After almost 2 years in my apartment, Chris and I are tearing everything down and packing it all away, so we can move into the Vardo and travel the country for six months.  Things are shrinking and expanding at the same time through some sort of packing-Voodoo.

 

Almost all of our books are gone – all 1,000 pounds of them, packed into the book cubes we fished out of the storage unit, re-wrapped in green industrial plastic wrap, and stacked with care in my beloved, sainted mother’s basement.  The bookshelves are bare and awaiting transport.  Now all the stuff we had stacked on top of the cubes and shelves is sitting in piles around the bedroom, somehow coming off as both accusatory and menacing, despite having no eyes or any other facial features.

 

Most of my clothes are packed away.  Every few days I put away another scarf or dress.  My goal is to take no more than 30 garments with me on the road.  All my nail polish is packed.  I’m going 6 months without nail polish and this actually feels like a really big commitment.

 

Shalosh, our dog, is extremely confused by all this.  Her familiar environment is changing, and I worry about her when Chris and I are both out of the house at the same time.  I’m so excited for the day we climb into the truck and drive off together.  I’ll be spending almost every minute of every day with my favorite person and my favorite animal.

 

I’m really looking forward to leaving so much behind for 6 months.  Hopefully when we get back we’ll find we didn’t miss most of it.

So … there’s this other blog.

pieitforward.wordpress.com

 

That’s where I talk about the next stage.  Chris and I are packing up and leaving Michigan to distribute free pie coast to coast.  It’s going to be 6 months or more in the little Vardo I’ve been posting pictures of since summer.  2 people, one dog, no privacy, no stereo equipment, only 1 milk crate of books, 1 duffel bag worth of clothes … it’s going to be an exercise in extreme minimalism for us.

 

Of course, we’re still going to have a car, but the house is mounted on the car, so it should count as one item.

 

Have a look around the new blog.  There’s also a fb page and a twitter handle.  Coming soon to a city near you!

((BIG BOLD DISCLAIMER – This post has NOTHING to do with minimalism, the storage unit, or anything else I’ve previously written about.  I’ve got this blog and my new one about occuPIE and I just decided to put it here.  If you’re tired of reading about Connecticut and everything else related to it, I apologize.  Don’t read this post and come back when I post something about de-cluttering again.))

 

I Could Have Murdered People (A response to “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”)

 

I remember my years in the public school system in a spectrum from barely tolerable to rage-inducing. I was, as I remain, weird. I was the lone Jew, a big nosed, scrawny, pale girl in a sea of cherubic-featured Protestant and Catholic children. I was Gifted, a label I’m convinced was more curse than blessing to 80’s and 90’s children like me. And starting in 8th grade, I was a “freak,” a catch-all term applied to anyone who wore black eyeliner or a trench coat or had the soundtrack to The Crow blaring from a set of headphones in an attempt to drown out the mockery, taunts and threats that filled the hallways.

 

On top of the already potent mixture of outsider religious status, physical features, intellectual “potential” and style of dress, I was, as I remain, mentally ill. Starting at the age of 6, I began seeing a counselor to deal with my melodramatic tendencies to burst into tears when bullied. I drifted in and out of therapy for years but it became a more prominent component of my life after my parents’ divorce and after an incident in high school in which I flipped over a table and told my vice-principle to get ready for “another Columbine.” This was April or May of 2000.

 

I got medicated, which I hated. To this day, I don’t even know if the medication did anything for me. Between my total disregard for my needs for adequate sleep or nutrition, and my growing comfort with my identity as a depressed, misunderstood total outcast, those little pills never stood a chance. I dumped them in a park pond after 2 months.

 

Meanwhile, in between the sprinting practice I got from the popular guy who kept trying to run me over with his S-10 and the accusations that I was sacrificing babies to Satan in my spare time, I day-dreamed. Mostly I fantasized about running away to San Francisco, a magical place at the end of the highway where punks and goths frolicked on the piers and street corners, listening to great music and getting drunk. This was a vision planted in my head by an ex-boyfriend, a charming boy 3 years older than me, also mentally ill. He had been expelled from 4 high schools and talked about the Columbine shooters like they were close personal friends. Of course, living states away in the early days of the internet, they had never met. But that ex-boyfriend considered them his ideological brethren.

 

I thought about that option. And looking back on it, that option was so close. Not only did my father keep guns, legally bought, in the house, but for three years, we had a drug-dealing lodger under our roof. The drug dealer was actually the son of a family friend and my father wanted to take him in, in an incredibly misguided Batman-and-Robin sort of way. My father saw himself as a mentor. The young man, about 10 years older than me, saw an opportunity to get out of one city and state where he already had a record, and build something better and more profitable while mooching off of my father.

