A New Lease

Four years ago, I moved to Oklahoma. I had sold my home in Idaho a few months earlier and spent two months on the road touring the south, looking for my next place to live. Oklahoma was not even a remote possibility.

That spring, a friend had been in contact with a college president in Muskogee, and I had tried to convince her that yes, she could, leave Northern California for Oklahoma, even if only for a year or two. She is half Native American and Oklahoma is home to more tribes than any other state. After grueling years of graduate school and earning a PhD, I knew she could endure anything – even Muskogee – for the sake of her career and besides, it would provide great fodder for her writing. (She’s a terrific humorist writer.) But she wasn’t convinced and instead, recommended me for the position.

So you know how every hero’s journey begins with a call? Well, I ignored the call. Literally. The president pursued me and I refused to answer. I had fallen in love with Kentucky. Not Lexington, where I had the best job prospect –turns out I hated Lexington –but I loved Louisville and even Bowling Green, both of which had plenty of colleges. My top choice, however, was Berea. I really wanted to move to Berea.[i]

Finally, out of annoyance, I answered the phone. I pulled off the road and tried to convince the president I was not the right person for the job. Instead, he convinced me to at least come look. To visit the campus and talk with him. Out of curiosity – I mean, after all, I had tried to convince my friend to move there and neither of us had any idea what Oklahoma was like – I conceded. On my way back to Idaho, fully convinced I would move to Kentucky, I stopped in Muskogee. The rest is, as they say, history. I accepted the position and two weeks later, I arrived with a U-Haul and settled into campus housing.

Turns out, I really like this state. I even like Muskogee. My position was good but the school is in disastrous shape (financially and physically) and the president, well, I’ll bite my tongue. Let’s just leave it at: he assumed I was Native (and I’m not) and working with him was unbearable. By November, I was gone. I moved up to Tulsa.

Tulsa is a perfect little city for me with approximately 400,000 people but it feels like less, a lot less, like half that many. It is filled with plenty of parks, trees, and a river, and is geographically close to the kinds of outdoor activities that I love. It’s a landscape that is familiar: very much like the Midwest where I grew up. Plus, there’s great art, lots of music, good food, minimal traffic, and a low cost of living. I’m happy here.

And none of this is news, unless you’re new to me.

What is news is that I’m renewing my lease. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you may be surprised to hear this. I’m just as surprised as you are.

This year began with a sudden onset of mold: on the walls, on the floors, and on my belongings. So I purged. I figured it was a sign. I purged a lot. Then the landlord installed new windows and I purged again. I got rid of books, clothes, videos, cameras, and more. I felt pretty darn certain that I wouldn’t be here by the end of the year. And now I will be.

See all those books? More than half are gone and that was only half of my library

Of course, I still dream of moving to Italy. Fingers crossed and Inshallah, someday it will happen. Only, in the meantime, there’s the meantime. The now time. the days and nights and weeks and seasons that make up now.

I don’t know if signing a year lease is the right decision. Sometimes we don’t know. But not making a decision prolongs a sense of limbo.  At some point, we need to stop dribbling the ball and either shoot or pass. Because if we don’t, the ball will be taken from us. I’d rather shoot and miss than lose the ball altogether.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have many times in my life when I felt absolutely certain. So incredibly certain that the answer felt preordained, meant to be, my destiny. Even moving to Muskogee felt like this. And I was right – those decisions were always the right decision, even if the outcome wasn’t what I had hoped for. Even when those decisions brought unexpected trials and pain, they were still always – I believe – exactly what I needed and to this day I remain grateful for every one of them.

But signing a lease for another year? This one I’m not sure about.

There are plenty of things that I don’t like about my current home. The kitchen sink backs up several times a week. This spring I had mice and this summer I had ants. The bathroom vanity is from the ‘70s and the sink has two cracks in it. I was going to replace it when I moved in, back when I had money, but decided against it when the landlord wouldn’t let me paint the walls. I figured I would move in a year because there was no way I could live with gray walls. But here I am and the walls are still gray (albeit plastered with art everywhere), the vanity is still old, the kitchen sink still backs up, and the heat doesn’t work too well when it drops below fifty degrees.

This photo is 3 years old. There’s even more art now.

But on the good side, there are windows in every room and the floors are hardwood and the backyard is fenced and never used by my duplex mate so Mazie and I get it all to ourselves. I like my neighbors and I like my neighborhood. And the rent is affordable. Even with a rent increase this last year, it’s still a bargain.

My current place is, as Goldilocks might say, just right. It fits. It’s the perfect size. A bedroom large enough for a queen bed, dresser, bookshelf, and space to practice yoga. Sure the kitchen isn’t what I would like but it’s not awful either and I have a washer and dryer. The dining room is basically my office now. The front room is still a great place to relax with Mazie, read a book or watch a movie.

We learn to live with trade-offs. I certainly have. Living with less—fewer belongings and reduced expenses—has equaled less stress. And I still have a cozy home that fits my needs and is uniquely me.  A home that, after any time away, I return to and always think,  “Oh yeah, I like this place.”

So I’m making the decision to stay. Because making decisions helps me be present in the now. Because I have an aversion to passivity. And because making this decision seems like a responsible thing to do, rather than having to scramble if my rent goes up again or if the property is sold (a real possibility). Sure, I could change my mind halfway through the year. I could find another place or finally decide I can no longer live with two bad sinks. And if that happens, I’ll readjust. I’ll figure it out.

The point is –I think—to make a decision. At least, for me, this is what works. In the game of life, I want to be on the court, not in the stands. I want to have a say in how my life unfolds instead of simply watching as it happens.

A new lease keeps me on the court and in the game. Life isn’t a spectator sport. You get bruised, you foul, you may even strike out –and yes, I’m mixing sports metaphors here but you know what I mean. Make a plan, have a strategy, play your heart out and take your best shots.

For me, at this moment, that means signing a new lease.

And hey, Mazie is happy here!

What about you?  When is the last time you made a decision that you weren’t fully sure about? What happened? Did it work out?

[i] Berea is a quintessential college town with a population of approximately 15,000. The college was founded by an abolitionist in 1855 and was the first integrated college in the South with black and white students living and learning side by side. Tuition is free – yes, free – in exchange for students working on campus. The motto of Berea College, wrapped around the school’s name in its official logo, is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” And the eminent scholar and activist bell hooks taught here until her death last December. Can you see why I wanted to live and work here?

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