Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting settled

It's just plain weird trying to get myself established here in Ghosttown.  My appointment runs for a single year, so I'm already taking note of job opportunities for next year, and yet I must also live here for this year.  That last bit is as much an admission as anything.  It's not normal to me to feel like I really live anywhere, in particular.  I haven't had a really settled address that I strongly associated with my sense of self since I left the house I grew up in, after college.  I haven't lived for more than a year at any particular location since I was in Research City for my doctoral research.  It's clear to me that it would be foolhardy to consider myself anything other than itinerant until I land a tenure-track job.  And yet I feel a certain (class-influenced?) compulsion to, for lack of a clearer impulse, "act more like a grown-up," now that I'm teaching at a university and must interact with my social surroundings as a professional, rather than a grad student who, one assumes, lives like a semi-hibernating animal. 

Since I can't get to DOU-Town to retrieve my stored possessions until next week, I currently have a cavernously empty house.  The landlord was kind enough to throw in a queen-sized bed (clean!), a little nightstand, and a little kitchen table and two folding chairs.  Nothing high luxury, but useful.  A few years ago, I would have jumped eagerly at the chance to receive more free furniture that I need not worry about moving to my next location.  But instead, I began to chafe at the idea of having nowhere comfortable to sit, and no proper work space until such time as the landlord might manage to dig out the "big, heavy" desk that he salvaged from a previous tenant; I needed to get my study set up on the double.  I let him know today that he needn't worry about it, and then I went to Office Depot and bought myself a super-cheap deeply discounted computer desk and cheap pleasingly discounted desk chair.  You know why?  Because I'm a goddamn grown-up who doesn't rely on freebies.  I fully recognize that I may be regretting this decision after a year, if I don't get another job and am reduced to living entirely on freebies by dumpster-diving behind the supermarket, but my ego simply couldn't tolerate the situation any longer.  (My back was complaining, as well.) 

I also bought myself a dresser and a larger nightstand for the other side of the bed.  That's nothing new to me, but it felt strange to shop for something solid that might actually survive a move or two, rather than some cheap crap that I would have to assemble myself and which would disintegrate as I moved it from place to place.  I haven't given up on assembling stuff: I'll have to do that with both the chair and the desk.  But my memories of losing an entire day to putting together large pieces of furniture when I could have been doing something more pleasant are still keen.  And besides, most of my tools are still in storage with my books in DOU-Town; how many damn screwdrivers and hammers do I need to keep around?  I'm already here, and so are most of my clothes; I had to put 'em somewhere.

And, no less bizarre to me, I could afford to buy something already assembled, especially since they threw in delivery for free.  I'm so accustomed to thinking of myself as living in near-poverty that I felt actual guilt about buying a dresser for $170 instead of $120.  I got over it, though: putting together a lousy piece of furniture with short longevity doesn't give me much of a sense of accomplishment, and having it delivered to my door ready to go leaves me with enough energy to deal with other stuff.  Not that I'm rolling in it now.  I'm not.  But my modest salary, which hasn't even kicked in yet, feels like a windfall after all those years of living on TAships and survival-level grants.  It's disorienting to think of myself as capable of buying more than necessities and low-level luxuries, however temporary that opportunity may be.

So now I have a good-looking dresser and nightstand, and if my engineering skills come through, tomorrow I'll have a comfy desk chair and a light, easily portable computer desk.  Next step: a good bookcase to order pre-assembled and delivered, so that I'm ready to drive up next week and unload my books.  I figure I should only get one bookcase to start, since I now have an office (weird!!) at Ghosttown U. where I can store plenty of books.  I have no idea as yet how I should divide office from home, in terms of my books; I don't envision much difference between the two for this gig.  My house will largely be dedicated toward keeping me running in the study, once I get things set up.  I'm clearly investing the most time, energy and money in my study, since I just can't bring myself to feel settled in this house, or in this town.  I'll feel a lot more comfortable when the study is up and running, especially after Thursday, when my internet service begins and I can stop hanging around the three four cafés that Ghosttown has to offer so I can be online.  (My sweet new office computer hasn't arrived yet.)

I have no plans at all yet for the living room, which will be empty in a few weeks, when the landlord reclaims the couch currently in there.  I don't watch TV, and I really don't know how much I'll be entertaining guests of any sort in this house.  What am I supposed to do with that enormous open space next to the kitchen?  If I can't find anything on the freecycle section of Craigslist, am I culturally obligated to buy a couch and a coffee table so as not to out myself as a snobby elitist academic?  What does one do with a living room, when one expects to have no guests?

P.S. Along with my books and extra clothes in storage are my kitchen implements, dishware, and glassware.  Yes, this is annoying as hell.  On the dubious plus side, though, it's making me get acquainted with Ghosttown's small stock of restaurants.  You wanna know how small-town this place is?  I found the Ghosttown entry on Citysearch, and the first result that Citysearch threw up for local restaurants was "Walmart Supercenter."  Jesus fucking Christ, what the fucking fuck am I doing here?


