Living It Up in 2019 by Christina Knowles

fullsizeoutput_17a3Where do I start? It’s been a busy year, probably the most eventful year I’ve had in over ten years. Let’s see, I studied Spanish and math, math very extensively and not my best subject. I took the five-hour WEST-B test and got my Washington and Oregon state teaching licenses, even though I really didn’t want to teach anywhere.

Call it a mid-life crisis about ten years late. I was unhappy with teaching but felt trapped, trapped in my job, trapped in my house, trapped in a life that I knew wasn’t my best life. It was a good life, but as old age begins creeping upon us, we start analyzing our lives to see if the way we are living is good enough—good enough that “when it came time to die, I would not discover that I had not truly lived” as Thoreau put it in Walden (Thoreau, Ch. 2, Walden). Yes, I decided, it was time to “live deliberately” (Walden) because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, and I wanted something more.

I needed a change, a big change. It turns out my husband needed a change too, but for different reasons. He, too, was trapped in a job, but not because he didn’t enjoy the work. It was because he couldn’t be who he truly felt he was there, but he felt stuck, thinking he made too much money to quit and start over somewhere else in his fifties. Moving 1,500 miles away with me would be the catalyst he needed to make the change, so we agreed.

We sold our house and lots of our stuff, and we packed up our things, too many of our things, and put the dog and cat in the car and headed to the great Pacific Northwest. I took a teaching job in Oregon, not that I wanted to teach, but we weren’t so brave that we’d move that far without a job waiting. Call it Kismet or the Universe listening to my plea, or just plain luck, but when we got to Oregon, the job completely sucked! I mean, it was the worst job I ever had, and because it was so completely intolerable, it was my catalyst to finally leave teaching and pursue a different life, a life where I worked to live instead of living to work.

fullsizeoutput_17a6Through some connections with some wonderful people, I’ve been able to begin living the life I imagined. I now work at home. I have several different gigs—one for a company that’s very steady and has benefits, another that is regular and part-time but wonderfully creative, and the others are creative and sporadic. I’m a freelance writer and editor, I work at home with my dog and cat next to me, and I decide when and where I work. I never wake up to an alarm anymore. I wake up naturally with the sun. Sometimes I work in my pjs, sometimes I clock out for lunch and take a walk among the beautiful trees in Oregon, and go home refreshed to finish working. I take the same days off my husband does, so we can go to the beach, the mountains, or the falls, or just sit around together, watching movies.

Don’t get me wrong. It was hard, really hard. We left a beautiful house we had spent a lot of time making just how we wanted it. We left our close friends and family. We left security and better wages. We bought a house that needed everything, and we have to work on it way too much. We have to be careful with our money. We have to make friends (We have already met some great people we’ve been hanging out with). I’ve given up a lot, but I know it was the right thing to do.

I know because if it comes time for me to die ten years from now, five years, a year, I’ll know that I’ve been living, really living, the way I want to live. Even if my time comes next week, I know I spent my time doing what I want, being who I am, and my husband is able to live an authentic life, being himself. Nothing feels better than that. It really is a wonderful life, but sometimes you do need to leave to find the life you couldn’t allow yourself to live in that other place. Sometimes you have to just be bold to become bold.fullsizeoutput_17a5

Maybe someday I’ll move back, probably not, but if I do, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be a person who refuses to settle. I’ll be brave. I’ll be free. I won’t ever be trapped again, but the amazing thing is, I think I’ve learned how to be brave and free anywhere. For now, I’m loving the beautiful Pacific Northwest and the dramatic beauty of Oregon, where I learned to truly live “and as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me” (Whitman, Section 49, Song of Myself) whilst I walk among the ancients as my true self. I can’t wait to see what this year brings. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

References:

Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Found in Writing America: Language and Composition in Context, edited by David A. Joliffe and Hephizibah Roskelly. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 132-133. Print.

Excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, c. 1900. Bartleby.com, 1999.

