Home of the Heart

Last night I had the anxiety dream about homelessness that I’ve anticipated since losing my jobs last spring.

I rarely talk about my fear of homelessness, especially with married friends. When I do, they say things like, “You won’t be homeless. You can stay with us.”

When I report their assurances to my shrink, a practical woman who knows from rough times, she raises her eyebrows. “People think they’re being supportive,” she says. “But staying on their couch would not be the same thing as having a home.”

My shrink never sweetens realities. Maybe she does with other people, but she is well-acquainted with my capacity to om-shanthi myself right into destitution. I’ve done it before.

It reminds me of a joke I tell clients.

A woman is drowning in the middle of the ocean. Someone rows by and offers her a life preserver. She declines the offer, saying, “God will save me.” A motor boat comes by, and its passengers cry, “Climb aboard!” Again, she says, “God will save me.” Finally a helicopter drops a rope ladder and she waves it away. “God will save me.” Well, big surprise, she drowns, and when she meets God, the first words out of her mouth are, “Why didn’t you save me?” “Lady,” God says. “I sent you a life preserver, a motorboat, and a helicopter.”

It’s not a new joke, but it surprises people who’ve come to expect a steady stream of abundance and prosperity messages from everyone New Age. That’s not what I deliver, at least since my “the universe will provide” mishegos led to the IRS freezing my accounts three summers ago. After that, I reverted to my roots: half Jewish, part Glaswegian, and Masshole born and bred. Though you aren’t supposed to say such things anymore, my people are cheap, which is how we survive pogroms and miniscule factory salaries and shitty fees for writers. Decadence is so last-millennium, anyway.

And if there’s one cliche that holds up, it’s that God helps those who help themselves.

As I write this, I am listening to reports of devastation in Puerto Rico and Mexico and Texas–of the brainless wonders in DC ripping apart healthcare and everything else. Nothing is stable, not even on this screened-in porch where I’ve been watching a defanged Hurricane Jose rage for days. Maelstroms here are beautiful, yet I cannot shake the cold pit in my stomach.

In the dream I was living and working in a New York loft—the kind of place we 80s teens assumed we’d inhabit if we made it to the big city. My lover—handsome, narcissistic, acquisitional—left upon seeing the age around my eyes. An online popculture publication axed me, eager to shed my Gen X standards. I clung to the loft as if it were a raft. The new tenants were askance to find me huddled with the heat turned off.

Out on the street, I clutched what was left of my possessions, including a very expensive bottle of champagne my lover had left behind. “Why not?” I thought, and drank half of it, sitting on a curb. A woman bounded out of an artisanal wine shop, and called the cops. Seeing this ratty woman with such poncey bobbles, she had assumed I had stolen their wares. The police did not bother to arrest me but took my bottle. As they did, I am sorry to say that I shouted, “I’m not nothing. I was on NY1!”

The storm rattling the windows woke me, and Grace’s paw slipped inside my own. I felt her hard work in that moment, her struggle to center me so I could keep us afloat.

Grace was not in the dream, and I thought about what that might mean. Perhaps not even my unconscious could bear the possibility of my tiny friend in trouble. Too, Grace represents my smallest and dearest self, and that part of me is not endangered. Only my vanities and standard of living are.

Painting by William Bolton

That said, I really do not know where the money is coming from next. I’ve lived so frugally for the last six months—saving every cent, re-using every teabag—that I’ve managed to stay afloat as I’ve dove into the book. And my reward for finding a writing rhythm has been this break from NYC. I’ve needed a reprieve from the hustle and bustle that has seemed increasingly irrelevant: the hyena shrieks of my neighbor’s tricks, the stonecold stares of men I no longer kiss, the apartment shabbiness I’ve lacked the resources to tackle. More to the point, I’ve longed for my native land. Green and gold trees, lavender and cranberry bogs, grey and navy humans.

So a few chapters into this project, I put a call out on social media, and a kindred spirit offered the use of this house. “It feels like the right thing,” she explained, though we’d not seen each other in a decade. I nearly wept with gratitude.

And this Truro residency is everything I’ve needed. Because I’m at peace for the first time in years, I’ve written into the scary stuff that my overtaxed system could never have handled in New York. I work on porches as meals foraged from farmstands simmer and permakitten sits by my side. To clear my head I walk through woods and by the beaches, ogle stars before falling asleep. Most days we wake to owls hooting hello.

I have been isolated from nature for so long that this communion hurts my heart. I stayed away not just because I was broke but because I feared disappearing. I feared not finding a way to make ends meet outside the city, of not being able to wear red lipstick without people rolling their eyes, of losing that sandbox solidarity. But while I love my finely feathered city and always will, I accept that money does not show up when your battery is drained. Money is energy, after all, and energy attracts energy. I have been endangering myself by ignoring my longings for ocean and trees. If you are not fed, you cannot bloom.

So I perch in the Outer Cape, and marvel over the conveniences most Americans take for granted: space, sky, and silence, chiefly. But also dishwasher, laundry machines, toaster, and automatic coffeemaker. In Brooklyn I walk a mile to wash my clothes, scrub my dishes and floors by hand, fetch my cheese, fish, meat, greens and coffee at five separate places, and have limited room for appliances. This house’s modern machines do not make me feel superior. They spark my longing for a cozier, cleaner life.

I’m as far from attaining it as as I’ve ever been.

Right now, homelessness looms as both metaphor and reality—reality being the ultimate metaphor. Yes, I’m luckier than most. I am college-educated with a strong resume, more likely to end up in a loathsome job than on the streets. But homelessness is not out of the question. Many people have lost their housing to ecological and economic disaster, to circumstances beyond their control. There are people in my own family with “insecure housing,” and as an unattached, middle-aged woman with no safety net and an unwillingness to sing for my supper, I know how dispensable I am. Few are clamoring for my voice. No one’s eager to pluck me off the vine.

But long before the bloom went off this rose, I stopped wanting to be plucked anyway. What I want is what I have always wanted: to thrive on my own terms. Such a dream is not easy to achieve at any age, but it is always possible.

Because our nightmares are as important as our dreams in this current climate, the way forward is to heed them both. So I will honor my visions, and write every day, follow all leads, and worship nature as long as she lets me. I am paddling as fast as I can, and am thankful for all life preservers and helicopters along the way.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy