Author’s Note: Readers, when I moved to Washington DC nearly six months ago, I did not come with the intention of starting a literary career. After all, who moves from New York City to Capitol Hill to do that? Seriously, I’d like to know so that I can involve them in our writers’ circle. But anyway, I have joked that the Hill is the harried New Yorker’s Walden Pond, given that it’s just peaceful enough to feel like the “country” and close enough to Downtown DC to satisfy our neuroses about being alone. So in the spirit of Walden, I channel Henry David Thoreau to tell you the tale of my move to DC. For those of you who have read Walden, this will be familiar terrain. Still, if you’d like a refresher, click here or maybe here.
At a certain season of life, we are accustomed to reflecting on the past and looking toward the future and having, as the sages say, a complete and total freak out. Some call this a “Quarter Life Crisis.” Some call it a “Third Decade Crisis.” I have lived through the former and to my utter consternation and disappointment have now found myself in the latter. And so in the year I turned a score and ten, I thought it a wise thing to explore the vast unexplored territories and live passionately and closer to the earth. I strove to move to Washington DC.
I have thus surveyed the city on many sides within a dozen miles of where I live. In my imagination I have rented apartments on the mount of Pleasant and circle of Dupont and leased English basements in the Heights of Columbia and rooms in Bloomingdale, for according to Craig, all were to be acquired, and I knew their price. My imagination carried me so far that I had the acceptance of several places. Alas, my hands were never stained with the ink of a signed lease. The nearest that I came to actual possession was for an “efficiency” on Kenyon and 13th NW. I had my paperwork and my deposit, but at the last minute decided that I didn’t want to live alone. With respect to living with others:
I searched for the version with the famous memoirist, Ms. Jones but alas, it was not to be disseminated in this fashion.
The real attractions of the efficiency on Kenyon to me were: its complete centrality to society, proximity to public transportation, establishments such as Target and Giant, and the ability to enjoy adult beverages with my compatriots from university. I was in a haste to lease it, before someone else had the chance to enjoy the neighborhood and abode. But it turned out as I have said.
The present was my next experiment. Having surveyed the heights of Columbia and the mount of Pleasant, I thought to explore that great and mighty Hill on which the Capitol stands. And now I propose to provoke lustily as Foghorn Leghorn, thrashing the neighbor’s dog while humming Camptown Races.
When I first took up my abode on the Hill, the house was old and in disrepair from weathering a century of use, renovation and a decade of bachelor inhabitation. The house is old and white and full of rooms and space that would make a Manhattanite flee her once-thought spacious apartment for the luxury and quiet of the Hill. To my imagination it was a manor house, reminding me of palatial estates I have visited in my youth. This was an airy, yet plastered abode, full of the ghosts of the past and potential of its new inhabitant.
I am seated a few blocks from the Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court, a history-nerd’s joy. I am steps from the Mall, for which I use to walk apace, because running hither and yon makes my legs look masculine and bulky. Fifty feet from my house is a green called Stanton Park, and behind the house in the schoolyard one can hear the cries and taunts of children as early as 10 in the morning, as well as passive-aggressive messages from the school principle over the loud speaker. “Don’t they ever learn anything?” I wonder to myself while sipping another cup of coffee and scowling over the backyard fence.
This backyard has been a valuable and dear companion during these months of funemployment and navel-gazing, when during freakishly hot March days, I sat outside and sunned myself while writing. The morning sun shines in the backyard, illuminating the grill and plastic Adirondack chairs, and blessing them with the glory that a fire-escape in Manhattan lacks. In the afternoons there is both shade and a proliferation of bumble bees, and though I know they’re as impotent as a housefly, still I run screaming from them whenever they light upon my coffee mug. From the hexagonal links in the chain fence I can see the trees lining 4th Street NE, and if I gaze but upward can see the dome of that mighty fortress of law and order, gleaming white in both the sun and moonlight.
Though the view from my vast and spacious bedroom is more contracted, I don’t feel caged in the least. There is territory enough for my imagination. The houses to the east and on either side of my bay window afford ample fantasies of my neighbor’s goings-on.
Every morning is a cheerful Paperless Post to make my life of equal simplicity with God himself. I have been a sincere worshiper of Jesus as the Greeks. I wake early, at half-past eight to brew coffee, read scripture, and journal; that is a religious exercise, and one of the best things that I do. They say that characters were engraved on the shower stall of Tobias Funke to this effect: “Blue thyself completely each day; do it again and again, and forever again. Oh and start a journal.” I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages, echoes of an increasingly distant past of busyness and work, buzzing like the faint hum of a mosquito. I am much affected by these mosquitos, as they serve as a reminder that the city in which I dwell was once a swamp and embody the last vestiges of the vampires that our sixteenth president spared.
‘The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.’ The part of us that catnaps for much of the rest of the day is shaken from its slumber with the morning. If we are not awakened by our Genius or neuroses, we spring to life at the chime of our smart phones. Little is to be expected of the day when anxieties shatter our slumber with their frantic screams for productivity and ambitions. That man or woman who does not believe that each day contains four-and-twenty sacred hours in which to celebrate existence, they have yet profaned life and are descending into a dull and darkened way.
I went to the Hill because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential Facts of Life and see if I could not learn what Mrs. Garrett had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the milkshake of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like, as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God and have somewhat hastily discarded the idea that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”