i threw my back out the other day & writing has been a challenge since then. i can’t use my right arm much without excruciating pain. i’m seeing a new orthopedic specialist tomorrow to try to work out a more consistent treatment plan for my arthritis, so…good timing, i guess. this might also get in the way of shipping distro orders. i can’t really haul a courier bag full of distro orders to the post office when i can hardly even raise myself into a sitting position. it’s probably the courier bag full of distro orders that fucked up my back in the first place. one more reason to be relieved that the distro is almost over.
on with the ghosts of history!
the winter of 2005 was pretty brutal. very cold & very snowy. i decided i was totally over boston & that i wanted to move away. i considered the bay area, but figured it was too expensive. i considered philly, but was put off by what i knew of the already tight-knit social/activist scene there. i don’t get along well with people & didn’t feel like living somewhere where i’d have to struggle to make social in-roads. i considered new orleans, but i knew that shy former roommate might want to move with me (because i apparently forgot that living with her was a nightmare in several ways) & i knew she didn’t want to live in the south (too hot). i settled on minneapolis. am i brilliant or what? escaping the snow & ice of new england by moving to even snowier, icier minnesota. but i wasn’t moving until the springtime (after the 2005 skillshare conference was over) & i was intrigued by the minneapolis public transit system & its proximity to the mississippi river & the fact that there were a lot of punk houses & activist-y projects going on there, without a seemingly impenetrable social scene. i pitched it to shy former roommate & she was on board. we wrote up an ad & posted it on the minneapolis craig’s list & lucked into two bedrooms in a seven-room punk house for about $200 a month each. we started packing.
i broke the news to the ladies in the reproductive health collective & was met by near-total indifference. i don’t know what happened with that group. maybe it was ideological differences? some of them were pretty tight-lipped about the fact that we were studying menstrual extraction–a procedure that is not illegal. since we weren’t doing anything illegal, i didn’t see the point in acting like we were. it seemed self-aggrandizing. what’s the point in learning a simple & effective d.i.y. abortion method that can do the most good for low-income women who can’t afford abortion clinics if you’re just going to share it with your relatively privileged friends who CAN afford abortion clinics? luckily, it didn’t matter anymore, because i was moving, & i was busy with the skillshare until the move happened.
i seem to recall that the reproductive health collective did a workshop on, well…reproductive health, at that skillshare, & when someone asked about menstrual extraction, one of the women went out in the hallway. she was that distraught at the idea of talking about menstrual extraction in public.
i also tabled the distro at the skillshare (i intended to move it with me to minneapolis & had enlisted my friend ericka to secure a post office box for me) & met a dude. i figured we could have a little romance before i left town, but the dude ended up being a little more intense than i expected. i have a bad track record of just kind of going with it when a dude decides to be serious & intense in a relationship, regardless of my own personal feelings or if i am splitting town or what. i didn’t consider staying in boston for him, but i did foolishly think that having a long-distance relationship might be “fun”. even though long-distance relationships are never fun.
to top it off, the new dude i was seeing was somehow connected to shy former roommate in a complex manner i won’t get into, & she AGAIN blew her top when i told her i was dating him. even though we’d both put down security deposits on the house in minneapolis, rented a moving truck, & were supposed to leave in like two weeks, she backed out & vowed never to speak to me again. mostly i felt relieved that she was never going to talk to me again, but i don’t know how to drive & didn’t know how i was going to get my stuff to minneapolis. & her backing out on the room made me look bad, because now the minneapolis folks would have to scramble to fill her spot. uncool.
i sold or gave away most of my furniture, including my bed. i gave my bed to my roommate kristie, with the directive that it would be returned to me in the event that the whole minneapolis thing didn’t pan out & i moved back to boston within three months. she agreed. i flew to minneapolis with my cat in a sherpa bag under the seat in front of me. i had to take her out of the bag & carry her through security. thank god she didn’t leap out of my arms & run away to hide in the bowels of logan airport.
