I moved out of my apartment in Austin this past weekend, and not without some sadness. My roommates and I lived a fairly cozy sheltered life. We’d baked hundreds of enchiladas and lasagnas and cakes—mountains of cakes. We spent hours sprawled out in the living room watching Netflix or playing videogames (more often than not, watching someone else play video games, and offering elaborate commentary)—this apartment also marks the first time I really ever played on an Xbox. In classic me-fashion, I’m a latecomer to the game.
I settled into our apartment in a way I never had in the dorms. I started thinking of it as home— so much so that I routinely told my dad on the way back to the Greyhound station that I’d call him “when I got home.” I didn’t even notice it as first. It was a very subtle and quick acclimation. It makes me sad in the same way that going back to Houston does, and walking through a house that you used to live in but knowing you eventually have to go somewhere else.
But school years and leases end, and it was time to spread out. We scouted out a little four-bedroom house on the east side of campus. Home for a year, and then back to thinking about moving and furniture and boxes. So many boxes.
A trend I can’t shake
My family tends to accumulate stuff on a large scale. We moved from our first house to our current house and never quite finished moving in. The garage is still full of boxes of books and 80s relics shoved none-too-carefully out of the way so there’s room to walk around— but barely enough. We gather and gather, replace, but never quite discard. I don’t know whether it’s out of nostalgia or just an implied foolishness at throwing out something you paid money for and which still, at face value, has a purpose. I’m just as guilty. My crimes are toys, clothes, and books, all of which (the latter being a unique case) I tend to grow out of and can’t really part with. Being in college messes with that. You can only fit so much in a dorm room. I learned that the hard way. So there’s not much you can convince yourself you need past the sheets, shower shoes (which I highly recommend), and microwave food (which I don’t) that you’re supposed to bring. The by-rule is that you can bring anything that fits in the back of a truck or a van. No more, no less.
Dorms teach you how to be a temporary resident; you can only really pretend that you have some claim to your room—that it’s any expression of how you want to live. But we invested a lot into our apartment—a lot in very relative terms, because of course, I’m describing the purchases of poor college students with poorer taste. We had art, some of it handmade and some of it ordered from a poster website so we could eat dinner (and also slave away at homework) below Gustav Klimt and van Gogh. It helped that we had a beautiful concert harp sitting by the table. An illusion perfected.
Come time to pack away our little home, I kept uncovering doodles we’d taped onto each other’s doors, books, and homework assignments. I couldn’t keep these. I had five boxes and a few plastic organizers, and a whole year’s worth of furniture and artifacts to fill them with. I had to choose. The food went first. Old vegetables, half-empty cans of jam. Things I couldn’t feel bad about tossing, although living in Austin has created this enormous sense of guilt in me when I throw away something I could probably recycle. #2 plastics, #6s, glass, aluminum—all of it went into bags and all of those went into the dumpster, with few exceptions. My apartment only started “recycling” a few months ago. Before then, we’d take our carefully-sorted boxes and bags to campus or a few centers set up near us. Even now, there are two small trash cans in the alley that are for “recycling.” Paper and metal, but not glass. It’s a shame.
Weight and burdens
Towards the end, we started throwing things away wholesale. The furniture had already been moved and stored, along with boxes filled with boxes filled with things I’d thrown in haphazardly out of haste. Small appliances, a vacuum that decided that instead of cleaning the carpet, it would catch on fire, containers, the free water bottles that accumulate after a few years of college event-shopping, and a disheveled boxspring that it took me a year to get rid of, having found out twenty minutes too late for my dad to drive back and take it home with him that it didn’t fit my bed frame—are now moldering in a landfill somewhere. My enormous, disgusting cross to bear.
This is the DART bus I ride back and forth from work every day. Actually, that’s incorrect. This is one of four buses I ride every day. Two up, two down. This is the bus that gets me home at 6 PM, more or less on the dot.
