With the exception of a few years here and there, I’ve spent most of my adult life in apartments, from the seediest to the most suburban. None of them ever felt like home to me. I know that there are people who think environment doesn’t matter — that peace is entirely an internal matter — but after 30 years of being an involuntary witness to other people’s lives and noise, I disagree. Living in an apartment is like having several radios turned on at the same time, all playing different stations, and having no way to turn them off or even lower the volume. No amount of personal Zen I ever felt could endure for long under the constant assault of footsteps above, the bass from a stereo below, the blare of television pounding against the walls, the arguments of couples, late night parties, colicky infants, and the screech of Big Wheels outside at seven o’clock in the morning. Not to mention the occasional gunshot, the flashing lights of police cars, and the smell of curry, cologne and soiled diapers wafting through hallways and windows. No, I never did get used to apartment living. I numbed myself to it when I could, promising that someday, one day, I’d have a peaceful little cottage to call my own.
And then this happened. A tiny little cottage found by remote chance.
When I first moved to Tucson, I rented the cheapest apartment I could find, reasoning that if I could write my last book in a truck, then I could write anywhere. The apartment itself wasn’t awful — it was just outdated and had the painted cement floors that are common in this area — but it felt cold and impersonal rather than homey, even as I gathered furniture and other things that are supposed to make a space cozy. The worst part was the noise. Between the thin walls, open windows, and courtyard gatherings of neighbors, it was constant. I found myself unable to focus and write at length. My work suffered, but I kept trying to talk myself into some state of acceptance, arguing that I’d eventually break through my writer’s block in favor of low rent. After seven months, though, I gave up. I had written half a book that wasn’t up to par. My story was more head than heart, and felt like a reflection of my living conditions . . . like something I was trying to convince myself to stay with even though it wasn’t making me happy.
I began scouting rental ads casually. The few places I initially found weren’t much better than what I had and none of them were private. On a particularly discouraging day, I met with a realtor named Judy. The two places she had advertised weren’t for me, but instead of wishing me well on my search, she asked exactly what it was I was looking for. Privacy, I told her. Some quiet, serene little place with a patio. Some place that might feel like home. Then, in what seemed like a too-good-to-be-true twist, Judy told me that one of her friends in California had a vacant cottage she was looking to rent and she just happened to have the keys.
From the moment we pulled up to the privacy gate of the long driveway, I knew this was the place for me. Not just the place, but THE place I had always wanted, even if it’s not by the ocean. Sitting on a large lot, fenced on all sides, with an additional fenced-in patio, it just doesn’t get more private in the city. There are blooming oleanders, fence-climbing vines, and trees, including an ancient looking mesquite that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale forest. The tiny inside, probably no bigger than 600 square feet, was comfortably furnished with everything a person might need, including a washer/dryer, two televisions, and an amazing array of kitchen goods.
I’ve only been here seven days, but I have never been as content as I am right now. I am in a state of domestic bliss that makes me smile every time I fire up the grill, chop vegetables, hand wash dishes, plant flowers, hose down the patio, or envision what I might do one day to make the backyard even more of a sanctuary. I know there are people who don’t understand how such simple things can induce so much ecstasy, but they probably didn’t spend thirty years in apartments dreaming of just this . . . sitting outside under the shade of a tree, listening to nothing but birds and the sounds of one’s own heart and thoughts. It makes me want to eat healthier, take up yoga, have friends over in the evening, and write beautiful things.
I love this place. It is the perfect one-person paradise, even if it’s not anywhere near a beach. I think if I never had to leave — if I could grow old here — I’d be happy.
P.S. I broke a finger while trying to move a cement bench by myself. I don’t even care. Now that’s Zen!