minneapolis wasn’t bad. my roommates were okay. i liked some more than others, but that’s to be expected. some of them had read my zines before & that was cool. i met other folks out there & found interesting projects to involve myself in. i attended a radical cheerleading meeting or two. i tabled with ericka at the twin cities zine fest (just her distro, not mine). i went to the library almost everyday. i borrowed a tiny children’s bike & wobbled around town on it. but it had never been my intention to move to minneapolis alone & i didn’t feel entirely comfortable there. in boston, i had completely free health care. in minneapolis, i had to go off my meds because i couldn’t afford them. i couldn’t afford therapy. i certainly couldn’t afford physical therapy. i tried to take care of myself, but i didn’t really have an infrastructure in place to do that. it’s one thing to treat your own UTI. it’s another thing to monitor & treat your own debilitating bone degeneration, you know? & i was in a weird place in my life where not being able to just be tough & take care of myself made me feel shitty, like i was less of a good punk or a good anarchist than the perfectly healthy people around me that didn’t have to deal with the problems i had.
i threw in the towel & moved back to boston after two months.
& i didn’t get my bed back! the day before i decided to move back to boston, kristie had given my bed to her roommate jen, letting her know about the three-month condition. but jen ignored it & refused to give me my bed back when i came back to boston. i still had a key to her house & said i’d just come & take it while she was at work, so she stationed her boyfriend on the corner to look for me & tried to get the landlady to change the locks. what a little drama queen. i found a bed in the basement of my new house, so i just took that one instead & called it a day, but i never forgot about jen, the bed-stealing pseudo-artist. record bowls are not art, sorry. nor are hideous plasticized dragonfly wind chimes or whatever the fuck else she was getting up to in art school.
so i was living in a new place, pretty close to inman square. it was a pretty stellar location. i started a new journal & rode my bike to 1369 (a coffeeshop) everyday, rain or shine, to write. oh, & the long-distance romance dude & i broke up literally about two weeks after i moved back to boston. so i had that going on. i re-kindled a friendship with shy former roommate after the break-up because i just don’t know when to say when, apparently. she was living in the bay area by that point, so at least we didn’t have to try to socialize in person.
moving back to boston was a weird adjustment. i was living with a woman i’d already lived with for more than a year at my old collective house, but we weren’t getting along. maybe it was because she was doing a lot of coke? i have never been good at dealing with people when they are on drugs. she would sneak into my room & use my computer when i wasn’t home, which really bothered me. i am really big on privacy & personal space (another way that i have often been made to feel that i am a bad anarchist). i told her a million times: ask first. i’d probably say yes. just ask first. but she wouldn’t. i finally couldn’t take it anymore & started looking for a new place to live. i was also back in therapy & attending a day program to try to figure out how to take care of myself & structure my days. i was having a very bad mental & physical health spell. i started working hard on writing a new zine & i got an accordion. i started taking accordion lessons from this crazy anarcho-punk dude. we’d meet somewhere & he’d try to teach me music theory for an hour, & then we’d spend an hour talking about depression. he even convinced me to go to a weird jam night once, which is so not what i am about. i mean, there was a dog there. & a woman with bells on her skirt. & later a strange woman invited me for tea in her attic & when her roommate came home, she tucked herself into the closet to go to sleep. it was like a weird russian fairy tale.
i found a new house in brighton, with a bunch of kids who seemed okay, even if they weren’t punks or especially political. but you know, i wasn’t having the best luck with punks or political types & mostly just wanted a room that would be private. mission accomplished. i painted it cotton candy pink with hot pink trim, moved in an enormous steel desk (big enough to sleep on), started training to volunteer at the lucy parsons center (anarchist infoshop) & started volunteering at the papercut zine library in cambridge. i spent the winter doing volunteer sessions, going to therapy, reading a lot of books, & working on expanding the distro.
remember the bed i found in the basement? well, it started making me sick. i guess maybe it had mold in it, but i didn’t know that at the time. i came down with whooping cough, but i didn’t realize it was whooping cough. i tried to power through–my friend from memphis had just moved to boston & we were spending a lot of time together. we’d meet up at her house, pre-game it with some whiskey & MTV on demand, & then go out to an 80s dance night, or a queer dance night, or a queer karaoke night, or a party, or something. i started drinking on a regular basis for the first time ever–not a lot. maybe once or twice a week. it was fun. i felt relaxed for pretty much the first time ever. i was learning how to make small talk & be casually social. sometimes i felt sad that i wasn’t really forging any connections with anyone–hard to do when you’ve had five shots in the last two hours & everyone is dancing to “toxic” by britney spears. but it was something new & different in my life & i was happy to explore it.
when the first bout of whooping cough went away, i started smoking–something else i’d never done. i had friends that were smokers & smoking always seemed to calm them down when there was some kind of drama afoot. & it seemed like there was ALWAYS drama afoot in my life. my house in brighton backed out on to a beautiful park with a pond in it. a flock of swans lived in the pond. when the weather was okay, i’d sit on the back fire escape & chain smoke & look at the pond. it was very peaceful. it did help me calm my anxiety.
the friend from memphis & i had a falling out when i suggested we spend time together doing things that didn’t involve going out & partying–maybe some craft nights or something. the drinking & dancing was fun for a while, but i didn’t like being hung over & i wanted to spend more time doing creative things. she thought i was implying that she had an alcohol problem, &…that was that. i occasionally saw her around for the next few years & tried to say hello a few times, but she was always very gifted at holding a grudge, whether it was warranted or not. we’d been friends for about ten years, so losing that friendship wasn’t easy for me.
i started picking up more & more shifts at papercut & the lucy parsons center. even though sitting in an infoshop or library all day isn’t the most exciting, social thing you can do with your time, it made me feel like i was connected to something bigger than myself. i especially enjoyed the zine library, because i got to talk about zines with everyone who came in. what i did not like about the zine library was two other women who volunteered there. one night at a collective meeting, one of the woman observed that i was being uncharacteristically quiet. i said i was just a little hungry, & i got out a candy bar i’d bought & started eating it. she said i was probably depressed because of all the sugar i ate. that’s a little rude, don’t you think? that was probably the first time i’d ever eaten anything in front of her, & in my experience, few things get people as defensive as questioning their food choices.
these women decided that the library needed to be wheelchair accessible, which…fair enough, but we didn’t own the building we were in & were not the people who made decisions about construction. they decided they’d just build a ramp themselves, building owners be damned. there were some arguments, but after a few weeks, the rest of the collective talked them out of it (it probably would have gotten us kicked out of our space). another time, one of them came in to check on the phones. she asked how i was & i said fine. she flew off the handle at me for not asking how she was. she said i obviously hadn’t been “raised properly”. i offered to get my mom on the phone so this woman could tell her that directly. they just brought a lot of drama, all in the guise of wanting us all to “communicate in loving & respectful ways”. i would not describe myself as a “loving” person–i am a straightforward & direct person, which seemed to often conflict with their ideas about what it meant to be “loving”. i didn’t appreciate having people take issue constantly with the WAY i said things, instead what i was actually saying. i did make an effort to never be unnecessarily rude or bullying & i felt that should be plenty.
anyway, it all came to a head when the collective decided to have a chat with me about how sometimes i am “intimidating”. *yawn* tell me something i’ve never heard before. what does it mean to be intimidating? it doesn’t mean that i am mean or cruel or bossy. it means that other people find me intimidating. i can take certain steps to avoid intimidating others–making a conscious effort to fully listen to & consider their ideas, not raising my voice, not making unnecessarily sarcastic or snarky comments, etc. but in my experience, people are always going to be intimidated by confident women with strong opinions, & there is nothing i can do about that unless i change myself in ways that don’t make me comfortable.
i quit the collective. i was bummed about it, but i felt there were some personal attacks flying around & i didn’t have the patience for it.
