(I wrote this introduction to my next memoir last August. Since then, I have been in limbo as I look for a permanent home on the Peninsula in Washington State).
As I sit in another in-between place, I contemplate what home means to me. I have lived in houses and apartments for both long and short-term. But my experiences in Bellingham, Washington left me poised on an invisible edge. No place I lived ever felt like home even if this touted city drew me in with her allure. The theme I encountered was, “There’s no room at the inn.”
Bellingham courted me for four years while I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington—another city that drew me in with dreams of the mighty Skagit River. And this caused me to venture north from Seattle—a city that I thought I would live forever, despite my love-hate relationship with the Emerald City.
Like many other people living as middle class or below middle class, I have experienced the tight squeeze from the top. More than ever, I found myself lost in an old patriarchal dream rooted in the divide and conquer mentality as opposed to my spiritual belief in Unity Consciousness. I witnessed a false economy ebb and flow—shrink and expand like an illusion or a trick of mirrors in a movie by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel. And I’m one to wonder about the man behind the curtain twirling the knobs creating these illusions that prevent me from ever finding a home.
So, now, through the kindness of a woman herbalist who inherited her mother’s properties, I type this page in a cabin on top of a hill in a place called Sudden Valley. Behind me ravens croak their morning calls to the skies and 200 foot pine and cedar. It’s not perfect. And it’s just temporary—a phrase my mother drilled into my head and the reason why I’m unable to plant my roots into the fertile ground. Beliefs keep me stuck or living in between homes in an in between land where I wander virtually friendless, unemployed, and always on the verge of hoping. But there’s a saying that you can’t live on hope and I find this to be true. Everything has gone up in price from food to rent which has increased 100% in some cases in this touted city. Good old hope does not pay the rent any longer. This world vomits dreamer types.
It seems that everyone wants to live in this northwest corner of the United States with its views of the Salish Sea, Mount Baker (a volcano about to blow), and the lakes that sparkle like gems in a queen’s tiara. Magazine journalists wax about this “livable” city. And this causes young families, retirees, and Californians (escaping the heat and traffic of their state, but not their hedonistic lifestyles), to relocate to Bellingham and Whatcom County.
I recently saw a new trend that revolves around Millennials leaving cities for suburban areas or small towns. This means that they too will flock to cities and towns like Bellingham—free of skyscrapers (for now) and of glitzy departments stores, large software companies, and corporate America. But where does that leave artists such as me who have barely escaped the encroachment of gentrification?
I still recall Pioneer Square and Bell Town in Seattle when they were artists’ havens. Gentrification has far-reaching effects even destroying the fabric of the cuter small towns such as La Conner, Coupeville, Port Townsend, and Edison in Washington State. The recipe includes artists moving to these places, setting up shop, and giving a quirky charm to a place. Wealthy tourists stop by on a visit, enjoy the café life and spending time in small galleries, and then they decide to relocate to the artist’s colonies—thus driving up the price of real estate and then opening the door to private investors who develop property thus transforming a once livable community into a rich man’s playground.
When I moved to Seattle in the mid-1980s, the city was still considered backwater. Sure, the city had its place in history books as it was a famous stomping ground for gold diggers and early industrialists. Boeing set up shop around Seattle. Jazz flourished in Seattle. And many artists and offbeat people found their home in the magical place surrounded by water and mountains.
I still recall the pre-grunge days when Microsoft was just getting its foothold in the world of transnational corporations. Starbucks had only two locations (Pike’s Place Market and the University District). Had I visited a psychic who told me that Seattle would grow into a giant and that its homegrown corporations would compete for world domination, and that developers would tear down historic homes in favor of glitzy condos, I would have laughed. Seattle’s tentacles are far-reaching and devilishly destructive.
Yet, by 1989, rent was increasing forty dollars every three months. Since I was an underground musician and writer, I didn’t make enough money to cover the rent increases. I moved perhaps ten times during the twenty-one years I called Seattle my home. I thought by fleeing to Mount Vernon in 2007 where I worked briefly as an art and lifestyle journalist, I would escape gentrification. Then the economic crash of 2008 nearly destroyed me.
This is when Bellingham began her flirtation with me. She appeared in glossy national magazines. She appeared in a documentary film. She appeared in my fourth novel, Love Quadrangle which featured a Quebecois architect, a writer fleeing California, an author with a dark side, and a French travel photographer. However, while my characters felt at home in the City of Subdued Excitement, I found myself living in between homes four times and I only lived in Bellingham for six years. Forget the courtship and then marriage to this city. I’m asking for a divorce!
I lived in attics, in basements, in Air B & B’s, hotels, and some scummy places that barely fit the description of homes. I experienced Argentine ants crawling into my laptop and across my hands as I kept up with my blogs. I experienced recluse spiders hanging out near my bed. And I learned firsthand about people with Cluster B personalities since I actually shared homes with them.
In addition, I experienced rejection from employers, and people I tried to befriend (again, narcissists make for bad company). While I felt at home in natural settings and I fell in love with the numerous dogs around the city (except for the ones that tried to attack me), I found it hard to make any real human connections.
It’s true that people in this region act in a passive-aggressive way. They say things like, “If you ever find yourself in trouble, call me,” and then when you follow up, they hem and haw, doing a bunch of fancy footwork to get themselves out of a tight squeeze. And if anyone should end up homeless they have a choice of hanging out with narcissists with hidden agendas or landing on the street. Bellingham has no safety net for people not already living on the streets or in a car, or in a tent. And even then, who wants their name to languish on a waiting list while they’re living in a car?
So, as I write these pages, I live in between homes again. I have no internet and plenty of time on my hands to pursue my creative interests. My eyes itch from mold growing on damp walls of this cabin, but I tell myself, it’s still better than living in a shelter. My heart has already left Bellingham as divorces tend to do that to hearts. But I have yet to find a new home in Port Townsend, knowing that I’m still stuck in a temporary holding pattern. Even though I know that home is in the heart and not near a body of water or on a piece of land.
I’ve learned along the way, on this thorny path. The Creator pulled rugs from underneath my feet and took my crutches (especially in regard to new age beliefs) from beneath me too. I am hobbling into the unknown and taking a leap of faith out of darkness (ignorance) into the light. This is not a communal experience but something each of us does alone. No one can take a leap of faith for me just as I would not have my mother chew my food for me. I am not a bird even if I stand on the edge of a nest ready to take my first flight.
While I will receive help moving to a new town and I will receive help finding a new home to land, once I land, I’m on my own. And that’s the way I want it because I get to decide what I’ll do next.
All Rights Reserved Patricia Herlevi copyright 2017
If you read this far and you would like to help me get into a permanent home, please make a donation to my Relocation Fund.