 

The drug-dealing lodger was motivated by money and the possibility of getting laid. If I had ever asked him if he knew how to get more guns, bigger guns, he would not have said, “Hey kid, I know this is a tough time for you, but you can’t use guns to solve your problems.” He would have said, “Sure, I know a guy. How much money do you have left from your Bat Mitzvah?”

 

I never took that option, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because my day-dreams were stronger than my revenge fantasies. Maybe it was because, on some level, I was holding out hope for my Cinderella-like transformation – you know, where the geeky girl takes off her glasses and shakes out her ponytail, and then the quarterback asks her to Prom.

 

Years have gone by since then. I graduated high school and started having adventures. I became a circus performer, a stripper, a Sunday school teacher. I dropped in and out of 4 colleges. I got married and divorced. I became friends with some of the popular kids from my high school, although not with the one who tried to run me over. Most importantly, I got a handle on my god-damned brain.

 

It’s still a struggle some days. Yesterday I got frustrated while trying to peel a hard-boiled egg. I ended up throwing the pitted, mauled little morsel in the trash with all the force of a football player slamming the ball into the endzone. Then I stewed at my desk, angry that I wouldn’t get to eat that egg.

 

But that’s all. I didn’t flip the desk over. I didn’t try to slit my wrists. I didn’t swallow a handful of pills. And I didn’t take my rage out on those around me, as I so often have in the past. The secrets to my success shouldn’t be secrets. I have a supportive family, a stable romantic relationship, cheap bi-weekly appointments with a fantastic counselor, and and what feels like nearly god-like powers over my own environment and schedule. If something stresses me out, I find ways to avoid it or make it less bad. Grocery shopping for example – at 7 pm, it’s panic-inducing. At 3 am, it’s serene.

 

I’m 27 now, and I’ve never been happier or healthier. I think back to the angry, bitter girl I was at 15 and I scarcely recognize her. And then I think of some of the shooters from recent years – Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and now Adam Lanza, and I think, that could have been me. I’ve felt disgusted with the world I lived in, disillusioned, nihilistic. I’ve hated myself and so many people around me that sometimes a bomb or a gun seemed like a good idea. I’ve wished for death and disaster, I’ve just never taken the task upon myself.

 

I don’t know what stayed my hand. It was probably a combination of factors – a tiny sliver of hope here, a kind word from an old man shoveling his driveway there, a long weekend away from school, a slice of my mother’s homemade Texas sheet cake. Underneath it all was a support system I just had to ask to use, but I wasn’t ready to ask until I was 25.

 

If you’re reading the news, reading the names of the shooters and thinking, as I once did, that fear is the next best thing to respect, I urge you to re-consider. For as much as it sounds like a cliché now, it gets better. It really does. With time comes greater freedom, more self-awareness, better coping strategies, and experiences so outside your current conception, not only can you not imagine them, you can’t imagine how happy you’ll be when you get to them. If someone had told 15 year old me that 27 year old me would be climbing rock walls and going camping in the Upper Peninsula and giving pie to homeless people, I would have never believed them.

 

And if instead you’re wondering if it’s safe to go outside, if you can send your kids to school or go to a movie or go to the mall, if you yourself are scared to return to your job or your campus, I beg of you – be bold, and be kind. Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s your responsibility to prevent a mass attack, but what if you could? What if we could look back in a time line and see that if someone had paid for Seung-Hui Cho’s Starbucks order on April 15, 2007, he would have lingered for a while in the coffee shop and totally changed the direction of his life, and by virtue of the ripple effect, the lives of everyone around him? Who knows where I would be without the thousands of anonymous benevolent actions that strangers have bestowed on me?

 

That’s it. That’s all I have. If you’re angry, be kind to yourself, and it will help you be kind to those around you. If you’re scared, be kind to others and watch the kindness ripple out and come back to you.

 

In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s been a busy Fall.  Now that the original 25×10 storage unit is gone, I don’t have to spend all my free time driving out there, sorting, purging, and making manic runs to Salvation Army.  Instead, I’ve been putting my free time to use with a different sort of give away.

For 17 weeks now, I’ve been giving away free pie every Wednesday in a city park.  It all started with (now Senator) Elizabeth Warren’s “Factory” speech.  When she said, “If you build a factory, you moved your goods on roads the rest of us paid for, your workers were educated in schools the rest of us paid for,” I agreed.  I wanted to put those ideas in a form that was a little friendlier, a little more accessible.  So I made pie.