i was also invited to move into a new collective house in may, & i accepted. i’d met my new roommate at the most recent skillshare & it seemed like we had a lot in common & would get along pretty well. what i DIDN’T know until months later is that i was paying about $150 more in rent than anyone else in the house–i was basically brought in to subsidize cheap rent for everyone else. my roommates were the skillshare kid & a crusty punk couple who shared a large room with their three dogs. the couple paid something crazy like $575 a month–less than $300 a month. that is LUDICROUSLY cheap for boston. i was paying over $500. when i found out, i agitated for us to even out rents so we all paid more or less the same amount, as had been the case in every other collective house i’d ever lived in (except for one, where there were very appreciable differences between the rooms). everyone refused. they all seemed to think i should pay more because i was on disability, even though my disability payments were about the same as what they made at their jobs. they all seemed to think i was somehow scamming the government by being on disability & should pay more rent as a result. i wish i would have moved out right then…but i didn’t.
the thing was, i liked my roommates. they were fun. we went out dancing & drinking together. we could sit around & shoot the shit. the crusties with the dogs were unbelievably responsible about housework. i wanted to keep living with them, but i wanted things to be fair financially. it was a tricky situation. we finally worked something out so my rent went down by $30 or something–still not enough to be entirely fair, but i thought maybe i could work on getting it lowered more down the line, & i could appreciate the company of my roommates in the meantime.
the distro was going really well. i launched a series of interviews with zinesters, i had a few romantic intrigues, i finished my first new zine in four years. the skillshare was also going well. a few new people had gotten involved & their contributions intrigued me. the event was more popular & well-attended than ever. it felt like it was becoming a boston institution & i had started it. i was pretty proud of myself. i also started drinking coffee in 2006. a former roommate got me hooked on iced lattes. so much of my year was spent sipping an iced latte, chainsmoking, & staring into space. my new house had a pool & there were a few nice nights laying in floating chairs in the pool, gossiping with my roommate. how, how i loved (& still love) to gossip.
i remember very little of new year’s eve 2007. there was a party, they played “i feel love” by donna summer, there was an over-sized bottle of champagne, & the next thing i knew, it was 2am & i was being dumped on the couch back at my own house. crusty dude roommate asked my friend angela if she wanted to go back to the party with him (she was at my house for some reason) & i said, “nooooo! angela! don’t do it! don’t ruin 2007! don’t be like me!” i had the worst hangover in the world the next day–i didn’t get out of bed (a loft bed, by the way–i’d finally gotten rid of my moldy bed after coming down whooping cough FOUR TIMES in 2006) until 5pm. the house was full of people & one of them was nice enough to run out & get me an iced latte.
so, 2007–not off to the best start. but it can only go up from there, right? i was in this anarcha-feminist reading group, but things were kind of tough. i read a lot–a lot more than the average person. i read maybe four or five books a week. so it was difficult for the reading group to suggest a book i hadn’t already read, & a lot of times, they just kicked back & waited for me to suggest a book. i was okay with re-reading books, but sometimes i felt really disappointed with our discussions. mostly it all boiled down to one woman in the collective that i just could not handle. all she ever did was yammer away about being polyamorous & the beauty myth & all this trite, boring bullshit that was probably pretty exciting to me when i was 19, but i turned 28 in 2007. i finally bowed out of the reading group because i worried that my feelings about it were too informed by unconstructive criticism & impatience & the other people in the group didn’t need that. i encouraged them to continue without me, but i heard the group fell apart not long after.
as always, the first half of the year was devoted to pulling the skillshare together. collective meetings, advertising, soliciting for workshops. i was feeling good about it this year–i was into the house where i was living, i liked my neighborhood, i was still volunteering at the lucy parsons center, i was making some new friends. the boston zine fair rolled around in march & i was psyched to tell people about the skillshare, hand out flyers, get some workshop submissions, & of course, sell zines.
