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Surprised Navel-GazingAugust 10, 2004

Do you know about this? Do you?! Folk Alley. Go there if you’ve got high-speed internet and listen all day. I haven’t heard any commercials (but some interesting commentary), and so far this morning I’ve heard Stan Rogers, learned about Judith Edelman (oooh), and heard Ani DiFranco do Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” backed up by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. I’m still not sure whether I liked that one or not (I think I would have preferred the front singer to be the backup and vice versa), but it was REALLY interesting. This is enough to make me buy good speakers for this computer. Finally. Oooh, Capercaillie now. It’s more folk than bluegrass/old time, but it’s good.

I’m gearing up and into this day slowly. Really slowly. I’m meeting a friend for breakfast (at noon, my favorite kind of breakfast), and then I’m going to pick up my orthotics and practice walking. And damn, I just realized that I have to be out of here in twenty minutes. Haven’t showered yet, nor have I put in my laundry, so I’ll finish this later.

*** Didn’t even notice I was gone, did you? Lord, I have had WAY too much coffee now. You know that speedy feeling? Like you need to wash the dishes do the laundry wash the car right this very moment, except your brain cells don’t cooperate and you end up standing in the living room, doing the floppy fish thing with your hands? What was I doing? What was I doing? What was I doing?

Breathe. In. Out. Look at the two cats snoozing in the sun on the dining table. (Aside: Way to know a gal is all right: Your cat drinks from her water glass, and when you remove it to get her a new one, she says she doesn’t mind. Way to know you’ve lived alone for a long time: You actually start to give the glass back.)

Okay, I’ll just sit here a minute and decaffeinate. I had breakfast (I suppose we should call it brunch) with one of my good pals, the Dude. He’s a good sounding board, and I hope I provide the same for him. We like to go to this place that serves a screaming crab benedict, and the waitresses are all of Scandinavian descent, so I let them fill my coffee cup as often as they like. Problem is, I drink it.

The restaurant is out in San Ramon. To get there, for those of you not familiar with the Bay Area, I leave Oakland and go through the Caldecott Tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, the air is usually twenty degrees hotter than in Oakland, the people seventy percent whiter, and eighty percent wealthier. There are a lot of malls. The Dude lives in a beautiful house, but it’s in a cookie-cutter development (and he’s really not a cookie-cutter guy). I believe most things on that side of the tunnel are little boxes made of ticky-tacky. I feel badly about my feelings for that side of the hill—it’s a kind of reverse snobbery. The rich live out there. They have lots of Starbucks and Pottery Barns. They have very good schools. And I only breathe half as deeply when I’m out there.

I used to date this computer engineer guy, a lifetime ago. If I had stayed with him, I would have been taken care of, fed, and housed in one of those homes. I probably would have had my nails done once a week. I would have worked for charity when not shuttling my children to their sports activities. Would I have driven an SUV? Not sure; I certainly hope not, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Oh, lord, I think for the very first time (you watched it happen), I just realized why I am made so uncomfortable by that type of living. I always wondered vaguely if I were jealous of it, knowing that if it’s what everyone else wants, shouldn’t I want it too? Shouldn’t I want the nice, new home, and the nice, new car, in the nice, safe neighborhood? What’s wrong with me that I so unequivocally don’t want those things?

I have just this moment realized that it was my very narrow miss that makes me react like this, like there’s MSG in the very air. I suffocated every time I stayed at that boyfriend’s condo, every time I let myself in with the key that might have fit a thousand other properties, every time we ate dinner at the chain restaurant down the road and browsed in the chain bookstore right next to it. It was a sweet life, but I never fit into it. I was always almost breaking the rules, wanting to, dying to (but I never did, to my eternal regret).

That's why I get scared out there. That's why I feel like I can’t breathe on that side of the tunnel. I adore my friend and his house, and I’m glad he has them for himself. Some of my very best friends have gorgeous homes that I know they enjoy and deserve. (And god knows I don’t mean any insult to those of you to whom this lifestyle brings happiness. More power to you.) But in rejecting that life, I found the life I wanted, and it’s scary to see how close I came to losing myself.

Damn. See what coffee does to a girl? All I wanted to do was laundry today, not cross-examine my motivations for my life choices. Gah.

I want to knit now, in my little apartment with its backyard garden, and the sun coming in the windows, the sliding glass door letting in the dust motes to dance.

It’s hardcore folk, but Joni Mitchell is playing now, singing “Both Sides Now.” Hmmmm.


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Both sides now. That's ME. I live in a house that was built in 1912, that was in HORRID, awful shape before I rehabbed. Now that it's finished and everybody wants MY house, I don't want it anymore. I want to go jump on a train and live in a shack at the beach somewhere without a phone.
I sometimes drive into the driveway and think *who lives here?* It can't be ME.
It is right to question WHAT you want and WHY, or you end up in that horrid land of ticky tacky.
Drink more of that coffee, and write about it. This was a FABULOUS post!
Oh, and YES, the orthotics take practice!