I wrote a mani”feast”o.  In it, I explain how even though I bought the ingredients and baked a pie, I don’t consider it mine.  I didn’t plant the apple trees or harvest the wheat or churn the butter.  I pointed out all the people who had helped to make the pie possible, and how I’m happy to share the pie with anyone who has less pie or no pie.

I called my little project “occuPIE” and I dove in.

17 weeks later, we’ve been in the local paper a couple of times, we’ve had donations of supplies and money, and we even had some adorable children from a local elementary school come out to help.

I watched as people approached our table, curious but skeptical.  “What’s it cost?” they would ask.  “Nothing,” I would tell them.  “It’s free.  It’s a revolution.”  We started seeing familiar faces come back week after week, always talking about how good the pie was, occasionally throwing in something about how we were doing the Lord’s work.

I thought about Dad a lot when we were out there.  Dad, who taught me not to be afraid of someone just because they looked different than I did, or because they had a criminal history.  Dad, who had his clients come over to the house and treated them like human beings when the system was telling them they were unworthy and unwanted.  Dad had an ex-hooker drive me to Tae Kwon Do lessons and he had felons putting a new roof on the house.

I thought about Dad and all of his stories that I will never be able to verify.  Dad at Woodstock?  Maybe.  Dad marching with Che Guevara?  Maybe.

I thought about Dad and the things I knew for sure about him.  He worked for equal housing access.  He taught history and street law in the inner city.  He marched in the annual Gay Pride parade and fought against transphobia.  On the whole, he mistrusted white men his own age, and sought out friendships with people from different religions and different countries.

As I watched my little pie project grow, I started looking at the original Occupy movement and their latest branch, Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee.  They’re raising money to buy medical debt for pennies on the dollar, the way collection agencies are able to, and then they pay it off.  The debt is purchased in big bundles, and there’s no way to know who’s debt is in each bundle.  Last night they had a telethon and they crossed the $250,000 mark, which gives them over $5 million dollars of purchasing power.

I thought of Dad, again.  As a lawyer, he helped people file for bankruptcy so they could start over.  He knew first hand that medical debt is often what pushes people to bankruptcy.  He saw families crippled by multiple illnesses piling up on top of lay-offs.

I think he’d be pleased with these new revolutions.

We took the plunge today.  We are now a one car family (sort of).  I turned in the keys to the Pontiac Dad started buying in 2008, the car that my mom and sister took over when it became part of the estate.  I’ve been driving it for the last 2 years and it’s been a fantastic vehicle, but in the interest of simplicity, frugality, minimalism, and so much more, it was time to say good bye.

 

So now we have Chris’s car, a 15 year old BMW that has begun channeling it’s inner race car, now that we’ve replaced the tires and brakes.  It’s zippy, it’s economical, and it has 4 doors.  It’s a great car for us currently, and if/when spawnlings, it will be a great family car.  Chris is really sweet about sharing – I wouldn’t even have been able to consider getting rid of the Pontiac if Chris wasn’t so accommodating and generous.

 

And of course, I also have my giant truck, Gracie, but Gracie is not a daily driver.  Gracie is patiently awaiting the completion of the Tumbleweed Vardo.  Gracie and the Vardo will be most comfortable on open high ways and in state campgrounds, but will not be very comfortable driving downtown where I work.

 

I’ve begun adjusting to the whole public transportation thing.  I am fortunate enough to work for an employer that participates in a very cheap bus pass system – $5 for unlimited rides, per YEAR.  I love seeing the buildings and scenery pass by as I ride in the bus, things I don’t usually get to pay attention to if I’m driving.  A couple weeks ago, I saw some sky-writing in progress!  I really want a pair of giant head-engulfing headphones, though – I’ve already overheard a number of bizarre conversations that range from the perverse and disgusting to the pants-on-head crazy variety.

 

So what have you purged lately?

“Enough” is a concept I struggle with.  I think Dad struggled with it too.

 

When Dad first moved back to New York after the divorce, all he had was his collection of video tapes, his clothing, his books, stereo equipment, and one car, his trusty LeBaron.  He had sold almost everything else in the “old house,” the house I had grown up in, to pay court costs and have some money to live on.  And as he built a new life as a high school history teacher, he re-built his collections.

