Changing the Scenery

““““““““““““““Christmas wk-end- AT&David-PittockMansion., etc 016

I am, at last, considering the tentative possibility of moving and it brings on quaking deep inside. Is this normal, a frantic shove against a most reasonable idea? Is it a healthy response, the refusal to blithely embrace change that will likely soon barrel down the stony hillocks of my life?

I feel stubborn as a young girl, digging my heels in figuratively and literally, daring anyone to insist I just get on with it. Only as a younger person I would have surveyed the current abode, placed hands on hips, and said, “Good, I could do with a fresh infusion of places and people. Let’s get packing.”  I was used to moving often to support my husband’s career in manufacturing. The children were used to starting over. We all pitched in, curious (and perhaps a bit anxious) about the next stop. We have been a lot of interesting, even captivating, places.

But now I cast my eye around the rooms in which Marc and I reside and ask as I have for fifteen years: “Where do I find a place this affordable, in such an attractive neighborhood, close to amenities and our delightful city center? A place I am happy to make a home once more?”

It has been a long time and many tales in this second floor, 1100 sq. ft. apartment with two generous bedrooms, great light, a spacious dining plus large living room. Twenty years, in fact. It shocks me to admit that I have lasted here so unexpectedly long.

I was in my early forties when my youngest daughter, Alexandra; my son, Joshua; and I moved to an older, spacious two-story house in our newly adopted city. It had a renovated basement, a deep back yard and a bonus sun porch I used for writing. But in two years we had to move. It was one of my sister’s investments and with her usual foresight (the neighborhood was being gentrified), she decided to sell. I have to admit two robberies at the corner store and ensuing gun battles in the alley behind us made the location much less attractive. My son was on his own by then. Alexandra hoarsely called out to me in the dark and I slipped off my bed, slithered on my belly down the hallway as more shots rang out. I grabbed her from her bed by long windows, terrified bullets would find us. We lay on the floor clutching each other. We had moved from a Detroit suburb; this was not the least expected. It was clear it was time to move on.

I was also divorcing and just getting by as a counselor in a residential treatment center for youth. I felt passionate about my new calling of providing services to gang-affected, abused and addicted teens. But my bank account was hurting. After a fast search, this place came to the fore. We loved it at the first glance. The neighborhood, historic, dominated by mature trees and flowering gardens, was perfect. The apartment had a balcony on which to sit and sip coffee or tea, read books, chat. I had thought it could suit us three or four years until she went to college, my last of five sent on her way. By then I imagined I’d be in better financial shape and she’d get scholarships and back I’d go to a small single family dwelling.

Except it didn’t turn out that way. My daughter did indeed get to college but then her father moved here from the Midwest. We resumed where we had left off six years prior. I thought: a good time to move!

It would have made sense, of course. But Marc liked it here, too; I had made it a comfortable home and on we stayed. Planned to move in a couple of years. Planned to buy something. He had taken a salary cut to join me in the Northwest so we both worked harder than ever to improve our circumstances. Yet as he climbed the corporate ladder again and I found better positions our housing seemed more irrelevant. Why change what you already like, overall? It was the first ever apartment we’d shared and we appreciated the benefits. We didn’t miss the cost of maintenance issues, the attention required of a place of our own. We could come and go, felt freer. Still, I longed for another house. I’d walk down our graceful streets and though I knew we wouldn’t ever dwell in those million dollar homes, my own memories of broad porches and back yards to play badminton and have BBQ gatherings came forth. And there was much more privacy. Still, it was okay. I had had those things and this was what we had now. The years rolled on. I wondered if and when and what next, felt restless, looked for new habitats online and in our area. Then I tucked away my longings, kept living and working, content for longer periods.

Then, about the time we had a good down payment for a house or condo, I became critically ill with heart disease. The real estate agent bluntly suggested I reconsider where the money was best used–as I might not ever work again. I had never considered that. What if she was right? I knew my prognosis wasn’t so good. Couldn’t I have a house even for a little while again? But my long-held hope and a nurtured dream was receding fast. Soon it was banished. I would make do. I enjoyed our ordinary but spacious, well-situated apartment enough that I had chosen to not move even when we might have. I didn’t need to buy a house at fifty-one, either. We’d put more in retirement, continue to take interesting vacations, help out family as needed. But in under three years I did return to work and only recently retired from my profession as a counselor. Did we ever re-think buying a home? Yes, but we had become habituated to compact spaces and a less complicated lifestyle.

Being adaptable is a talent shared with all other humans. Resilience and acceptance have often saved me. I learned to find contentment in a place not ever intended to be home for twenty years. Because it had felt so temporary in the beginning, the idea got stuck, as if I was certainly going to move on. We didn’t invest in more preferred furnishings, didn’t give much thought to its character except for comfort, changing color schemes and art and photos. A couple of attractive vases filled with flowers can do wonders. Plants on the balcony make it more inviting. I guess we most decorate with groupings of our books… and all is enlivened with music, our own and others’.  I don’t require substantial or impressive. If taken by something unique but expensive I will first wait for a sale –or prowl a secondhand store. Or forget about it.

