Meth Heads, Military Wives, Fist Fights, and Being a Foodie: What Living in 29Palms Has Taught Me

In 7.5 days I’ll be packing up my meager belongings and making the trek back home – a place I never fully appreciated until I spent 5+ months in 29Palms (a town that most Californians don’t even know exists). I can say with 100% certainty that I won’t miss the surroundings (not even a teeny eensy weensy bit), but I will miss the people and certain aspects of a lifestyle I never thought I could become accustomed to. And on that note I thought I would sum up my experience with the 10 things I learned while I was here:

1. If a town is known for it’s meth heads, expect your neighbors to be the same.

Let me just begin by pointing out that a previous blog I wrote clearly stated my desire to not be stuck living among drug dealers and gang bangers (as I have been in the past). The universe must have somehow turned a deaf ear to this request because my neighbors? Yeah, they seem to be feeding the town’s meth habit right from the comfort of their own home. Let’s just say they are an interesting bunch without the street smarts of any successful drug dealer (thus their arrest yesterday). And they take showers with a hose and sponge in their driveway. Enough said.

2. Fist fighting doesn’t mean that a friendship is over.

While my boyfriend spent the last 4 years entrenched in the military way of life surrounded by guys, I was at home spending most of my time with my girlfriends. So when a night of drinking turned sour because two of his buddies started fist fighting over an eye gouging game that went a little too far, I thought that a rift would be formed right smack dab in the middle of our “group.” When I asked one of the guys if they would still be friends (with his eye bloodshot and quickly turning a shade of black), he answered, “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be? We’re best friends. It’s just like two boys in a sand box fighting over the same Tonka truck. No big deal.”

I’m still trying to decide if girls could ever adopt this thought process.

3. Living for the weekends is no way to live.

When people have asked me over the past few months how I like living out here, my answer is always the same: the weekends are a blast. But the rest of the week? I’d rather rip out my toenails one by one then spend another hour simply wasting time here. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The point, however, is that we get to leave on the weekends and venture out into civilization – exactly what makes living here bearable. Which also makes me realize that jumping between fleeting moments of bliss is simply no way to exist. Period.

4. Distance is all relative.

Just a quick snapshot: from the spot that I am currently sitting, Starbuck’s is a good 20 miles away, any quality restaurant is 60+ miles away, and a decent movie theater playing recent movies is around 65 miles away. Seriously. So now when I hear people complain about driving I’ll have a hard time resisting the urge to tell them to shove it. Which also brings me to my next point.

5. Heat is also all relative.

Now that the temperature is slowly dropping, I am beginning to realize how drastically our idea of “normal” can shift if need be. And of course, after sweating through 110+ degree temperatures with a swamp cooler that refused to work, 98 degrees seems like heaven. I don’t think I’ll ever say that Colorado summers are too hot again. Ever.

6. Good friends don’t count dollars and cents.

Before living the military lifestyle, I had never encountered a group that was so willing to give without keeping track of what they were owed in return. They care deeply about each other, but they care about each other’s families as well. That is what I’ll miss.

7. When all else fails, food can make any day exciting.

There is something about experiencing never ending boredom that makes meal time really fricken exciting. So those days when slaving away over my computer or watching an embarrassing amount of reality TV simply weren’t cutting it, having a really good meal could fill that void. Yes, I realize that’s what massively obese people say, but I’m being honest here. At least it’s not a drug addiction – although my neighbors could have helped me out with that.

8. Claiming your husbands accomplishments is not cool.

After spending a fair amount of time living in close proximity to a military base and a total of four years immersed in the politics of it all, I have met several types of military spouses. There is one in particular that I can’t stand – the one that will say matter of factly (and of course there are plenty of variations on this), “Yeah, we are supposed to be picking up rank soon,” or “I really can’t stand our chain of command right now.” Strange, but I don’t think that the military remembers employing you.

Yes, it’s a partnership. But I don’t think your marriage vows stated anything about losing your own identity and taking on that of your husband’s. Maybe that’s just me.

9. Not everyone thinks like me.

Perhaps this one sounds like something I should have learned around the age of 8, but let’s be honest- most of us operate on a daily basis spouting off our opinions like everyone feels exactly the same way. After being surrounded by people who grew up far differently than I did, I realize that not everyone agrees (or should agree) with me. And I’m pretty sure I’m ok with that.

10. Money should be spent (yes, I know this one’s a shocker).

From the time my dad walked me down to the bank and helped me open up my first savings account, I’ve been a money hoarder. There was a time when spending as little as $10 would create an ulcer in my stomach the size of Texas. After moving, however, I realized that we would have to spend money if we wanted to go anywhere or see anything worthwhile. So, out of necessity, I agreed.

I know that we wouldn’t have been able to have one tiny fraction of the amazing experiences we did if we didn’t spend some of our hard-earned dough. And that’s big for an anxiety-prone- money-hoarder like me.

Goodbye 29Palms. I’d like to say I’ll miss you, but then I’d be lying. And a quote from a few good guys I know, “It’s been real. It’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun.”

Dreams? Yeah, I’ll Save Those For Tomorrow.

Before leaving home to bake in the sweltering sandbox that I currently reside in, I had concocted a list of things I would delve into once I got here. You know- those things we believe deep down will make us happier, healthier, more whole versions of ourselves, but are better left for another time or place. Yes. I have lots of those.

I figured that being in a town so far removed from regular Starbuck’s drinking civilization would inspire me in some miraculous way to be…different. And at the end of those six (or five if I have anything to say about it) long months I would have become a yogi, accomplished magazine writer, meditation guru, master chef, brilliant photographer, organization expert, blogger extraordinaire, etc. etc. etc. Seriously – my goals were that lofty.

Three months into my time here and what have I got? Sores on my ass from spending six to eight loooooong hours a day typing diligently on my computer that I can only use on the couch because the wifi refuses to cooperate. And the closest I’ve gotten to being a yogi? Completing a 30 minute candlelit yoga practice from a DVD via the Xbox.

Oh, and did I mention I’ve become an expert complainer and pity party thrower?

So as the boyfriend and I attempted last night to make plans for a life ATM (after the military) I found myself returning to that place of “once I get there things will be better.” I’ll have a group of girlfriends again, a real live place outside of the house to do my writing, my family a quick drive away. Funny thing is, that’s what I was all gung-ho about leaving in the first place.

My twenties thus far seem to have been an exercise in finding a place to be. A place that warrants a sigh of relief, while simultaneously pushing me to be something greater, do something bigger, and step out of the me I thought I was. I’ve been convinced at certain times that it’ll come with settling down – picking paint colors and a bed set to match. Then, I’ll suddenly feel as if I could only feel it somewhere as far removed from my comfort zone (and country of origin) as possible. Now, neither seems to fit just right.

It’s not my environment. I’m convinced (at least in this moment) of that now. It’s a matter of starting today those things I’ve reserved for another place and time.

Anyone else have a storage closet full of things to tackle another day in another city?

I haven’t disappeared, I’ve just been baking in the heat.

Blogging, like most other areas of my life, used to be something I scheduled. (Because even inspiration can be placed on a timeline for someone as by the book as myself.) Then, when things started to get a little crazy, I stopped cold turkey. But what used to be an issue of priorities has now become another bout of perfectionism gone haywire.

Let me just begin by saying this- when I was younger and writing in a diary seemed like something every little girl should do, I used to tear out entries if I didn’t like how they sounded. Granted, I had a placed a massive lock on the outside to prevent anyone from reading my innermost thoughts, but the point was that I wasn’t satisfied with anything short of perfection. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I began judging the writing I was putting up for all of the online world to see (or at least the meager audience that I had acquired).

Inspiration, it turns out, is also a problem when leaving my house has ceased to be an everyday occurrence. No, it’s not depression, it’s an absolute hatred of the god awful heat. Heat meaning 100 degrees IN THE SHADE. Seriously. I’ve never before felt as if my skin was cooking two minutes after stepping outside.

I can blame my writing hiatus partly on the fact that I’m in the midst of a series of processes. Learning to live with my honey, for one, is a PROCESS (capitals seemed necessary for that one). How could it not be when I’m used to being comfortable and he’s used to a lifestyle of survival? My challenge this week: getting him to agree to a rendezvous at the farmers market this weekend. For some reason, he’s completely against fresh produce. Go figure.

Another process: accepting and recognizing the perfection in everyday life. After the homecoming was over, and I settled into a “routine,” I began to forget what both of our lives were like when he was away. I’m reminding myself to feel a little gratitude for the shopping trips, the movie dates, and even the arguments that we couldn’t have had if the deployment would have ended differently.

Most of all, I’m learning to redefine the individual me while still staying connected to this relationship I’ve waited so long to fully experience.

I’ve missed you blogger world. Here’s to checking in more regularly.

Yes, I Eat My Feelings

Lately I’ve been stuffing my feelings down with copious amounts of artery clogging fast food style burgers and early morning milk shakes. I follow this by an alcoholic beverage or two and a desert sweet enough to wash it all down. Needless to say, my lethargic body hates me. With a passion.

Despite my naturally small (and by small I mean short) size, and a metabolism that leaves me starving come 5am, I have always had an up and down relationship with food. It’s not all that strange given the fact that I’m in my early 20’s living in one of the most superficial countries in the world. But I’m smart enough to know that more often than not I treat my body as if it were my worst enemy- one I’m trying to punish with a slow and painful death. Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you catch my drift.

It took me twenty years to finally warm up to the idea of exercising because I tend to avoid all things that I don’t think I’ll be good at. I was even able to skirt those pesky P.E. requirements in high school by offering to help with the special needs kids. Seriously. Then a few years later and fourteen pounds heavier, I decided that my small stature would inevitably leave me looking like an oompa loompa if I didn’t tweak my habits.

Yoga proved to be my saving grace in the effort to stay zen while kicking my ass in to shape. But despite my dedication for those few months and my success in convincing my body that anything was possible, I stopped. Cold turkey. I could say that I got too busy (lie) or that it became too expensive (truth with a little lie mixed in), but the truth is, like many things, I just stopped caring.

After nursing my post-Sonic stomach ache this morning and brooding over how large I felt, I had a fleeting moment where I realized how counter productive my actions were in creating a healthy, happy existence. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about being in tune with what my body is telling me. And unfortunately, I put a muzzle on it a while back.

My life has changed drastically in the past few weeks, and my celebratory eating (yes, my preferred bonding experience is over hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies), has turned into avoidance eating. I have felt my career begin to lose momentum before fully taking off, and filling in the voids of ending an old routine and beginning a new one has made food look oh so appealing.

I’m excellent at setting intentions. I’ll say, quite matter of factly: “Come Monday I won’t be eating donuts the size of my face or topping a heaping plate of nachos off with a margarita. Nope, I’ll be munching on tofu and snacking on almonds.” In reality, come Monday I’ll be setting a new intention for a later date while ordering some more french fries.

All things in moderation, I know. It’s not about depriving myself of the foods I actually enjoy eating, it’s just depending on food more for sustenance than entertainment. Or comfort. And that is far easier said then done.

And Here Comes the Sun…

For the better part of the last three years I have waited for a significant change to happen in my otherwise middle of the road kind of existence. Perhaps the universe was backed up with requests and received all of mine at the SAME TIME. Nonetheless, the past three weeks has left my life looking like Heidi Montag post surgery. In a good way, of course.

After seven months of panic attacks and limited communication, my high school sweetheart came home from war. (Strange how retro that sounds now.) This was precluded by a week of hearing that the homecoming date was being pushed back yet again- another indication that organization is not one of the Marine Corps strong suits. However, every cloud has a silver lining and mine was wine guzzling and antique shopping with the other perturbed Marine wives/girlfriends. Without them I very well could have pulled all my hair out.

Three o’ clock in the morning on April 30th we were all dolled up and ready for those few seconds we had waited too long for. While I will undoubtedly experience other reunions in my life, I don’t know if I will ever again experience the massive amount of love and respect that this one garnered from everyone present. And for that I am truly grateful that I have loved someone who couldn’t be entirely mine for the past 3+ years of my life.

For those who left on October 4 and never came home and for those who sustained injuries that will forever change their way of life, my heart goes out to you. I know that the brotherhood of men that my love left with ensured that I attended his homecoming and not his funeral. I am forever indebted to all of you.

Because pictures (and videos) speak a thousand words, here is the video of the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines homecoming from Afghanistan. For anyone without an immediate connection to the military who doesn’t fully understand the sacrifice involved, this is what it’s all about.

I will now always have this as my reminder that all challenges come to an end and a little bit of faith can move mountains.

I’m Ready

I’ve never really been a procrastinator. Sure, I avoid certain conversations, errands, and menial tasks, but when it comes to the big stuff I never hold off the inevitable. Even in elementary school I would write book reports a month in advance and complete group projects on my own if everyone else seemed to be shuffling their feet. And now that my compensation comes in the form of money and not praise from my teachers, I don’t even recognize procrastination as a viable way of being.

I suppose I could read a million self-help books that would confirm that this behavior is positive, that I am being proactive in getting to where I want to go. But in doing things today so that I can enjoy tomorrow, that illusive day off just gets pushed farther into the future. If running a thousand miles an hour opens up even a small window of time for nothing I will find something to fill that hole.

Rationally I realize that I’m avoiding stepping on the brakes simply because I know that silence will follow. I have been avoiding standing still out of fear that I will have to listen to my fears. How ironic. And in the midst of it all, I’m angry that planning for the future has left me floating above the present moment with no real connection to either.