A lot of people ask me why I ride the bus at all. There are two reasons, one a little more complicated than the other. The big reason is that I don’t drive, but I’m working on it. Long story short, I should have squeezed driver’s ed somewhere in the mindless and free summers of high school, rather than trying to find a few weeks when I’m home from college and don’t have any other commitments. It’s a hassle, but one that will hopefully be resolved soon enough.
The second reason is probably why a lot of people take the bus. It’s cheap. Third reason? It’s easy. There’s a bus stop across from our apartment complex. The other bus stops right in front of the gate. And once I get on, I can read or write—things I can’t even do when I’m not driving. It’s calming at the end of a long day. Most of the time.
I’m no stranger to buses. They’re probably the most reliable way to get around Austin, and a godsend if you don’t have a car. I always make sure I’m nice to my drivers, mostly because I can’t imagine how hard it is sometimes to shuttle stressed out people back and forth from their jobs, to take a couple hits, and keep going for hours and hours. Nothing big. A “Good morning, how are you?” and a “Thank you, and have a nice day” can mean a lot though. I’m not the only one by far, but I try to do my share. Least I can do, right?
The bus system in Dallas is pretty efficient. Buses are usually on time, stay on route, and get you where you need to go. Traffic’s a problem no matter which city you’re talking about, and it can get a little crazy in Dallas too. I got stuck on the tollway for an hour waiting for an accident to get cleared up—I can’t complain. We drove past the wreck and the ambulances, and everyone who’d been groaning and looking at their watches suddenly got silent. It’s fair to be annoyed. People expect a certain thing from a service they put money into. People also generally understand that some things, like accidents, are inconveniences that can’t be avoided, especially not by a bus driver.
Yesterday afternoon, the buses were running a few minutes behind. Nothing shocking. Usually, you can get five or six minutes back once you get out of the city, and then you’re back on schedule. But rush hour in downtown Dallas being what it was—a crowd of people and cars, buses, and bikes all trying to get home at 5:30—delays are sort of par for the course. And a backup a few hours back in the system can make all the buses that follow it a few minutes late. This, I thought, was common knowledge.
Posted November 27, 2010 in Writing
The tail end of NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, and it’s a miracle that I’m not more than a day’s hard labor behind. I’m excellent at filling up a word count quota on short notice. I am the champion of wandering around someone’s thoughts, and ending up with them taking a step forward a thousand words later. They’re tricks of the trade, after all, if you want your story to survive NaNoWriMo and still come out reasonably close to what you want it to be.
I’m writing a sequel this year to the novel I “finished” last year. In reality, I want to squish them together. Maybe market them as a magna-book if it ever comes to that. I was pretty sure that I ran completely out of novel ideas and plot lines last year or in the six years preceding last year, but I forgot how intricate I made this plot. I’m lucky, I guess. Spoiled for lack of a better word. I know, to some extent, exactly what’s going to happen in the next ten, twelve chapters. Okay, exactly isn’t exactly right. I work off of a very rough outline that says Mr. Slugbuddy goes for a swim or Grover Cleveland opens an elk preserve (maybe he feels triumphant!). It’s simplistic to the point of uselessness sometimes, but it helps when you’ve had this damned story in your head for years. It makes the pressure of finding something meaningful to spend words on so much lighter.
NaNo’s not hard for me because of the time and productivity constraints (I usually work best from about 10:30 to midnight, unless I’m tired—which is usually true). It’s hard because I’m a perfectionist, and I can’t write without flow. Sometimes, my paragraphs come to a jarring halt and everything stops until I can figure out why the previous sentence sounds so crappy. Everything hinges on everything before it, at least in my mind. Which is why I favor thought over actions. Thoughts are seamless; actions interrupt. My novel is probably 95% thought processes, 4% people whining, and 1% someone getting off their ass to go stick a sword in some other guy. But boy, the buildup to that 1%? Priceless. Maybe you could say I work the suspense angle. On second thought, maybe not.
I’m three days away from freedom and jubilation and going to bed accomplished. My last hurrah before finals, which will undoubtedly kick my ass. Oh well. I’ll take what I can get. Part II, here I come!