pressing a giant pause button on your life, and it’s easy to feel like the rest of the world went on without you while you were away.  I commented on Charlotte’s blog that I had a similar post in mind and that I would write it soon.  That post is this one-  I’ve been writing it in fits and starts again and again over the last two years, without ever finishing it to my own satisfaction.*  I’ve kept a browser tab open to Charlotte’s post ever since, and I’ve re-read it many, many times, noting different parts of it on each subsequent re-reading.

The plain truth is that my time as an expatriate changed me.  How could it not have?  Packing everything I owned into eleven large boxes and moving five thousand miles to another country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have an apartment waiting was a huge adventure.  My brief German life is a major part of the fabric of my current identity, and it’s never far from my mind.   My time there allowed me to grow and become a better person in ways that I didn’t understand fully until I was back home.  I am absolutely not the same person I was before I left, and in some ways, I think that expressing that is a big part of why I keep harking back to my time in Germany.    That doesn’t make it sound any less pretentious when I hear myself saying those four words- I lived in Germany–  for the millionth time, though.

I saw one of those artsy motivational images recently with text that said, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”  It hit home because this particular worry and frustration has been living rent-free in my head since I came back to the US in late 2014.

I worry that my constant need to tie my current life back to my experiences in Germany is a personal failing.  I spiral through feelings of doubt: Have I become boring?  Am I living in the past?  Is there some deeper psychological failing that keeps me talking about that time? Why do I talk about the past so much- is my present life that uninteresting?  I suspect that I won’t know the answer to any of these questions in the very near future, so I turn my attention toward managing the symptoms instead of fixing the root cause.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the same points during conversations without tying it back to my time in Germany.   While talking about living in a place that is colder in winter than Florida, for example, I’ll just say that “I’ve lived in a place with real seasons,” or “I’ve lived further north than this.”  Sometimes the conversation rolls around to beer and the various types thereof.  I like to say that I became an accidental beer snob because of my time over there, but now I mostly try to just talk about the suds themselves without bringing my personal experiences into it.  This is absolutely impossible if I’m with friends in a German restaurant, though.  When I have a nice order of Sauerbraten and a cold Dunkel in front of me, my stein- and my urge to talk about Deutschland-  runneth over.

It would be better if I had no need to interject my experience into the conversation at all, though.  That’s the dream.  Keeping my stupid mouth shut and letting other people do the talking is what I aspire to do.  Now if only I could remember the question from two years ago that started this whole thing…

Do you have any topics that you can’t leave alone in casual conversation?

7/52

* – This post is still not completed entirely to my satisfaction, but finally publishing SOMETHING about this after two years will be a great relief to my Checklist Brain.   And, as a bonus, I can finally close the tab that’s been open to Charlotte’s post for the past two years.

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

Memories of Chris, ten years later.

I realized while going through the remnants of my old blog that it’s been ten years since Chris passed away.   I’ve outlived a great many friends and loved ones, and some people leave more of a mark on you than others.  Chris was like that- he definitely made an impression.

I first met him in the very early 1990s on an accidental double date.  It wasn’t supposed to be a date-  Jade, one of my best friends at the time, wanted me to meet her friend Amy and arranged a meet-up at a local pool room. Amy brought Chris along, and we got on brilliantly.  After we all left the pool hall, we drove to the Lake Worth Pier.   Chris wanted to talk to Jade on the drive over,  so when we reached a stoplight, he got out of his car and knocked on my window.  A brief car switcheroo commenced, and we each drove the rest of the way to the pier in the other’s car.  This was the first of many shenanigans over the span of our friendship.

If you called Chris by his full name, he would say “the Topher is silent.”  After Chris died December 28th, 2009, from complications of pneumonia, that sentiment is truer than ever.

Chris and I were thick as thieves through most of the 1990s. We took classes together at PBCC, before it evolved into its current form. In 1994, we got an apartment in Boynton Beach and spent a year as roommates. We worked at Motorola together making the circuit boards for pagers.  He stayed on at Motorola when I left to finish my bachelor’s degree in Orlando.

A lot of who I am today was the direct result of my time with him. Being around Chris shaped parts of my personality.  Chris is one of the few people I have ever known with a music collection that was larger than mine-  we became fiercely competitive about the size of our CD collections.   It was all in fun, though-  there’s a ton of music in my regular rotation even now that I might never have been exposed to if not for him.

To this day, there are certain things that are indelibly linked to Chris in my mind.  There are certain songs, certain places, certain concepts that will always remain linked to him in my mind.  Whenever I see a Volkswagen Golf, or drive to South Beach near the former location of his favorite pizza restaurant in Key Biscayne, my mind drifts back to the past.

The memorial service was a traditional funeral mass, and I think Chris would have been terribly amused at how much the British reverend sounded like Rowan Atkinson. I kept waiting for him to say “…and the Holy Spigot.”  The only people I knew at the church were his mom, his widow, and my good and dear friend Lorrie. I’ve known Lorrie since middle school, but this was the first time that I’ve seen her in person in over a decade.  I noted a few days later how much it bothered me that it took the death of one friend to bring me back into the life of another friend.  Lorrie and I never fell out of touch again after that.  Even now, she’s a frequent concert-and-convention buddy.

But then, Chris was always a catalyst in my universe. The people from his world and the people from my world tended to get to know one another.  And quite a few of them miss him even now.

4/52

Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.
Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.