Bad Neighbors by Christina Knowles

'Normally I'd be optimistic that we could work out a little problem like this.'

We’ve all had that neighbor, the neighbor that makes us want to immediately put our house on the market and move. I’ve lived next door to this neighbor for the past seven years. They let their weeds grow, they do stupid, weird things like instead of fixing the fence, they nail brand new boards to the broken down posts, adding more weight to something that already could not support the weight it had—even after we offered to go in with them, paying for half of it ourselves. They park rusted RVs that don’t run in their driveway for 6 months at a time. In the summer, they have parties in their backyard that start at 3 AM and go until about 7 AM—loud parties. But I can live with all of that without complaining. What bothers me is how they treat their dogs—and the fact, that I can never get a good night’s sleep in my own bed because of them.

They have several big dogs. At times there are up to five of them, but usually I only see two or three. I think the owner shares custody with her ex-husband, so they come and go. They have a large fenced backyard, but the dogs have to stay in about one quarter of the yard in a dog run. Within the dog run, there is a smaller caged area. I’m not sure what that is for, and thankfully, I’ve never seen any of the dogs in it. The dogs can run back and forth, but it looks really boring and not of adequate size for big dogs. In the dog run, there is a big plastic shed that takes up a lot of the space, and they do have a dog house for shelter. The ground is dirt, and there is no grass to roll in or trees for shade. In the summer, the people take them on a walk about once a week. I think the dogs are pretty bored and neglected, so I’m not blaming them, but at least one of them barks continuously all night.

My bedroom window is right next to their backyard—the side with the dog run. These dogs are out even on the coldest nights. Sub zero temperatures? They are out and bark even more, probably trying to stay warm.

At first, I politely went to their door to talk to them during the day. They did not answer, after clearly peaking through the window at me. Then I would ring the doorbell in the middle of the night in my bathrobe while the dogs were ferociously barking in the backyard. No answer, but the dogs would mysteriously disappear inside for about an hour. Then I escalated to ringing their doorbell over and over, ringing it perhaps twenty times in a row in the middle of the night. No answer. Next, I called the police, standing in my backyard, making the dispatcher listen to a chorus of five barking dogs at 4 AM. The police arrived, rang the door bell, the dogs mysteriously disappeared into the house. No answer—even for the cops. The police told me that since the barking had stopped, they couldn’t do anything about it. The dogs were released back into the yard twenty minutes after the police left and continued to bark all night. Next, I called the Humane Society when the dogs were barking all night in sub zero temperatures. They said if the dogs had a dog house, there was nothing they could do. I took to going over to their house as soon as my alarm went off in the morning at 4:45 AM to ring their doorbell twenty times whether their dogs were barking or not. This is what bad neighbors reduce you to—pathetic and childish retaliators, obsessed with revenge for lost sleep and neglected dogs. I didn’t like what I had become. Helpless anger has always been my most despised emotion.

I’ve had many suggestions; one that sounds great—shaming them publicly, which I guess I’m trying to do right now. The only problem is that I won’t reveal who they are or their address because I worry that if they end up getting harassed, then there may be legal ramifications for me—oh, the injustice! Also, giving out their address makes mine public by extrapolation. Despite my filling the internet with my personal business, I do appreciate some privacy. What to do, what to do?

My only weapon has ever been words, specifically the written word. I am going to write them a letter, detailing their crimes, and how these have affected my life. Specifically sleep! The lack of, by the way, my doctor has blamed for a recent stress angina I suffered. I should sue them! But, I will just make my case in written form, appealing to their common decency and educating them on the need for warm shelter for the other victims of their crimes—the poor dogs, who obviously are not content suffering through the winter in their stark, freezing, and boring dog pen. I wonder if they will care. Will they even read it? Perhaps, if I leave it on their doorstep on Christmas Eve with a plate of cookies, after ringing the doorbell thirty or forty times, of course.—Christina Knowles

Cartoon by Carpenter, Dave

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