 

Dad got his father to co-sign on a loan for a new car, a Buick.  Later he traded the Buick to my sister for her Explorer.  A few years after that, he took possession of my grandparents’ giant Yukon, after the team driving efforts of my BLIND grandfather and helpful-navigator grandmother had nearly killed a local teen.  And a couple years after that, he bought me a Pontiac, which he took back when I left on my nomadic back-pack journey across the United States.

 

When Dad died, he had 4 cars – the LeBaron, the Explorer, the Yukon, and the Pontiac.  His apartment only had parking for one car, so the others were parked on nearby side streets.  At any given time, one or more cars was in a shop, getting repaired.  It took us months to track down the cars that were being repaired or “borrowed” by less than savory characters.  We took the Yukon back to Michigan and sold it.  We took the Pontiac back to Michigan where it got passed around and eventually became mine again.  From two states away, we took action to recover the Explorer and LeBaron, which were sold or scrapped.

 

Why did he feel the need to hang on to four cars?  I’ll never know all the reasons.  I know sometimes if he was running a school event, he liked taking the Yukon because he was able to give 5 or 6 kids rides home afterwards.  Both the Yukon and the Explorer were undeniably capable in New York’s legendary snowy winters.  He seemed to like showing off in the sporty Pontiac when picking up a lady for dinner.  And of course, the LeBaron was his baby, purchased just before my sister Rachel was born in 1987, and lovingly maintained for 22 years.  Dad was proud of the 300,000 on the LeBaron.

 

But Dad wasn’t the one who had to clean up.  Three years later, we’re still coming up with solutions for all the things he accumulated.  Just recently, I took a bag of 60+ ties to my seamstress friend.  We laid all the ties out on the floor and sorted them by rough color/pattern categories.  About 20 of them are going to be turned into a skirt for me.  Some of the tails are getting turned into bracelets I imagine I’ll be giving away for the next decade.

 

I think about Dad’s accumulation of cars, books, clothing, dishes, furniture, and stereo equipment all the time.  I’m surrounded by it, even though the large storage unit is done.  I don’t want my own stuff to ever become someone else’s burden, so I sort, I purge, I donate.  I’m down to 8 pairs of shoes, from 20 or more.

 

I have enough stuff.  Enough clothing to keep me warm, enough books (ok, more than enough books) to keep me entertained and educated, enough food to satisfy my hunger.  My new question is, am I doing enough?  After reading an article entitled “Voting for Poverty” by Raam Dev  (http://raamdev.com/2011/voting-for-poverty/ ) I’ve been thinking more and more about that topic.  Today it hit me especially hard.

 

Today was my day off from my job at the homeless shelter.  I went and checked on my mother’s cat, and on my way out of town, I saw a hair salon whose front yard was covered with junk mail from (perhaps) a mail truck explosion.  I started picking up papers and was soon joined by a man walking by.  In a few minutes, we had filled a garbage bag with stray papers and the salon’s yard looked much nicer.  After that, I went to my weekly event, where I set up a card table in a park and gave out slices of pie to anyone who walked by.  All my “pie regulars” (some of whom are not eligible for services at the shelter) were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them.  When all the pie was gone, I dropped off a bag of clothing at Salvation Army and was finally on my home.

 

As I was getting on the highway, I saw a man standing by the exit, holding a cardboard sign.  I kept driving.

 

To go back and help him would have been slightly out of my way, and would have taken up more time.  But I didn’t let that stop me when I picked up all the junk mail littering that business’s front yard earlier in the day.  I still had $10 in my wallet, $10 that I will probably not be spending on a vital necessity.  My utilities are paid.  The internet is on.  We have enough groceries.  I still have a half-tank of gas in my car.

 

How much stuff is enough?  I know the answer to that question.  I don’t need or want very much stuff, and as a result, I can spend my time and money on experiences that are more valuable to me.  I have time and money enough to give away free pie to the hungry in part because I don’t have a $30/week manicure habit and I don’t have any cable series to catch up on when I get home or have a day off.

 

But how much help is enough?  How much kindness is enough?  How much charity is enough?  I don’t know the answer to those questions.

 

It’s got windows!

 

 

And a floor of sorts!

 

 

Siding!

 

 

She’s coming along beautifully.

 

I think I know where I’m going to go first when she’s finally road-ready.  I’ll go visit Dad’s grave.  I’m sure I’ll be quite the sight, in my 3/4 ton truck with the Vardo mounted in the bed, hanging out in the Jewish section of a cemetery in January, most likely.  But I want to show him what I’ve done with my life, what I’ve done with some of the life insurance money.

 

It’s still not a fair trade.  Nothing could make it a fair trade.

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