Linoleum Floors are More Than They’re Cracked up to Be


I heard someone say the other day that home is where your story begins.  It’s where we’re rooted, what grounds us in the present and gives us a history to remember.

I’ve been fascinated for years by the notion of place and the impact it has on who we become.  I’ve even oriented my composition classes around questions of space and place, exploring how who we are is so often affected by where we come from.

So it seems unsurprising then that I might orient my memoir about recovering from mental illness around similar concepts.  I’ve posted pieces about fearing homelessness, about my inability to afford housing in any remotely comfortable way, about wanting the hospital to be my home.  I even took this one step further yesterday when I mentioned now owning a home.             

However, an important part of this progression toward home ownership involved twice living in government housing—not a lovely place by any means—but not the housing horror folks often expect.

In June of 1998, I moved into Lakeland Manor—a government-subsidized, semi-high-rise for the elderly and disabled in Dallas, Texas.  I decided this move made sense when it became more and more difficult to afford the small, one bedroom apartment I leased on Northwest Highway.  I scraped and scavenged each month to pay the rent, making myself abide by outrageously restricted spending limits that may have reinforced patterns of neglect and denial I carried over from childhood.  The apartment at Lakeland Manor saved me more than $200 a month—what to me amounted to a small fortunate at the time.  The year before, I had told my therapist that if I could only make $100 more a month, I would feel rich.

I’d gotten to know a woman who owned a home in a neighborhood near the complex, and visiting her home, I’d noticed the place was not-so-bad.  In fact, my friendship with Jeanette impacted my decision to move, as I began to recognize the impact proximity might have on my recovery.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is not a small place.  My apartment was far from my therapist’s office in Plano—an expensive place to live, and I knew how not having a car kept me isolated, if I didn’t have friends nearby.  I had been fortunate to have my friend Ellen living in the complex on Northwest Highway.

I frankly adored Ellen.  She was my friend from Tulsa, my first openly lesbian friend, one who had also moved to Dallas for treatment purposes.  Ellen was witty, brilliant, creative—great fun to be around when she was sober or not psychotic.  Unfortunately Ellen’s efforts toward sobriety left her more psychotic, more often, and in some ways less available.

My move from Northwest Highway to Lakeland Manor had no conscious connection to Ellen’s decline, but tragically Ellen died suddenly shortly after my move, having visited my new apartment on only one occasion.  Ellen’s death devastated me.  There seemed no clear medical explanation for her dropping dead one afternoon in the parking lot of the apartment complex where we had lived.  But once Ellen was gone, I was relieved to have already moved.  I don’t imagine I could have tolerated living there with her gone.

This issue of proximity made one friend I met at Lakeland Manor enormously important, as I finally had a friend who was bright and creative living in the same building.  Elaine was a classical musician who played the French horn—an SMU grad who loved to laugh as much as I did.  Elaine had had a stroke a number of years back, as well as a kidney transplant, so her physical disability qualified her to live in the building.

Elaine was a friend in every sense of the word.  She was my age, came from a similar educational background, and was finally someone with whom I could socialize, without either transportation or finances being issues.

Except for Ellen, when I lived on Northwest Highway, none of my friends lived nearby.  Without transportation in a city like Dallas—especially when you don’t live in a particularly safe part of town—it’s logistically difficult to go out with friends after dark.  And given all the other battles I was fighting at the time, dealing with getting home after dark was more than I could manage—so mostly I stayed home.

However, I couldn’t afford to socialize either.  I couldn’t afford movies or going out to eat or shopping—activities most folks not fighting poverty enjoy.  This created a financial incongruity in almost every relationship—leaving me feeling isolated and alone. 

With Elaine, all of this changed.  Neither of us had any money—neither of us could afford to go out—but there were countless evenings when Elaine would come down to my apartment or I would go up to hers, so we could cook dinner together and watch T.V.  The meals were simple.  We ate lots of pasta. 

dinner with Elaine at my apartment, February 1999

I remember we spent Christmas of 1998 together.  It was icy outside.  We couldn’t go anywhere, but that didn’t matter.  We were friends, and we were together.  Ironically, I owed this friendship and the joy it provided to the fine folks at the Dallas Housing Authority.

So Lakeland Manor, government housing or not, was in many ways a relief to me, my apartment a retreat—a place I could finally comfortably afford.  Plus, since the rent was based on income, I never really needed to fear homelessness again. 

Home is where ones story begins, and the home I made at Lakeland Manor is one that ultimately allowed my recovery to take hold—grow roots—be strengthened.  I gained confidence while living there.  I felt good about myself and proud.

Yes, my apartment had roaches.  It has linoleum tile on the floor.  It was ugly. 

less-than-lovely linoleum floor

But I worked hard to make it feel like home, and quite honestly I loved it, linoleum and all.

So, home is where one’s story begins, humble as that home may be.

Miscellaneous Monday (and more Mindy to come)


It’s Monday.  And we’re launching another week’s worth of less-than-brilliant (but often, above-average) blogging here at Reinventing the Event Horizon. 