As uncomfortable as I am with the prospect of moving to a new town that can’t offer me the lifestyle that I’m used to, I’m also relieved by the fact that distractions will be few and far between. There is something refreshing about the idea of stripping down to the bare essentials and allowing life to be simple again.

I could say that I just want to be able to truly live, but in all honesty I’m not even sure what that means. After all, what does living really constitute? Breathing? I’ve got that covered.

No, I want to sit in the middle of life and experience everything exactly how it is- not something that needs to be changed, manipulated, or fixed. I want to see life in tiny moments instead of always taking in the bigger picture. I want to avoid planning and allow everything to unfold exactly how it was intended to. I want to let go of who I think I am and become who I never thought of becoming.

I am ready to just be.

Yeah, I’m Kind of a Big Deal

Inspiration is a fickle thing. I can spend the entire day staring at my computer screen completely unsatisfied with everything and then miraculously, right when I’m on the brink of sleep, ideas seem to sprout from nowhere. And of course instead of sprinting to capture these thoughts down on paper I curse the mind chatter and hope for some much-needed r&r.

In the midst of turning my world as I know it on its ear, I’m also trying to navigate my way through the world of writing. Luckily I have some paying gigs under my belt, but I’m quickly discovering that writing as a business and writing as a form of self-expression are two very separate things. Finding a way to mix the two (at least in the beginning when my name holds no clout), seems to be like finding a football loving jock that doesn’t mind shedding a tear over a chick flick. Not easy to say the least.

So right now, as I churn out blog after blog on topics of other people’s choosing, the self-expression part has been added to that list of things that I would do if I only had the time. And of course after spending hours on end in solitary confinement with only the sound of clicking keys to keep me company, the last thing I really want to do is sit down and write some more. Even if it serves an entirely different purpose.

Just like any other area of life, I need balance. Or just some more gigs that would allow me to mold my writing with inspiration and not from a list of topics and approved resources. Maybe this would create a flow of ideas that wouldn’t interrupt my already fragile sleep pattern. Yes, I know, all in good time.

On a brighter note- after complaining about an upcoming phone conference with a “boss” from one of said writing gigs, my dad informed me that they would actually be considered my client. A simple issue of semantics? Maybe. But it sounds much more liberating, doesn’t it? Yup, I have clients. In some small way it seems like I’ve hit the big time. And that feels fantastic.

Creature Comforts and Cable Negotiations

I think I’ve found the place. Well, maybe not the place as in “this is the place I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life living in.” No, more like this is the place that seems to require fewer hours to clean, and not quite as many bugs to herd out before becoming hospitable. Although the one area of contention that might just be the sole cause of a few breakdowns: no dishwasher. Wait…what century are we living in?

Yes, I know- not a big deal. But I have come to discover that I am one of those people who depends greatly on creature comforts. I gave up on that tiny glimmer of hope that we might actually have a washer and dryer, but a dishwasher just seems like a give in. Like running water. (Maybe I should check on that one too.) And then while I was breaking out in a cold sweat over hand washing dishes, my honey says to me, “We aren’t getting cable, we really won’t need it.”

Umm…hang on. I think that one just gave me a heart attack. Quickly, and a bit too defensively I quipped “you want me to live in the middle of the desert with no freakin’ cable?!” This was about the time when I started to run through the list of things that we might not agree on. Like how many covers to have on the bed or who will scrub the toilet. All of which is a little too much for someone who has pretty much lived sans roommates for the past 2+ years (I figure my parents don’t really count).

I won the cable battle after a very compelling argument and probably more whining then my honey really wanted to listen to. However, all of this has made me a little too aware of how much readjusting this move is going to require. Last time I trucked out to that corner of California I think I was a bit more moldable and pleasantly unaware of what I was in for. Luckily the gamble paid off and I loved it. Really loved it.

Once the dust settles (actually I don’t think it every settles there…) I know I will be able to find my niche again. Even if it is with basic cable and no dishwasher.

Murderers, Gang Bangers, Drug Dealers…and Foot Fungus

Tying up loose ends in Denver and opening up shop in California has turned into a daunting task. A few days ago I had somewhat officially picked THE place for me and my honey only to start back at square one yesterday. My choice, of course, had been based off of three craigslist pictures that showed that the kitchen had REAL TILE and the appliances actually looked sleek and CLEAN. Yup, I thought- that’s the place. Low standards? Well, last time I lived in good ol’ 29 Palms we lacked a dishwasher, a fully functioning stove, and had a crack under our door large enough to fit several different species of desert bug.