The truth is, I can adjust to a variety of living conditions, and have posted before about it. I have managed in a renovated chicken coop and lived without heat in winter. And lived on several pretty acres in the country, enjoying a new four brick bedroom home with full views of land and deer grazing upon it, a wood fire burning in the living room each night. As much as I appreciate architecture and the aesthetics of design my everyday life is knitted together by relationships, my spiritual practices and faith, creative engagement and being outdoors. I can write anywhere, after all. And my current corner is just fine.

I started with the proclamation that I am now considering moving. We are, in fact, planning on it without knowing just when or where but the urgency factor has emerged. I have resumed seeking information online and scrutinizing rental ads and keeping track of potential vacancies in the neighborhood. Portland has become a magnet for the young and better-heeled, the techies who have fast track careers. Or an older population who bring from other states more money than I can imagine. It is a dynamic city, a place for innovators and risk takers, where new businesses crop up often and even thrive. Where living closer to city center means closer to so much good action, the thrilling energy of fresh ideas and intoxicating possibilities of more money. The Pacific Northwest is a fabulously livable place, ticks off all the boxes for most. Many of those amenities are why I moved to Portland long ago.

Before it was so crowded. Before it cost so much.

I have watched our city change over the last five years so much that some neighborhoods are barely recognizable. Many renovations are eye-catching and smart, creating vibrant districts where maybe there seemed less appealing configurations. Many people have been pushed out, too–especially those of color and those who toil long but garner less than a decent wage or those who have retired on far less than they had hoped. Whereas in most large American cities people seek the suburbs, Portland has pulled more people closer-in. Our urban boundaries and zoning laws are such that expansion must reach upward, not outward. That means more demolition, regardless of historic or intrinsic value of keeping the old. You can make a lot more money by housing fifty people in a small high rise than a family of five in one rambling house–if you are a real estate developer.

We have been watching and waiting for the owner of our very small apartment building to sell. They know as do we that this place is a steal, that they could ask much more rent if they just spruced it up. But the better option is to sell and either demolish the building or gut it and make them into upscale condos. It has been an odd thing living within the perimeter of one of the most expensive districts. The surrounding area is begging for development and greater density and it has begun. It’s the perfect set up for our five-plex to be soon purchased, perhaps six townhouses, each worth $500,00, taking its place. That’s right–it is getting that costly to live here. This is a city where an apartment of 500 square feet can rent for $2,000 or more a month. Micro homes, they are called.

I don’t have the heart to wait for that day of reckoning. I have known my landlord and his mother, now in her nineties, for the duration of middle age and beyond. I care about them but I know they care most about their investments. I have heard allusions to offers already made them, to the desire to sell sooner than later. I don’t hold it against them. Like my own sister, they have their particular needs; I have mine. But at this point being forced to leave our home would be a terrible ending to a lovely couple of decades.

So I have to get over this, deny an impulse to hide my head in the sand and hope my spouse and I will be lucky enough to stay another year or two. I  spend an hour or two a day searching for new habitats. So far none holds my attention more than a few seconds, though we have driven by a few places. Retirement communities are not yet an option when Marc is still working and I am not interested in being around those only over sixty-two. I want to hear kids playing, see a diversity of people walking their dogs. I am beginning to look across the mighty Columbia River, at Washing ton, where it might stay cheaper awhile. We could still visit Portland without much driving. Except for the mad, burgeoning traffic.

Somewhere there has to be a place for us. There always has been. We have made a life in exciting or trying circumstances, in both prosperous and lean times. Simplifying our lives more wouldn’t hurt a bit. I know that to even possess the choice, to consider yet another home are luxuries in many places in the world, including right here in my city. But all that said, there is a sadness loosening beneath the common sense that marches on in my thinking. It is never easy to let go of what is known, what has been a comfort.

As I become older I know that what is worthwhile often requires a true willingness to welcome ideas  or directions not previously considered. To weather the ensuing discomfort of transition. To be open to the possibility of the most unexpected things–it might be what changes all in the best ways. I have always been pulled to a goodly adventure. So I am readying myself for one more place where I can take meandering walks with camera in hand, to arrange fresh bouquets and listen to a cello concerto or a jazz trio as I sketch or read. To find a decent spot to write more stories. I am building up the steam needed to move on. Bidding farewell to the pleasing past while the new present is becoming inhabited takes time, but I will be taking along the same person I have always been, as well as my husband. Maybe we’ll be even better suited to what’s ahead.

Let new tales commence.