my friend david came to visit with me at my table for a while, & his brother, jared, showed up soon after. jared had been living in boston for only a few months, after spending several years living in philadelphia & finishing college. i’d met him before in passing, but we spent a lot of time together at the zine fair, talking about people we knew in common, zines, politics, etc. i mentioned i’d never been to philly before & he said he was going down in the next week or two with his friend bart & they could give me a ride i was interested. i was interested, so i went.
jared’s plans for philly fell through–friends unexpectedly out of town or out of touch. so he stayed where i stayed & since the folks i was staying with were busy all weekend at the trans health conference, jared & i had nothing to do but hang out together. kind of awkward, since we barely knew each other. it involved getting an early start on our drinking. but we wound up having a lot of fun–all G-rated. i came back to boston feeling like i had made a really awesome new friend. & a few days later, when we started kissing, i was not displeased. we decided to give dating a whirl, even though jared had applied to law school & might be leaving town precipitously, if he was accepted somewhere. but i felt okay about having a spring romance, even if it didn’t go anywhere.
of course, nothing can ever be that easy. there are a lot of social inter-connections in our collective past–a whole lot of people who felt entitled to an opinion about our relationship. this includes shy former roommate out in the bay area. i called her & broke the news to her & her reaction was truly epic–crying, screaming, all the classic hallmarks of our dysfunctional dynamic. she finally hung up on me & that was the last i ever heard of her, THANK GOD. i probably should have ended the friendship a lot sooner & spared her that last little bit of pain, but…shit happens. other people expressed their feelings by attempting to throw punches & other inadvisable activities. i really don’t enjoy drama. sometimes it just happens.
but jared & i were really happy with each other & eventually everyone calmed the hell down. the skillshare happened & it was a rousing success–maybe 300 attendees, some sixty workshops. jared did not get into law school & was pretty bummed for a while, but it gave him a chance to think more about what he wanted to do & he started getting ready to apply to history graduate programs. he was working as a bike courier at the time, so we pretty much only hung out on weekends. (the thing about dating a bike courier is that they invest huge amounts of physical labor in their jobs all day, in all weather. they come home & all they want to do is eat about 5000 calories & maybe read or play a video game, depending on their literacy engagement level. [jared was more the reading type, thank god.] then they go to bed at like 10pm, because they have to be back at work & in good physical & mental condition the next day at 9am. it’s not the most glamorous.) that gave me plenty of time during the week to focus on myself, the distro, writing, etc. i think this is the key to the success of our relationship. not spending all of our time together let us attend to the health of our other friendships, & it gave us something to talk about when we did hang out.
in june, i took a bus up to halifax to do the anchor archive zinester residency program for three weeks or so. all i did while i was up there was work. i had decided to do a logic puzzle zine & i was teaching myself how to write the puzzles–not as easy as it seems. all my puzzles were punk/anarchist/zine-themed, which made it a lot more fun, but each puzzle still took about twelve hours to write, & i wanted to write 25. i met some very cool, interesting people in halifax, & was really inspired by the anchor archive project, & the silkscreening studio, & the community photocopier, etc etc, but everyone in halifax was blown away by how much i worked on my damn puzzles. i finally finished, made copies, & we had a bonfire to celebrate.
over the summer, i became very dissatisfied with my housing situation. the roommate i’d met at the 2006 skillshare had stopped talking to me. i think she said something about thinking i was self-involved. how could anyone who is spilling approximately 20,000 recounting the last ten years of her life be self-involved? oh wait. yeah, anyone who has ever tried to live with someone with whom they are not speaking knows it’s no picnic. plus she was getting ever more into puppetry & vegan food politics & the trappings of anarcho-punk that i find the most horrifying & distressing. god, i hate puppets with every fiber of my being. & goddamn, i loathe veganism. i still had the other roommates, but the lady half of the crusty couple was running pretty hot & cold with me as well. i never got a satisfactory answer out of her as to why sometimes she’d want to be my buddy & other times, she’d stalk around acting like i’d run over her best friend. i started looking for a new apartment.
