Old routines

Thirteen months ago I was a jobless newcomer to this city. It was mid-June when I moved into my rented room with a spare key that my roommate kept outside. He was out of town for work, and instructed me over the phone how to let myself in. (Actually, we hadn’t even met in person yet; an astounding degree of mutual trust was required for this arrangement to succeed.) The house was mine for weeks at a time, including a comfy bed and every amenity in the living room, kitchen, garage, basement and shared bathroom. I’d sold all my furniture and many other possessions before leaving California, so this was an ideal living situation. There were grocery stores down the street and a 24-hour taco joint a block away in case I wasn’t up for cooking, which I typically wasn’t. Using the stove never sounds like a good idea during summer in a house with no air conditioning.

I was lucky enough to remain unemployed for just three weeks, but I was a little sorry for that period of freedom to end. I developed a semblance of a daily routine. In the mornings I would brew some Kona coffee that I’d recently brought home from Hawaii. Until that, year I’d never drunk coffee at all. Even after I started I found most of it too bitter, but I could drink large quantities of the Kona stuff from Kyle’s wide-mouthed OPB souvenir mug. The whole morning ritual was new to me—measuring out the grounds, pouring in a few cups of filtered water, and letting the machine drip while I wandered across the hardwood floors in my pajamas. Breakfast had to be put off for a while because I wanted to drink my coffee while the house and its atmospheric envelope were still relatively cool. I savored the novel buzz I got from the coffee, although it was clearly less healthy than deriving energy from breakfast foods.

If my roommate was home that week he’d be out in the garage by the time I got up, working on some project, or having a cigarette on the front porch screened by trees and a small ornamental garden. (Some of the tall-growing flowers were still trampled from my move-in, when my dad unfortunately used the garden as a shortcut to the garage.) I’d be on the porch or in the sunlit dining nook, using his wi-fi to browse the Web or chat with my boyfriend before starting on the day’s job search. I had a binder full of materials that I’d started compiling months earlier in California: notes from informational interviews, names and phone numbers, copies of application letters and letters of inquiry, and resumes. The contacts I’d made ahead of time weren’t offering any prospects yet. I spent a few hours each day calling the firms I was interested in and responding to online job listings.

I’d worked so hard at my search before leaving California, though, that I wanted to ease up my efforts for a while. When I started to get antsy I would take off, waving goodbye to Kyle and cycling toward unknown destinations. My elation at being in a new city outweighed my concern about finding a job. I explored Portland during the day, and on long evenings I spent time with the boyfriend or the roommate or the living room TV. Things in my personal life had fallen together just the way they needed to be at the time—not perfectly, but well enough to give me a beautful welcoming. The beginnings of my new professional life materialized soon afterward. Emptiness began to make itself known. At night I stayed awake late enough to listen to the BBC’s World Service on my bedside radio, distracting myself from the question of what this new life was really supposed to look like. A couple of months later I was in my own apartment, single again, utterly lacking in furniture and other steady things.

The period between then and now is brimming with stories of its own. The sky has shifted overhead, as it does every so often, placing me under a new segment of the universe. Old routines are nothing but memories, and I haven’t established any new ones besides hitting the Snooze button twice every morning and listening to NPR news while eating a bowl of cereal. Other than giving in to particular comforts, I tend to resist routine. Memories, however, are nearly always welcome. There’s one narrow beam of light still reaching out from last summer’s sky. It’s a pale glow from the digital face of my clock-radio, carrying voices from the BBC as they read the news on those late nights when I am restless and need to remember that the world is always turning.

Leave a comment


  1. Semantic

     /  July 18, 2009

    I hope this doesn’t sound offensive, but I’m drawn to your posts despite the fact that they’re essentially about nothing (or have some sort of vague, veiled message). You’re very eloquent. That’s hard to pull off.

    That job hunt sounds familiar to me… because I’m currently in the midst of it. Just started, really. I’m fresh out of college. I hope I can find a job as quickly as you did. I have a great resume compared to many of my peers, but I don’t think that’s going to help me much.

  2. kristenpdx

     /  July 20, 2009

    Thanks for the compliment, and good luck on your job hunt!

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