Thursday, February 21, 2019


I never thought I had any. Wherever I lived was always temporary, and I liked it that way. When my husband bought our first house, the sentence that reconciled me to the purchase was made by our realtor, "The average American buys a new house every five years." Ha. Those were the days, back in the mid-70s.

Within eight years, we moved to the next place and after that my life was a long succession of apartments, with dreams of going farther afield. Eventually I would live in eight different dwelling places in Bangkok and Penang before returning to four different ones in Seattle. In those years I learned how to KonMari my possessions to fit into two suitcases.

That part is easy. What isn't is leaving the people I care about.

Now that I'm looking for another place to live, a friend recently asked me "Why not Bangkok?" It's a logical question, since that's been my alternate universe for over twenty years. But she is the reason why, along with some other close friends and my family. I can do it. I know how to do it, but the older I get, the higher the price becomes.

Time is infinite right up until we reach our sixties. Then we begin to assess and budget how we spend it. When I was a mere slip of a girl at 45, leaving was as easy as getting a passport. Now I know that no matter how much I love my life overseas and how many friends I may make in another part of the world, the ache of not being able to share it with the people I care about most grows stronger every year. When one of my sons came to visit me twice in Thailand, after each visit was over I cried for two days, and when my longest standing Bangkok friend returned to the States after years of being my mainstay in that city, I was unable to go downstairs to wave goodbye as he walked out the front door of our house. Expat living, when you do it on your own, is damned hard, even though it's materially more comfortable than existing in the Old Country.

Today when I went to Craigslist and examined my three different staple sites, I found several possibilities in this area. Only one was for Seattle and I'm pretty sure it was either a scam or someone else has already grabbed it. But it made me wonder. Are rents coming down in the Puget Sound market? And would I pay the top end of what I can in order to stay here, even though Tucson offers more comfort and Queens is the pinnacle of my desires? When I think of the pleasure of conversations with my friends and the joy of spontaneous visits with my sons, I say yes. I claim roots.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Where Would You Go?

A year ago I saw realtors clustering in the hallways of the building I'd lived in for years and I knew I was in trouble. When my landlord confirmed that yes indeed, the place was up for sale, I began to think of what to pack and what to jettison.

This wasn't an unfamiliar mental exercise. I'd left that building and returned to it twice over the past ten years but it had always been there for me. If I had a Seattle home, it was the International Apartments, and foolishly I'd thought it would always be there, as it had been for many others over the past hundred and four years. But boom town Seattle, flush with tech money, had other plans.

The workers in previous high times of this city had been gold prospectors, fishermen, loggers, shipbuilders, and factory workers. This current crop worked with intangibles, the Internet, the Cloud,  fostering dreams and satisfying desires on the world's computer screens. They were paid beyond any laborer's wildest dreams and they were filling up the city, paying astronomical rents and keeping the restaurants alive. They were crowding the rest of us out.

For the past year, I've shared a house with two friends and looked religiously on Craigslist for apartments. Craigslist is a lot like the mail order catalogs of my childhood. With a flick of my fingers, I can look at apartments all over the world, and I have. Mexico, Bangkok, Dublin, Marseilles, and almost every city in this country with a major league baseball team--I've peered at photos and assessed rents in them all.

A friend says I'm fantasizing but I'm really not. I've moved often enough in the past seventy years to become an expert on relocation, and some of those moves have involved a passport. So far only one was a disaster, a short-lived tenancy in Malaysia that was a financial disaster, a foretaste of hell, and a wake-up call. But Penang taught me to do my research and spend a lot of time in thought before leaping into a new life in another place.

When this all began, I said I'd give it a year, living in someone else's house, hoping that an opening in a low-income building would come my way, and continuing to scour online ads for possible dwelling places. That year will be up in three more months and I'm facing the reality that I may not have the luxury of living near my family and my friends much longer. My new deadline is this coming autumn.

Like Amazon, I've found two possibilities: Tucson and Queens.

Tucson has heat (oh god does it ever) and beautiful light, along with seasonal thunderstorms. Its sky is right up there with Cambodia's and Northeastern Thailand's. There are apartments that are only slightly higher than what I pay for living in this house, and according to food reviews, it has Chinese restaurants that use Sichuan pepper and chili oil. The library system is good, and there are bookstores.

It also looks quellingly suburban. But there are Ubers.

Queens. What can I say? It has everything I want and a winter that I don't. For the same price as a very nice apartment in Tucson or a 420-friendly travel trailer in this past of the world, I could share an apartment in South Richmond Hill, a couple of blocks away from sari shops, East Indian groceries, and a diner that knows how to make egg creams and ice cream sodas. It's close to two subway lines and the Atlantic Ocean is an hour away.

But living with someone else is a crap shoot that's easier played when you're in your twenties. At seventy, not so much. But it's New York.

So--I have all summer to ponder this and perhaps a reconnaissance trip or two for reality therapy. Meanwhile, I'm haunted by Tucson or Queens, the Lady or the Tiger.

Where would you go? Which would you choose? (This question is not rhetorical.)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Jenny Made Her Mind Up...

I have a confession to make. That snowstorm and its aftershocks--my fault, all mine. Back in the earliest days of February, I decided to increase my walking from 2-3 miles to 5. And then it snowed.

Snow on its own is a lovely thing to walk through, both when it falls and when it's fresh on the ground. Happy to have a chance to wear my fur jacket which I paired in true Pacific Northwest fashion with red rubber boots, I trudged through the transformed streets, taking pictures and smiling at the happy dogs whose morning walks had become a trip to canine Disneyland.

Even when I stayed inside, my world was different. The white landscape changed the quality of the light. Even with a heavy cloud cover, the days were bright and once when I woke up at 3 am, I was certain it was time to get up. "White-out" they call it in Alaska and in this part of the country it was almost hallucinogenic and definitely surreal.

The beauty of it almost made up for the truth that it closed Seattle down. Buses were scanty, children stayed home from school, flights were cancelled, library doors were locked. That began to feel oddly familiar. It was like living in Bangkok when political strife took to the streets, or like Fairbanks, Alaska during a siege of heavy ice fog.

And then the ice took over. The University of Washington swears that a student who died after slipping on campus ice and hitting her head perished from natural causes. I began to salt my porch steps, knowing it was an environmental sin but finding that I couldn't break through the packed and icy snow with a shovel. Walking to buy groceries took forever because the idea of a broken hip made me cautious. The world shrunk and it stayed that way for days.

There are still patches of dirty snow in my front yard while the back has lost its beauty and is fifty shades of grey-green. The cold prevails but the sidewalks are mostly clear and dry. My cat continues to stare balefully out the window and becomes worried when he sees me put on my boots. He's eight years old and has never seen anything like this before. For the first few days of winter he burrowed under my comforter, only emerging when it was absolutely necessary. There were a few late afternoons when I followed his example, with a book and a cup of tea.

When I was small, my mother would tease me at times with a song about Jenny, who persistently made her mind up, with disastrous results. I thought of those lyrics often in the past three weeks, when my walks were perfunctory, careful, and much shorter than five miles..

Sorry, Seattle.