  1. You're observing the town as an anthropologist might, while arranging your life to maximize your ability to work well and happily so that next year you'll have a job where you can be less an observer and more a participant. If you want to be able to lie on the couch and read, then get a couch. If the prospect of open space is somehow energizing (if you want it for yoga, tai chi, or just staring at the spaciousness), then don't, it's okay. Visiting professors are supposed to live oddly. As an undergrad, I had one who lived in a hotel, and I still vividly recall the fascination this exerted on me: real people in my life could live in hotels! Not just Simone de Beauvoir! Maybe, someday, I too . . . !

  2. Hmm, well, you could pick up some cheap crap at the Walmart, since it seems to be close! (Should I admit that I am such a snob I'd drive the 60 miles or whatever to get to a Target and buy my cheap crap?)

    I looked into some sort of rent-a-center thingy to have a couch and some furniture for a year, but they're kindof more of a scam to get usurious interest fees out of you than to actually provide furniture. But check into it, if you want furniture. And there's always the possibility of picking up something used from craigslist.

    Or alternately, you can make the living room a zen garden or dojo, like Dame Eleanor says, and have the enjoyment of staring at people like they are crazy when they comment on your place. Enjoy performing eccentricity, you know?

    Angry Anarchist Postdoc keeps mentioning how he's trying to only buy stuff that is portable or can be disassembled for ease of packing into the moving van next time he goes, and I can really see the value of that advice. Too late though, I own a couch. But I'm trying to stick to using folding tray tables for all my end table needs.

  3. "What does one do with a living room, when one expects to have no guests?"

    Well, you know, I like a living room because it's offers a change of scenery for doing things like knitting or reading a magazine or doing something that is Not Work. Being always in my office/bedroom makes me feel a little nutso after a while - it's good to have a space that is not for sleeping or for working but just for being, at least for me. (Although I do work in the living room a lot, actually, but it doesn't "feel" like work in the way that working in the office does....) I would say, though, that you don't need much in there - some sort of couch and you could improvise a table of some sort if you felt like you wanted it. (I managed for years with a "coffee table" that was made out of plastic storage cube thingies).

  4. "Jesus fucking Christ, what the fucking fuck am I doing here?"

    Whoa - have I asked myself the same thing every day in the month of July? Yes.

    We're supposed to move into our new house next week sometime, but I'm not sure when our possessions will be showing up. The moving company still has them. :-/ Sometime between the 3rd and the 10th, they will be showing up. Tensions are high at my mom's house, and I am ready to claw my eyes out.

    But working is good. It's the one thing keeping me sane right now.

    Just wanted to say, my god, I relate. I relate so much. You're not alone. Courage, friend. Courage.

  5. @Dame Eleanor: Thanks! It's comforting to know that I'm supposed to be a little weird and kicky at this stage of my career. I couldn't think of any good reason to get much ordinary living room furniture except for this vague cultural push to "do what everyone else does." I'm full of anxiety nowadays about acting like a professional, instead of a scrounging grad student; still learning the ropes on that, I think. It's too bad, in a way, that I can't live in a hotel here; that would be entertaining, if only it were affordable. Gives me visions of living like either a Left Bank intellectual, or Tom Waits before he sobered up. Both pretty cool.

    @Sis: I *totally* know what AAP is talking about. I'm working hard to hold to that, with the addendum that I can/will sell or give away stuff that isn't practical to take with me. My experience is that I can't rent anything smaller than a 10' truck, rather than a van, so that gives me enough room for my personal library, as well as a few well-chosen pieces of furniture. Plus, the cheaper you get the furniture for, the less you care about it. I paid $60 for that miserable desk that I just wrestled into submission this afternoon; I can let that go if I have to. I'd feel less inclined to part with the dresser I just bought, which is actually kinda good quality and should be relatively easy to move with a friend. Since we appear to be on the verge of Debtpocalypse, though, I'm also willing to leave it all behind and live in my car, apres le deluge.

    @Dr. Crazy: I'm mindful of that separate space issue that you bring up. I'm sort of stuck for how to address it, though. Largely, the problem is a lack of cheap couches. Since it's 100% guaranteed that I can't set up shop long-term in Ghosttown, there's not much point in buying expensive furniture that I probably can't take with me. The second-hand stores here are driving me nuts on this point: nothing is second-hand, but it's all "antiques" for which these poor deluded souls think they can get $900. Bless their hearts, as they say around here.

    @Fie: I know, our lives are running on parallel tracks this month! I need to get back to working, insofar as I can. I just set up my workspace today, and I won't even have internet in my house until tomorrow. And four days later, I need to bop out to DOU-Town to haul my stuff out of storage to Ghosttown. It's probably going to be another week before I can think straight AND have my books at the ready for reference. At least I finally got to the liquor store today, so I have liquid courage on my side, at any rate.

  6. Cushions and a low table, like in the RC countryside. Bonus? You stuff the cushions with the packing material you need to pack everything up again :-) Seriously though, I'd just keep a watch on Craigslist--if you are patient, cheap and matching things turn up.

  7. Mall-Wart has black futons for $99 and "saucer chairs" for 19, if you need sitting stuff (sitting is nice). Add some folding tray tables for end tables and you are set!

    Or, do some of the folding patio chairs/tables that are going on sale now ---- easier for the folding-flat rule.