Just a tidbit of info on Ani's cover of Do Re Mi. It was put out on her Swing Set EP in 2000, she also does remakes of Bob Dylan's Hurricane and Phil Och's When I'm Gone that are worth checking out if you liked her Do Re Mi.

It's all true for many more of us than you think,
Rachael. You're not alone in this, if that helps a bit. I call it walking in two (or more) worlds. Driving an '86 honda in the land of Boxters, LIKING Boxters, even, but not being willing to turn myself inside out to have one... extrapolate from left coast to right and yet it's still eerily similar. I second Greta, girl. Caffeine is your friend and so is the examined life. Hugs and wings for the live you're creating...

But if you'd done all that, you wouldn't be the Rachael that we all know and read every day.

Both Sides Now reduces me to a huddled, sobbing wreck every time. How did she *know* at 23 or whatever she was when she wrote it? My whole life over the course of the past 5 years has been what that song is all about.

I was there, Rachael. I did lose myself - for a whole decade. And I had to get out because my whole life was that gasping, choking, only-half-breathing existence that made me feel day by day like a ghost of a person, only occasionally mustering the strength to rattle my chain. I clawed my way out for survival's sake. I applaud the instinct that told you your life was meant to be something different, something more of your making, not what is prescribed by society. Brava, dear friend.

I couldn't possibly tell you how relieved I am that you figured out who you were/are and what you wanted. No way can I see my Rach living that life (again, "not that there's anything wrong with it") and being happy. Oh, I loved reading this.

Loved your post Rachael. Before Kevin, there was another...let's say more shallow interest. I know if it were him, I'd be driving the Range Rover...I know if it were him, 10 even 20! extra pounds would be unacceptable. The nails would have to be done and the clothes never from Old Navy. It is these choices that we make that help me get through the tough times. I chose this life. It's mine. It is definately not the most glamorous but it's got something. I think I need another diet coke. Hey, let's make it a regular. :) You are a doll.

Great post.


Don't hate me because I live in the house... please! The line up there "better schools" explains much.... great post.

Yay for spreading the folkalley love :)

And yay for epiphanies :)

WOW! What a great post, it really hit home. I too made my choice to be myself/the real me, 5 years ago. Only after being lost for 20. Some of us take longer than others to catch on. I know it was a biggie for me beause it was one of the last things my father told me before he pasted away, he told me I was BRAVE. I never looked at it that way before, but now I see his side of it.

WOW! What a great post, it really hit home. I too made my choice to be myself/the real me, 5 years ago. Only after being lost for 20. Some of us take longer than others to catch on. I know it was a biggie for me beause it was one of the last things my father told me before he pasted away, he told me I was BRAVE. I never looked at it that way before, but now I see his side of it.

Great post- you reminded me why it is ok not to be gainfully employed/manicured/etc. Those neighbourhoods are what is wrong with western society today. Where are the 'community standards' crowd when you need them?! There is no greater pleasure than a good book and a cup of coffee [except for knitting, of course]. May their SUVs roll...I'm free!

Sing out, Sister... after almost suffocating, I walked away from that lifestyle (and my marriage). There are whispers of it, still, in my life, but they are there of necessity only. I lost myself for a while and it's taken long years of excavation to find me again. The hardest job now is trying to show my daughters a different way, at the same time they're being seduced by their father's money and the cushy life it affords them. Going against the status quo is a struggle at any age, but particularly when you're a tween/teenager, surrounded by obscene excess that is presented as "normal".

Fabulous post, Rachael. Thanks for sharing your navel-gazing AND the FolkAlley link.

Rach--Yay for the real you. Yay for the westbound Caldecott Tunnel. Yay for Rockridge Stn.
Catherine--How about better growth management laws, and emissions/fuel efficiency standards, and mass transit, and creating real community to the best of your ability, when and where you can. With all due respect, wishing grisly auto accidents on people doesn't do the world--or your heart--any good.

I grew up in a family that has...a lot. Maids, chauffered car, private schools, prep schools abroad. I have "friends" who'd probably faint if they saw the "small" apartment I live in now. It's a tough ambiance...none of my brothers weathered it very well. Someone I went to college with (and who later worked with me in a law firm) said that she preferred living in Europe, because over here she could "be herself". I didn't understand what the hell she meant when she that until I came to live here away from it all.

Wow. Thank goodness you had the foresight and gumption to be true to yourself. Posts like this are why your readers can't get enough Rachaelness. You both inspire and boost us all in the quest to let our real selves bloom. Thank you!

Coffee-fueled epiphanies are great, aren't they?

No one understood why I left the husband and the good job, but *I* did and that's all that mattered. I'm finally becoming me again. I don't know where that other Iris came from.

