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Rant #275
(published April 20, 2006)
Month to Month
by Sarah Erdreich
When I was in my mid-teens, I listened to a lot of Toad The Wet Sprocket. Quite a few of their songs resonated with my angsty adolescent self, including these lines from "Something to Say":

You can take me down
To show me your home
Not the place where you live
But the place where you belong.

(This disclosure leads me to think that instead of wasting all that self-righteous ire on explicit lyrics, alarmist types might be better off directing their energies to slapping "Warning: Lyrics Will Make Your Teenager Insufferably Moody and Melodramatic" on quite a few CDs.)

Now that I'm a decade or so removed from those less-than-halcyon years, I'm able to roll my eyes at a lot of the Deep Truths I thought I had discovered. But those lines have had a lasting influence on me, because from my first college dorm to the present, one of the criteria I've judged living arrangements by is if they felt like home in more than the "dwelling to protect one from the elements" kind of way. And while plenty of the thirty places I've lived in over the past eleven years have fulfilled all other sorts of requirements (cheap rent, cool neighborhood, roommates who don't perform inadvertent science experiments by leaving food out for days), precious few have felt like home.

I have moved because of horrid roommates, because I was starting college, because I was in a summer sublet, because I was dropping out of college, starting grad school, ending a relationship. If I stay in my current apartment for the entire twelve months of the lease, that'll be a major accomplishment, since I haven't stayed at one address for more than eleven consecutive months since I was in high school.

I have almost always had a good reason to pull out my duffel bag and fill it to bulging one more time, to cull my bookcases yet again because boxes of books are a bitch to lift. But I also actually love moving. I cherish the chance to start over, even if I'm in the same town; to stand in the center of an empty room, look out the windows at the new view, and decide how to make this space mine. That is the cleanest slate I have ever found.

Near-constant moving is also an addictive lifestyle. Sometime around age twenty-three, I started to break out in a cold sweat at the thought of actually fulfilling the entire term of a lease, and scouring the paperwork to see exactly how malleable that "no subletters" clause was. While college friends were accumulating nice wardrobes and furniture that didn't come in a box from Target, I lived cheaply, saved my money, dropped one returned security deposit right into the hands of the next landlord and never got too attached to more than a few material possessions.

But I'm beginning to think that it's time to kick the habit. I've finally accepted the alien concept that whatever I had to prove to family, friends, exes, or myself has been proven. So I can move to a city where I don't know a soul, and survive. So I can live with a boyfriend, in a studio apartment, all summer, without air conditioning. So I know that my most prized possessions are a battered leather jacket, a stack of photos, and a USB drive that holds all my writing and old emails from friends. These are challenges and concerns that other people manage to address without also acquiring the ability to perfectly fit ten boxes, a bookcase, a TV, and three armloads of clothing into the back of a Saturn. On the heels of this realization is the nagging fear that I've probably crossed the thin line between asserting my independence and running away once or twice.

I'm also thinking about another recent realization: that, while I can walk away from any apartment, no matter how perfect, I am unable to walk away from any romantic relationship, no matter how imperfect. I have a habit of falling into exclusive long-term relationships. Each one has, at various times, resembled both a Lifetime movie-of-the-week and a saccharine romantic comedy, and the only thing the men have in common is their gender, but with each relationship I have held on through better or worse— my fear of commitment is confined to key rings only. There's undoubtedly a connection between how I approach relationships and how I approach real estate, but I have the feeling that thinking about it too deeply will be depressing, so for now I'll chalk both patterns up to boundless optimism and a hard-to-shake belief that change is only good when addresses are at stake.

Nascent psychoanalysis aside, there are some tangible signs that maybe it's time to stay in one place. I rather like my new futon (which, yes, came in a box from Target), and the trail of discarded and donated furniture stretches far in my wake. I find myself lingering over my roommates' home décor catalogs and feeling wistful not so much for the furniture or dishes or tchotchkes, but for the stability those pieces represent; at the same time, I marvel at the near-arrogance I imagine one must possess to buy these things. What is it like to take your life for granted to the degree that you willingly buy heavy furniture that can't be neatly broken down? To have a full set of dishes and cookware, decorative candlesticks and pillows? And then I have to wonder, is it wiser to always anticipate the next move, steel oneself against life's randomness — or is true wisdom in deciding to create a defined space, a tangible barrier against the havoc that randomness can wreak?

I don't know where I will move next, in two or five months. I know where I would like to go, and I know what plans B through D will be if that doesn't work. I will keep my possessions at the level they are now, and save money to keep my options open. But I am also a little closer to realizing where I want to stay, two or twenty moves from now. I don't know the state or city; I don't know if I will have a spouse or children. I just know that there will be a worn armchair and a real stereo, and stacks of CDs, because as convenient as burning my music to a computer is, I miss the cases which were too bulky to keep moving and the stereo that became too beat up to keep. I will listen to music and look out the window at a familiar view, and I will be home.

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