The Gray, Revisited

I published the following piece – actually a very similar version of it – about 6 months ago on the Manifest Station. It is about moving and living and traveling and finding your place. It’s fitting that I re-post it here, having just passed my one-year anniversary in Monterey – and in an apartment that has been my residence longer than anywhere in the last seven years – for just over 13 months. I can’t say that Monterey is my “forever” place, but I can say that I’m open to learning what all this has to teach me. As far as traveling out of my comfort zone (ahem, the exploration of which is the purpose of this blog), in a way it has been the most challenging living and social situation I’ve experienced…among a string of challenging situations in the past seven years. If that ain’t traveling, I don’t know what is. When was your last travel experience?

 

The Gray

I’m kind of a black-and-white thinker. You know, the idea that places and people and experiences are generally either all one way (like awesome) or the opposite (like totally crappy and not worth it). I’ve moved out of apartments and cities and whole countries and run away from relationships and nixed friendships because of this way of all-or-nothingness.

But I’m trying really hard to change.

It would be so nice if life worked in that kind of definitive way, right? As in: There is right; there is wrong. There is good; there is bad. There is choice A; there is choice B. Like an easy math problem, you either come up with the right answer, or you don’t. Press one for yes, two for no.

Black.

White.

Only life is brimming full…no, overflowing with massive, huge, bursting shades of gray. And I’m not really very good at gray.

How not good am I? Get this: I’ve moved 11 times in just under six years:

  • Chicago, from my own apartment in Ravenswood to my sister’s Southside house, October 2008.
  • To Southern Brazil to teach English, January 2009.
  • Back to Chicago into my sister’s house, April 2009.
  • Into my own apartment in Old Irving Park in Chicago, October 2009.
  • To Oakland, California, August 2010.
  • To Alameda, California, July 2011.
  • To apartment number one in San Francisco, August 2012.
  • To apartment number two in San Francisco, March 2013.
  • Back to small town, Illinois, with my other sister, October 2013.
  • To a sublet in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, June 2014.
  • And finally, to Monterey, California, August 2014.

I mean, I’m tired just reading that list. (And as a side note, I’ve realized that I get, like, almost zero Christmas cards anymore, but those student loan sleuths still manage to find me each and every time. Interesting.) I’m adventurous, sure. I like to travel – why not? But 11 moves in six years when you’re not an Army brat doesn’t make much sense. And part of the reason for it, I’ve realized, is this black-and-white thinking. A few examples:

[before Brazil move]

If I move to Brazil, I’ll have this awesome cultural experience and I’ll return, like, cultured and stuff, having found myself.

[after Brazil]

Southern Brazil is full of racist assholes! Exiting entire country, pronto! No looking back.

[before Oakland]

Oakland’s got soul, like Chicago. It’s that tough kid that only losers don’t love.

[after Oakland]

How many times can a car be vandalized?! Bad Oakland! Time to go.

[before small town Illinois]

I will start my life again, single, serene, and with new purpose.

[after small town Illinois]

Screw life. Screw the new purpose. Screw returning home. You can never step in the same river twice.

See, when things in my life go less than great: the job doesn’t pay enough, isn’t fulfilling enough, the relationship dries up, falls away, goes sour – my thought process goes a little something like this:

I bet it’s great over there, just around the corner. And I can’t possibly make anything else work here, can I? This is soooo not good…over there must be great. If things aren’t going smoothly with this job or that person, I should pack it in. Because a little sucky = all bad. The future, all sparkly and unknown…it’s full of smiles and glitter and laughing. Wherever that is, whoever that’s with, must be good. It equals me, happy. Over there, around the corner, is where I have that great, well-paying job, a doting lover, a hard yoga body and I’m so centered that I meditate, like, every morning before my organic tea and locally farmed eggs and steel-cut oatmeal breakfast. So that’s what I want. Over there.

For me, my black-and-white thinking turned the lights out on my present at the slightest hint of dreariness, and instead, dreamt about perfectly bright futures.

It would be comforting to think that life is all black and white like this. That person A is all good because she did X, and person B is all bad because he did Y. That this will never work, but that always will. That there is always a right choice, just one, that will work in your life, and when you figure that out, you’ll be golden. That your life works like an equation, as in 2 + 2 will always = 4. Not just sometimes, and never 3 or 5 or 107.

The problem is that life is full of moments of where 2+2=107. There’s a whole lotta crappiness – and thankfully, a whole lotta greatness. See, it’s full of both – that’s the gray. In fact, life is pretty much all gray. (Everybody now! You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and there you have…the facts of life!) The truth is that shades of gray are everywhere. Our jobs, our relationships, our families, our friends, our cities and countries, everything. Sometimes good people do shitty things, and sometimes people who are not so pleasant do wonderful things. Sometimes dream jobs are low-paying or have crappy hours or sucky demands. And sometimes otherwise shitty jobs have unexpected, awesome perks. Sometimes your lover is a kick-ass person who drops the ball at the worst moment, and at other times, the lover who did that sweet, thoughtful thing is ultimately too mired in their own shit to really give you what you deserve. You gotta decide what kind of gray you can live with and work around.