Lovely post. When I was starting out after high school, I used to say I really envied the well-off cookie-cutter-life in the suburbs because it was all set out: a paint by numbers life that seemed easy to follow but not at all desirable to me (always needed some edge and dark and light to feel really alive). I thought, perhaps its a lot easier to want a deluxe stainless steel BBQ with sink bar (a modern day example) than to live with/acknowledge the existentialist (is this all there is?) feelings that hang around like uninvited guests. I'm here in suburban-like town now and I'm still intrigued by those who seem to not have the big questions.
Does the tunnel go under water or land?????

I loved your post.

And I almost married someone and into that lifestyle of lots of money and stuff and more stuff. I realized (almost too late) that he wasn't for me. And now I am a happy happy girl with my Jacob and my schmoos and my knitting.

(...Although I wouldn't mind winning a million dollars so I could pay off all my debt...) ;)

What's left to say, love? A perfect post, the introspection we are privileged to peer over your shoulder for, the prompt that makes us consider our own lives. I don't want to leave my old house even as it starts to feel crowded with two (surely it's housed more in its 80 years!), but school decisions may force my hand. Today I will love walking home from the new office for lunch. . . But what if I didn't have an office? Thank you for being you. Whatever would we do if you were hidden from us in some 'burb? But of course the real Rachael found her way away and we are blessed for it!

Oh, Rach! What a wonderful YOU post.

I could write a dissertation on this topic but what I'll say is this:

do, live, and be where/what/with whom makes you happy.

That's all there is to it.

Simplicity is underrated.

WOW. That was great reading. What kind of coffee were you drinking?

"... just realized why I am made so uncomfortable by that type of living. I always wondered vaguely if I were jealous of it, knowing that if it’s what everyone else wants, shouldn’t I want it too? ..."

I think that not everyone else wants it but so many people think that that is what you're *supposed* to do. Thank god you realized that you couldn't live that way... we need more people like you around - free thinking individuals with individual style and attitude! NO cookie cutters.


eh, i'm exagerrating a bit. we don't have that kind of money. the house isn't a mc mansion (blech blech) but a 1968 ranch that looks nothing like the others in the neighborhood. and i don't plan on ever ever having an SUV. but i will miss my little apartment...

Wow, have I ever "been there, done that"
Like many other commenters here, I spent the better part of a decade slowly becoming an empty shell of myself in a big gorgeous house, with the wrong husband, in-laws with impossible expectations of perfection and absolutely no support for the person I knew myself to be. I finally got up the nerve to chuck it all. Took my kids and a few things and left behind the house, the husband, the debt and the incredible WEIGHT of the inauthentic life I was living at the time.
I wouldn't trade ANY part of the life I have now to be that woman I was quickly becoming.

Faboo post, as always! Can you tell you hit a nerve with MANY of us?! *mwah*

Hey how come my computer engineer doesn't let me get away with that! :-)

Girly, the 'blurbs'll do it to ya everytime. (Appleby's makes me want to take a swan dive off a 10-story building.) Once I turned 40, though, some of our funkier suburbs started lookin' pretty good; more square footage for the money, fabulous '50s homes, close-in to the core city, mature landscaping. But here we sit. I say, be urban or rural, don't mess with Mr. Inbetween.

Thanks for the Folk Alley link. The work day will be so much more pleasant now.

wow - great post!

i struggle with this as i am trying to figure out "who i am" (i'm 28 - i feel like i should have gone through this already, but better now than later!)

i am very - and i hate to admit it - spoiled. i spend too much money, i have too much crap, i love shiney new things.... but i'd love to simplify and live in the middle of nowhere - as long as they still had good coffee and LYS's!! ;o)

it's hard to balance. and to judge whether i TRULY want it or just think i want it because eveyrone else does.

be your own wild succulent self and never apologize!!

hugs and purrs -

Do you know that Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime"? All about your post, baby.

Great post! We didn't have much when I grew up, but I never aspired to that kind of suburban non-life. It's not me. You should never settle for a half-life.

I'm very thankful for the life that I have now. I have my wonderful Andy and cats and we live in a funky old house. The job's not as good as it used to be but I'm certainly in no position to complain.

Glad you had the revelatory coffee! :-)

Just had to throw in my .02:). I don't know if I'm violating blog etiquette or not (since this is kinda late), but not everyone who lives east of the Caldecott tunnel falls into that stereotype, believe you me! Some of us live here 'cuz it's closer to work, but that doesn't stop us from leaving the cookie cutter urban sprawl whenever we can. Some of us could care less about getting our nails done, driving an SUV, and keeping up with those darned Joneses! (spelling?) And chain restaurants? {Shudder!} Thank goodness we can get to Berkeley for some decent food, let me tell ya! We buck the system in our own way, too, and don't give one fig about what the plastic people think. Mwah hah hah!!!!!!!! It just confounds them;) - and quite frankly, it's more fun that way :0).

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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