All I’m thinking about these days is homemaking in my first all-alone studio apartment.
The happiness feels crackly, like my fingers are sparkling with energy.
Last week I was driving to a date, and heard myself think bizarrely: “Why would I go on a date tonight when I just put up my gallery wall?” Why would I go hunting for joy anywhere else when I have this beautiful home? (I did go on the date, Reader, and it was tremendously bad, so maybe that thought was prophetic).
All that to say, I’m getting lots of joy from this tiny, gorgeous studio apartment.
And it’s for sure tiny. It’s 500 square feet, and 1/3 of that is a hallway that’s too wide to be efficient but too narrow to be useful, and a glorified closet (“dressing room”) that’s always stacked eight outfits deep with everything I’ve worn for the last week. The apartment complex is on the edge of Atlanta, and no matter how many different ways I give people directions to it, they always end up saying “oh yeah! Near the jail!” I wanted a special, fancy mystical/writing/sacred name for it (The Hermitage! The Writer’s Cottage!), but she had her own ideas. While I was apartment hunting, I called my hypothetical new home “my bachelor pad” and sang songs about it at work until everyone wanted to explode me (“Bachelor Pad! Bachelor Pad! Don’t you wish that’s what you had!” to the tune of Spiderman). Now, bless, she won’t let me change her name. She’s The Bachelor Pad. Sometimes places just name themselves.
So this is The Bachelor Pad. She’s small, with no dishwasher in the kitchen and no water pressure in the shower. She has beige carpets, and the screen door doesn’t totally shut. The AC and heater sound like jets taking off overhead, and there’s no cold water. Ever.
But gosh she is lovely.
I have a balcony that sees sky and trees and, at night, the moon. I have a sacred writing corner with a few of my favorite icons and dozens of plants that my friends brought to my housewarming party. I have neighbors from the far corners of the world, refugee neighbors and immigrant neighbors, neighbors who leave potted plants on my doorstep, neighbors with kids who wave at me every morning (“HI I LIKE YOUR PORCH!”) while I write on my balcony, and neighbors who stop their car to lean out their window and cheer at the rainbow flag hanging on my screen door.
This awkward corner of the world is filled with joy.
Killing the “Shoulds.”
My world is full of “shoulds.”
I don’t know how to do anything without a “should” behind it. I feel badgered and exhausted by them – I should save money, I should work more, I should submit my writing more places, I should write about XYZ, I should eat more vegetables, I should get more sleep, I should shop more ethically, I should be a better friend, I should work more hours, I should work less hours, I should put myself out there, I should should should until I want to scream and rip the “shoulds” out of my brain with my bare hands.
The Bachelor Pad feels safe from “shoulds.”
I can look around and say what do I want right now.
Which sometimes feels a little silly, silly like the name “The Bachelor Pad” and silly like the most ridiculously large art that I bought last month.
I saw that art at a consignment shop, five feet tall, an oil painting all teals and purples. When I first saw it, I didn’t even see that it was a stark naked lady climbing up the wall (we’re split if she’s climbing a wall or, as my friend T says, if she’s lying down for “a more sexual thing going on.” Personally, I’m invested in a naked woman who is active not passive, a middle finger to the male gaze that doesn’t know what to do with a woman’s body that’s in motion and getting shit done). I saw the purples and teals and creams and extrovert bigness of it and I loved it.
So I did what I do every time I find something that I love.
I sent a picture of it to three of my friends to see if it was a Good Picture, and to see if I was allowed to buy it.
I am a grownass woman still asking for permission to love what I love and enjoy what I enjoy. I am a grownass woman asking for permission to delight, to celebrate, to feast.
I’m not good at feasting.
I’m very good at sacrificing. I love sacrifice. I have a pervasive Stockholm syndrome, falling in love with the “shoulds” that are holding me hostage. I tell myself that I want to get free of the “shoulds,” but in the meantime I spend a lot of time holding their hand, thinking that they want what’s best for me. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
Anyway, I bought the picture, because I have good friends, one of whom told me that if there is one thing you shouldn’t ask anyone’s opinion about, it’s art.
Seriously, if I never ask anyone’s opinion about anything ever again, it would be too soon.
Healthy Rebellion and the Pervasive Shoulds.
Keeping my eyes open for what makes me happy in my deep soul is a hard spiritual practice. I’m terrified of doing “whatever I want” – partly because evangelicalism told me that the “pursuit of happiness” was basically the same as pursuing Satan. But partly because I’m an Enneagram 1 who doesn’t believe that joy can be trusted, because it just isn’t holy or good enough. And because I want to be good so badly, I sometimes am scared of what it feels like to say no to the “shoulds.” Sometimes my no comes out too loudly, too angrily, and too rebelliously. Rebellion doesn’t feel very holy. It feels downright bad.
Rebellion is an important part of spiritual growth, though. We can’t skip from total obedience to a sense of self in one jump, and there’s a stage where we don’t know what we actually want – we just want autonomy. The rebellious stage of saying no (like a healthy two year old) is something we go again and again. Putting an end to the power of the “shoulds” sometimes means we’ll feel like rebellious teenagers getting bad tattoos just to make our parents mad at us. You don’t like this, “Shoulds”? Well, fuck you! I did it anyway!
Moving from obedience to autonomy takes practice, and there is a period of pushing back with fire and fury while we make our way to the spacious place where we’ll be free for joy. The only way we’ll get there, though, is if we start recklessly asking ourselves what the hell do you want, honey?
I’m practicing this spiritual discipline by nesting. I’m practicing it by buying a beautiful cream colored couch, even though there were some skeptics in the set of texts that I sent out to half a dozen people asking if the couch was right. It was too deep, it was too suede, it was too long, it was too cream, folks said.
A “should rebel” would have roared and buy it just because they said not to and a “should captive” would not buy it and then fester with resentment.
But a person who’s learning to love what she loves? She’ll go home, look at her curated Pinterest board, and look at her space, and breathe in and out of the loud YESes and NOs that she went hunting for to validate her own joy. And then, if she is me, she’ll buy the damn couch. Then she’ll spend the night curled up on it, hugging a hot toddy to her chest and staring in awe at her purple and teal naked woman climbing up her wall, feeling like a damn fool for loving this tiny home so much, but a joyful damn fool.
I meditate a lot on Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus – “what do you want Me to do for you?” and wrote about it over on Patheos last week. I used to be afraid that if I followed my joy, I’d be useless for the world. But the world needs me to be whole, so that my work is healthy and healing, not wrenched out of a martyr complex.
So I came home from my amazing Evolving Faith conference last week, dropped my bags on the floor of The Bachelor Pad, and breathed in and out in joy. Here is a home that I can do good work out of, work that comes straight from my gut and straight from my joy.
The world needs your joy. Please don’t be scared to go find it.