And, in honor of the week’s beginning, I bring you an “inspiring” (at least I’m trying) laundry list of updates:

1.  First, thanks to all of you for your kind and supportive comments in response to last week’s news that I wanted to begin moving my blog in the direction of memoir, not that I would discontinue writing about the event horizon that is Haiti, but that I would also address event horizons from my personal past:  namely my father’s organized crime connections and the black hole that is my battle with bipolar disorder.  (To read these posts click here and here.)

I believe the best writing is inevitably the most honest writing and my not addressing these issues was becoming a form of compositional dishonesty—a way of avoiding the shame associated with my father and the sigma connected to my illness.

One way to lessen stigma is to stop hiding, or, in my case, to boldly address my demons in the blogosphere’s bright light, to share my struggle, to tell my story, both the pain of the past and the hope that is recovery.

2.  Secondly, I’d like to announce an upcoming series of posts from my friend and fellow writer Mindy Shannon Phelps.  (I introduced Mindy last week.  To read her first post click here.)   As she finds time, Mindy will write pieces that address our sometimes serious, sometimes silly misadventures in being human. 

3.  Finally, an update on my dog Lucy’s adventures in Vietnam—her Maltese march, North to South, South to North. 

In last Monday’s post (click here to read) I forgot to include a few of the funniest photos—namely Lucy in Halong Bay . 

(Some of you may have heard of a recent accident in Halong Bay.  A tour boat sank.  12 were killed.  To read about this February 17th incident click here.)

In case you’re not up on the geography of Vietnam, Halong Bay is an UNESCO World Heritage site and hugely popular tourist attraction in northern Vietnam.  According to legend, the Vietnamese were being invaded by the Chinese when the gods sent a family of dragons to protect the bay.  The dragons were said to spit jewels into the water, to build a wall against the invaders, what is, in fact, a series of nearly 2,000 limestone islands that decorate the bay:

   http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ha_Long_Bay_with_boats.jpg

In fact, a highlight of Lucy’s adventure in Vietnam included a swim with me in Halong Bay:

And last but not least, a photo of Lucy dressing for her outing on the bay:

The bottom line is this, a lesson I learned from Lucy:

Sometimes the most over-whelming of crises can be ovecome with the most obvoius of answers.

Indeed, sometimes the biggest of problems can be conquered by the smallest of canines in the most amazing of hats.

Hats off to our struggles. 

Hats off to hope.

Blogging Buddies mean Blogging Bliss


Surprise!

Surprise!

Surprise!

Sorry to sound like a bad echo of Gomer Pyle, but gosh, darn—comments to yesterday’s post, a news update about Haiti, did indeed surprise me.

So today’s post poses some questions I’d most like my readers to answer—please—I’m down on blogging hands and knees begging for feedback!

First a bit of background—some random notes on how my thinking about blogs is evolving, thoughts that I think will put my questions in context.

(Please know I’m new at this whole blogging thing—so if you’ve been around the blogosphere for ages and all of this to you is old hat—then this post probably isn’t for you.  But, I’m a relative newbie, so bear with me.)

Yes, in 2009 I started a blog meant to follow the adventure we began when Sara returned to international disaster response work and I stopped teaching, followed her into the field, attempting to tell our story.  However, that material (archived on this site) was only read by friends and family.  I did nothing to attract outside readers—rarely more than 10 people read each post.  If we don’t count that—I’ve been doing this for a mere 2 months, so please forgive my naïve enthusiasm, my gawking and gaping—a country girl on her first trip to the big city of blogging.

But truly, what amazes me most about blogging is the sense of community I feel.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but surely not all bloggers experience the kind of connectedness I feel with those who read my blog and with those whose blogs I read.  If so, WordPress wouldn’t be setting up a blogging buddy-system of sorts—because no one would need it—everyone would already be connected and buddied and belonging.

(I sometimes wonder if I was just lucky enough to stumble into the right group.  Cause I’m new and I feel fully embraced.  Several bloggers have emailed me over the last month or so—offering unsolicited words of caring, kindness, and down-home neighborliness.  I’ve been welcome-wagoned into blogging bliss.)

However, the following questions have come out of this evolving awareness of community and reader involvement in the blogging process.  I pose them to you whether you’re a regular reader here or just stopping by for the first time:

First, I wonder what among the issues I’ve raised, the many topics I’ve explored (a truly eclectic range) would you like to know more about?

I’ve shared some of my art, some of my poetry, some of my personal history, some about the evolution of my relationship with Sara, some about Sara’s work, a bit about my work in India, some thoughts about writing.  But what interests you the most?  And do you have any specific questions I might be able to answer in a post or a series of posts?

I realized for the first time from some of your comments yesterday, that the media in the US and other countries is likely not covering Haiti adequately, that you are not getting the news that you need, the news you deserve, the news Haiti needs you to hear. 

What else do you need to know, or what else would you simply like to know?  What kinds of posts would like to see more frequently?

Please know how much I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog.  I’d just like to know how I can even better serve your reading needs.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll continue to surprise me with your comments, your questions, your care and concern for a country in crisis.