I went on organizing kicks when I was a kid (typical Virgo). Once, an aunt saw me sort a cabinet at our family’s vacation home and she said I was “nesting.” She said women usually do it when they’re pregnant. Compulsive nester would be one way to describe me, although I’ve never been pregnant.
When I count up all the apartments I’ve lived in in LA, the number surprises me. Eight. In twelve years. And before I was an apartment dweller, I lived in two different dorm rooms and nested in those two. I configured my modular furniture — desk, chair, twin bed — so it was nest-like. Or cave-like, depending on who you’d ask. Later, I carted the same small belongings from apartment to apartment. Hanging up the same blue striped curtains. Plugging in the same lamp with a red shade. Taping the same On the Road posted to my walls until it shredded. I had a bed skirt when my roommate had a mattress on the floor. Every bit of furnishing I owned had been a castoff or gift from a family member. But the things were mine and setting them up, seeing them each day, that was a comfort in the years when I was moving every twelve months.
One of my apartments was a tiny studio. It had no kitchen and the smallest bathroom sink I’ve ever seen. Still, it was a struggle to make rent. But I saved up and bought a cute duvet cover (on sale) at Target. It was white, with photo realistic butterflies cascading down one side. That makes it sound more childish than it is in my mind’s eye. Regardless, I loved it. It really tied the room together. And that was important because the room was also my entire apartment. It helped me feel like this little bit of real estate was mine, and was comfortable and therefore a safe spot for me.
The apartment itself was in the back corner of a larger building. I’m sure I had neighbors who didn’t know it existed. You entered through a gate that was always being bullied by the fast-growing branches of a tree.
In 2003, I graduated college and moved to the Fairfax district with a roommate. I took the room that was not only smaller, it also didn’t have a door. You walked through it to get to the bathroom. The situation was … quirky. But I would look around my wee room and say to myself, “one day I’ll be nostalgic for this place.” I was right and wrong.
I’m not nostalgic about the Fairfax apartment, but I am about that little studio I moved into three or four years later. It’s the only time I’ve lived alone and it was actually a very sad and confusing part of my life, but with the sadness and confusion largely behind me… I miss that weird place. I miss fluffing my butterfly duvet cover and putting my things away in the closet that had white barn doors, and just being there, in my very own spot.
There’s a place in LA called the Women’s Center for Creative Work and last week I took a class there called Feminist Business School. It gave me a lot of food for thought, but the bon mot I’ve thought of most often since is this from the instructor: “I’ve seen a lot of women sabotage themselves because they try to predict and protect, instead of building adaptive systems.”
Predict and protect. Man. That’s as much a part of me as nesting. And I’m starting to see how the two combine.
I felt good in that studio because I could predict how I would feel if someone intruded on my space and then I could protect my solitariness. If I locked the gate, there would be no knocks on my door. Maybe my nostalgia is for having a place where I could cut myself off on the reg.
For work I edit a lot of interviews, including one with a charismatic cellist who said he likes long flights, like ones to Australia, because it’s quiet and peaceful and “no one can get at you.”
When there’s a chance someone could get at me, I switch into full “predict and protect” mode. And I’m starting to see why that’s a bad thing.
So what am I afraid of? What am I protecting myself from?
I believe I’m protecting myself from situations where I could be surprised by the behavior of another person. Now that I can put that into words, I’m seeing it pop up in patterns throughout my life and way of being.
In my nest, I am safe. I can make it comfy, fluffy and fun. I can see things I like to look at, I can cook, I can craft, I can chat with my girlfriend and bring her cocktails. I can order a “home camping set” and make indoor s’mores. If someone knocks on the door, I can’t predict what will come next and my instinct is to protect myself from invasion.
When I still lived at home and the phone would ring, my mom would shout: “if it’s for me, tell them I’m not here.”
Predict and protect.
Since that class, I’ve been reminding myself to be adaptive and to build adaptive systems. The funny thing is, I’ve always thought that being able to move so frequently and get settled quickly makes me adaptive. I can adapt. But I’m not adaptive. I think there’s a difference there and it’s something I want to work on.