So after recruiting a friend to go look at the place (because yes, I’m still that rational let’s make REALLY sure kind of person), I was told it was small. Really small. Like you need a blow up mattress in the bedroom small. At that point I was willing to maybe forgo a few furniture items and get cozy with the idea of REALLY getting cozy with my honey- until I heard the last little bits of information. The owner lives on the property in her trailer. Ummm…ok. Oh and one of the neighbors had a sister living with him that ended up MURDERING HER BOYFRIEND- on the property. Joy. Even my low standards can’t jive with that drama.

Back to the drawing board. I’m not entirely sure where to go from here considering how slim the pickin’s are in that neck of the woods. I’ve convinced myself that we can make any shit hole feel like home considering this time we will be providing our own furniture and personality (note to self: never rent a furnished place in 29 Palms again. EVER. ). But I’d still like to be able to take off my shoes in my own home and not be afraid of getting some unrecognizable foot fungus. And of course I would love to not have to share a wall with anyone. Ever again actually.

My past experience with wall sharing actually ended when 5-10 members of the SWAT team arrested my next door neighbor in a massive city-wide gang bust. Did I mention he was a drug dealer? After nearly 6 months of living in an apartment in which the walls lacked ANY sort of insulation, 6 calls to the police, and 1 call to child protective services (I was determined damn it), I was ready to kick some ass myself. When I saw the scuffle unfold with my morning coffee, I laughed just a little. Yup, I thought, my intuition was spot on.

Well, unfortunately for me, the landlord wasn’t really convinced that gang banging and coke dealing was such a bad thing after all, so the rest of the obnoxiously LOUD clan was permitted to move back in. In one last-ditch attempt to get some measure of silence back I got ahold of the police report to hand in to the home owner’s association. There in writing was documentation of every call I had made- and next to it? A warning note in capital letters: PROCEED WITH CAUTION. RESIDENTS ARE CONSIDERED TO BE ARMED AND DANGEROUS. Holy shit. And these neighbors knew all along that it was little ole‘ me calling the cops on them. My rational mind told me it was time to cut my losses and get the hell out of there.

So as I keep on truckin‘ with this home search I’m trying to keep the faith. And of course steer clear of murderers, gang members, drug dealers, and of course foot fungus. Maybe I should speak to a realtor to see if they have any places that fit this very strict criteria.

One More Plea:

If you haven’t yet…PLEASE vote for my trip on http://www.trazzler.com  It’s getting down to the last week and I have PROMISED my honey that I would take him on this San Francisco trip when he gets back from Afghanistan next month.  I am VERY close to winning in the LGBT category.  All you have to do is go to the website, sign up (VERY IMPORTANT), find the San Francisco Writing Contest icon on the right hand side of the page, and click on the LGBT category.  Look for my entry: “Dining With Drag Queens in Denver, Colorado,” open it and click the “save” button underneath the picture.  That’s it!  If you have already voted- THANK YOU!

Please Get Out of My Room…Thanks.

Cohabitation, in my “this is my space, please kindly remove yourself from it” mindset, has never been an idea that I snuggled up to. Not only does my sanity depend on the fact that I can remove myself from all other living, breathing, and talking beings, but my experience with roommates has been severely limited to family members who (I’m hoping) would never pour bleach on my clothes or steal my pricier belongings (I suppose I’m channeling the Bad Girls Club here…). I’m stubborn, picky, and am prone to noise induced panic attacks. Crazy? Just a bit.

While my post-high school living situation did include a brief stint with my honey in the deserts of California, I feel like in knowing our time together was limited (he was in the midst of shipping off to Iraq), I was able to not let (all) of my anxieties get the best of me. But this time, as I prepare for his homecoming and a 2nd move, cohabitation has taken on a kind of permanence that makes me giddy with excitement and sick to my stomach all at the same time. Our communication over the past 6+ months has been limited to skype chats, 3am text sessions, and facebook messaging…so how on earth can that be translated into bed sharing, chore sharing, and overall life sharing with the simple flip of a switch?

Although I’d like to site his lack of cleanliness and attachment to video games as the main reason for my concern, in truth I am dreading those issues that will point to me being the one that needs to shift, change, and cave just a little bit to let him in. Deep down I know that as long as I stay attached to my way of doing things and closed off to sharing anything in my space, the more I can convince myself that I am right and everyone else is WRONG.

Despite these little butterfly jitters, I have begun thrift and craft store shopping so that we can have a champagne inspired pad on a PBR budget. I’m convinced (since signing on to write for Calfinder) that this is absolutely possible. My first project that I have attempted to tackle: fixing up picture frames and removing the pictures circa 1999. Next up?….Not entirely sure.

Got any suggestions? Wine bottle candle holders, film strip curtains, I’m up for anything. Give me your best tips and I will be sure to post pictures of the finished product.