Friday, October 21, 2016

Chapter 118: In Which I Discuss the Literature of Transience

So, I'm getting kicked out of my apartment. I'll probably have to leave the San Francisco Bay.

This is the third time I've had to leave the Bay. The first was after I moved here in 2008, and quickly ran out of money. I worked a summer job in Pittsburgh, and ended up staying. Wouldn't trade that for the world, as I made a lot of connections with other writers that have lasted to this day. The second was right after graduate school, when I had no money, and took the first job I could find in Louisiana. This time, I am not broke. I'm doing pretty well. But not well enough to stay in one of the world's most expensive cities.

This comes on a wave of bad luck. In May, I got fired from my teaching job at a private school. It was a toxic atmosphere (the kind of school where they fire a teacher in May, instead of March like a decent person) and it was small loss. Right now, I'm living at a house in West Oakland, in a unit with my landlord, a pretty abusive and miserable person. The kind of person who arbitrarily decides to evict someone, which is happening now. Both job and house were white privilege spaces in which I had to keep my mouth shut in order to save money. I won't miss either. I'm excited for the next step, which will most definitely be an improvement.

Something I notice is how good I am at moving. I've trained myself not to acquire too many things, assuming I'll have to leave whatever space I'm in every two years. I have enough stuff to fit in one suitcase. I accept the fact that I have no control over my circumstances, particularly being a black person in an area where most black people can't afford to live. Where 12,000 blacks left in the last four years. The Bay is being remade into the center of the tech thing, and it's awful. It's a effect of capitalism, not a personal failure. In other words, getting displaced is old hat for me.

The last time I moved was in 2015, when I got evicted from my apartment. Before that, I left Louisiana. Before that, plenty more moves, leading me all over the country. It's interesting to see the things I've carried through so many moves. I keep a lot of things from students, going back to when I first began teaching ten years ago. I have cards from them, notebooks, artwork. Also, I keep all the notebooks and notepads for my writing. Hell, I have post-it cards and receipt papers I wrote on back in 2010. Newspapers from college. These are all things I feel I need to have around me for when I revise certain stories. I'm keeping things that could be helpful with stories: an anthropology conference program, some photocopied notes on the Arabian Nights. I have programs and guest badges from myriad conventions. A subway ticket from Barcelona.

I have a violin I don't even know how to play.

One thing that occurred to me is that most of the fiction notes I've kept are for short stories. The last time I worked on a novel was also the last time I had the space and comfort to do so: during my MFA. It was called The Motley & Plume Players, a project I know I'll finish, as it's stayed in my head for so many years. During my MFA, I was all jazzed to work on it. Then I moved to Louisiana, and had to move twice during that time, and, well . . . I ended up writing a lot of nonfiction pieces for journals.

I loved writing lit crit. It's also something I can write relatively quickly compared to the more journalistic and research projects I'd like to Ta-Nehisi out sometime. And my interest in performance art fell entirely by the wayside when I had to rebuild my community every two years.

I'm finally starting to see how being displaced has influenced my art. Moving so much has made it impossible to have the proper head space, or resources, for longer projects. Case in point: these last few years I've working on a narrative podcast. I went to the L.A. Podfest, learned some things, got all revved up to do it . . . and then my landlady kicked me out. The podcast will have to wait until I'm resettled. I wonder if writers who started later in life, like Cormac McCarthy or Toni Morrison, had the same economic problems that I have keeping them from really delving into their writing careers. Moving has also exposed me to new things all the time, and short stories provide an outlet for that.

Simply put, I've been writing what I can. Things that can be easily digested by whatever writing group I have at the time. My pieces have gotten longer, which is the novelistic impulse coming through. I want to do longer work, and am determined more than ever to write around the transience. And, yes, maybe I should have just become a lawyer. But I didn't.

I recently watched the Cowboy Bebop movie, Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Now I'm sure of something I've always suspected: the Japanese might as well have stopped making cartoons after this show. It really is the apex. It's been nothing but moe stuff for otaku since then, and I think the decline in anime quality is correlated to the lack of creativity in Hollywood, where the Japanese always took their ideas. And part of what makes Bebop so great is that it's a show for adults. I love Attack on Titan, but it's a show for teenagers, Harry Potter with vore. Watching the movie, I found I could relate to Spike like I couldn't as a kid. He makes a big deal about how the Bebop is a purgatory for him, and he ultimately confronts his past to find out if he's really alive. In doing so, he dies.

Here's the thing: Spike is alive. He was alive the whole show. He has a job. He has a work partner and does hobbies in his free time. And his job is literally about life and death. He kills people. Spike is living the life of a rover, but his unfinished business makes him feel purgatorial. I think that can describe the experience of a lot of people in their 20s and 30s. If he'd never confronted Vicious, or found some way to kill Vicious without dying himself, he would go on as a bounty hunter and maybe retire. So much of my own life feels ephemeral, when in fact I've been building my writing career at every juncture. Spike's sense of aimlessness, contrasted with how life goes on, is a typical adult experience.

I'm starting to realize the cynical reasons why so many of my peers find a way to legally bind a roommate to them for life, and then fill the house with human beings who they biologically create. None of this was ever my bag (particularly the children part). But within transience there is a lot of room for permanence, which I'm discovering with every move. Regardless, leaving the Bay will be sad. But part of life is learning to say goodbye.

I'll miss the area. Until I return.

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