I’ve realized another reason why I like this black-and-white thinking: it means I can turn off that pesky intuition. How silly it sounds, I know…but just listen: if there’s a right and a wrong applicable to everyone everywhere, something incontrovertible and unwavering, then I don’t have to figure out what’s actually right for little ole me (i.e. what my intuition is telling me). If people are, for example, like cartoons – either sweet little fairies or mean awful villains – then I can surely see that right away and I don’t need to listen to anything deeper, like that voice that tells me it’s ok to open up to that shy, quiet new friend, but to stay away from that sweet talker with the drawl. I can just stay on the surface and take it from there. Intuition, schmintuition. If I can put everyone into neat little boxes straight away and keep them there, that’s way easier than, you know, trying to figure out what the universe and that quiet voice within is trying to tell me.

Or so I thought.

After floundering in a job search for a year (or maybe more like five, I’m not sure)…where I kept getting hung up on things like shouldn’t I be getting paid more and working less, like all these SF techies? Why should I slave over student writing and classroom prep nearly seven days a week when maybe I could find one those whatever-the-hell jobs where you just work from a coffee shop or in your pajamas and work easy hours with a fat paycheck? I mean, who says I’m not good enough for, like, a Carrie Bradshaw job or something? Anyway, in the midst of months of unemployment, living with my sister, hating everything and feeling like a failure at life, searching for one of these bullshit jobs, I was reminded of a long ago brief love affair with Monterey, California. (Steinbeck. Gah.) I decided to apply for a teaching job at a local university there on a whim, and surprisingly received a full load of four fall classes with basically a snap of the fingers. (God bless student over-enrollment.) It was perhaps the easiest thing that had ever come my way in a long, long time. And because of that, I moved to Monterey in late summer of 2014 – not because I was scared and running, as was the case so many times before, but because something was calling me.

Intuition, loud and clear.

And if felt remarkably different than the other transitions I’d made. This one was clean. Clear. Easy.

So Monterey = good.

Right?

Right?!

I love Monterey. There isn’t much to not love about Monterey. There is sand and ocean and mountains and cliffs and forest and whales, and everything. But now, a handful of months in, I’m encountering familiar feelings. Doubt. Anxiety. Loneliness. Uncertainty. In other words: gray. But this time, I’m choosing to sit with the gray – to make friends with it.

You see, I have yet to find a real community here. (Yeah, writers.) I work with great, compassionate people and genuinely enjoy my 80+ freshmen students who, let’s face it, I spend more time with than anyone else in my life right now. But see, college teachers come and go during a work day. We don’t gather around the water cooler and go on daily lunch breaks and all of that bonding bull that regular office folks do – at least not part-time adjuncts like me. The teachers I know have gigs at two or three different colleges and have very little personal time for gabbing over coffee or cocktails or anything of the sort. So I know my colleagues, but I don’t know them. I’ve also met a handful of kind and brilliant folks outside of my job (um, is everyone a marine biologist with a PhD here?), but the fact remains that I don’t have a net yet. I’m still awkward at parties, and feel like a weirdo alone at the local bar when I just can’t spend another night at home. (And when you’re a woman alone at a bar not looking to hook up, people don’t know quite what to make of you.)

I’ve realized, sometimes with a resounding tremble in my gut, that there’s no one in a 75-mile radius I could call and say, “Listen. Shitball day. I need a hug, greasy food, and some goddamned whiskey.” I’ve realized my job situation is tenuous and uncertain – so much so that my financial footing is rocky, at best. (Student over-enrollment apparently only calls for extra teachers in the fall, not the spring.) I’ve realized that Monterey doesn’t have a single samba dance class anywhere (seriously, Monterey, where my Brazilians at?). I’ve realized that many times, if I want to go anywhere here, I go alone. For now. [Note: I found that samba group! Next door in Pacific Grove. Hallelujah!]

But you know what? It’s gonna be ok.

Monterey is good. Mostly good. It won’t always be completely awesome, but that doesn’t make it completely bad. It just makes it normal. It just makes it gray.

I believe in the Divine, and I do not believe I was sent so far from everyone who loves me to fail. I do not believe I was sent here, only to move away again in a matter of months for no reason. (If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that moving doesn’t solve much.) I believe I was sent here to flourish, to live, to help others. To get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To get comfortable with the gray.

I have many lessons to learn, and ever the student, I am trying. Nothing will force an introvert out of her comfort zone like moving to the edge of the world without knowing a soul. Nothing will force the commitment-phobe to confront her lifestyle more than an empty bank account and nowhere to run. There is gray everywhere, at every turn, forcing us all into new ways of existing.

And I’m not quite totally comfortable with it yet, but I’m getting there.

 

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