it all came to a head when i got a new utility bill (by this point, all the utilities were in my name–somehow our electric had been cut off & no one else would put it in their name; i didn’t want to live like it was 1523, so i put it in my name) & posted the amounts that everyone owed me on the fridge, as usual. my roommates were notoriously bad at paying me for the utilities in a timely manner. i usually had to track them down & demand checks five days after the bills were due, which was increasingly difficult because of the occasional not-speaking thing. so i made a note that said i’d be charging an extra ten cents for every day past the due date that i was not paid. i left & spent the weekend at jared’s house. when i came home, there was a note on the fridge kicking me out (we didn’t have a lease). & i don’t mean that there was a note on the fridge, maybe held up with a magnet or something. i mean that the lady crusty had actually written ON THE FRIDGE with permanent marker. something like, “dear ciara, you have until october 1 to find a new place to live. have a nice life.” or something. this was perhaps august 29.
i took a little walk & got really mad. then i found a new place to live. my move-in date was september 1–two days away. i packed everything up, jared borrowed bart’s car, & i moved. my former roommates were VERY displeased. they actually asked me, “are you still going to pay rent for september?” “why would i when i don’t live here anymore?” i asked. i don’t know what they wound up doing. the last time i ever spoke to any of them was a few weeks later when the dude crusty asked if i’d taken his pyrex baking pan when i moved out. i said (truthfully) that i hadn’t. he said i was lying & that he was going to turn me in for diability fraud. he was still hung up on his belief that somehow my whole disability thing was some huge scam. that was when i decided to stop speaking openly with people in my personal life about my disability issues & where my money comes from (though i am obviously trying to break that habit now). i led my new roommates to believe that the distro was my primary source of income. they were a pretty gullible bunch, so they bought it.
my new room was TINY…maybe six feet by eight feet. & it was stuffed full of a loft bed, all my distro zines, a desk, an armchair, a bookcase & all the books i owned, a dresser…it was intense. i kept everything i owned in my room. i didn’t have a closet. the other rooms in house were FAR bigger. one of them was probably five times bigger. my new roommates were not the greatest–a mix of art students & weird shady drug dudes. there was a pool table upstairs & it was often used until 5am. there was also a whole series of video game consoles up there–i HATE video games. there was a video game chair patterned with playboy bunnies. but my rent was dirt cheap (because of the tiny room), there was a sweet back balcony where i could chainsmoke & read books, & there was a coffeeshop just down the street for when i needed to escape. jared HATED that apartment. he refused to ever visit me there, so i spent a fair chunk of time at his house (about five blocks away).
i launched the paypal shopping cart system on the distro, with a postage-paid pricing system, & orders tripled overnight.
one of my roommates found a used hypodermic needle in the bathroom &, knowing that our most horrible roommate had a history of serious drug problems, we assumed he was back on the H. i lost my temper, packed all of my belongings, & moved into the house next door. it took about two hours. i didn’t even tell jared about it until a few days later. very dramatic. my rent was more expensive, but my room was bigger, i stacked the other bedrooms with a more tolerable, more interesting, cleaner, friendlier, & smarter cast of characters, & got busy launching the distro subscription program. i spent my weeks silkscreening, making one-off zines, & reading young adult fiction recaps on the internet, & my weekends drinking beers with jared & shooting the shit. it wasn’t a terrible life, but i knew it wasn’t sustainable. i never felt entirely calm. i hated having roommates, after all the shit i’d been through in the previous several years.
plus, even though things were okay with jared, they weren’t great. for most of the fall, i felt like we were on unsteady footing, & i think we both considered breaking up a lot. we even talked about it a time or two. we’d talk about breaking up & then we’d have a great time the next time we hung out. i felt like i didn’t know what to expect from any avenue in my life & it was very unsettling.
new year’s eve was a fucking disaster involving a friend threatening suicide & screaming at jared & i. it snowed a lot & i lost my cell phone.