When I got the notice that my library books were due in three days, I started reading them extra-ardently. Then I ran out of books to read. I was going to walk down to the library, but then Jenny’s friend Tatiane came over and we walked to Gucci Kroger instead.
I’ll just go tomorrow, I said to myself. The library is extremely close.
Not quite as close, though, as the church I went to the next day. Jenny went to Sunday School at the little nearby church she’d decided to check out the previous week, and I debated about whether or not I wanted to go to church at all. (Finding a church has been an ongoing struggle for me, which I wrote in detail about over on Patreon.)
But then I decided to just go, whatever. I walked over and everyone was extremely friendly.
One of the weirdest things about Blacksburg is that it feels like the town only exists to be a college town. At least from my vantage point, living so near campus and constantly surrounded by students.
No one seems to realize that I’m 31. Everyone here mistakes me for a student. Sometimes I wish I were a student, just so I could say, “I’m a student,” and not have to explain what I’m doing here.
I slipped in near the back of church and saw Jenny up front with the other college students. Afterwards I joined her and she introduced me to her pals. “So, how are you liking Blacksburg?” one of them asked.
I didn’t know how to answer. “Well…not as much as Jenny is,” I said.
“It grows on you,” she said. “Like a fungus. I hated my first year here but now I love it.”
Everyone gathered outside to eat, and I sat with Jenny at the college student table. I felt a bit out of place as they discussed dorms, teachers, and welcome week, but they were nice. Everyone at that church was friendly, old and young alike, and several expressed interest in my book so I guess I have to go back at least one more time.
Later, at home with the hot afternoon wind filling the apartment with humid air, I put my almost-due books into my backpack and headed for the library.
It looked pretty closed. Were they closed on Sundays? I looked at the times: open 1pm-5pm Sunday. It was 2pm. So what…
“The library is closed on Sunday,” said a man sitting on a bench to my left.
“Really?” I asked. And then I saw it… “closed on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”
I headed to the book drop slot, and as I returned my books I made a little dejected comment about having no more books to read.
The man on the bench, whose name ended up being “Bruce,” told me that I should just borrow some e-books. “I have the Libby app,” he said. “I’m legally blind, so I can’t read normal books anyway. With an e-book I can read it on my phone and make the words bigger.”
That’s how I ended up in a conversation with Bruce. He’d come to Blacksburg two years previously, he said, because the Holy Spirit told him to come here.
“Where do you go to church?” I asked.
He listed several he went to, and when I explained to him that I was still figuring out where I wanted to go, he recommended one to me. But I’m pretty sure he, too, assumed I was a college student, because when I looked it up later I saw that the service he’d recommended was the collegiate service. He also told me I should get involved with Cru.
Anyway. I told him I was jealous that the Holy Spirit told him exactly where to live. And he said, “just pray about it!” which I guess is good advice.
But it does feel, sometimes, like the Holy Spirit doesn’t always give super-specific directions. Or He’ll give super-specific directions in one area, but not others. Like, I’m very confident that I’m supposed to be a writer, and that I’m not supposed to be a traditional missionary like I intended when I first started college. At least, not right now.
But as to where I’m supposed to live? That remains unclear. Obviously I’m living in Blacksburg for at least a year, but I currently don’t feel any sort of perminance or sense of belonging.
I like to think I can fit in anywhere, but this first month in Blacksburg has been a struggle. I’ve never lived in a place where I was so expected to be something I am clearly not. And it’s hard to know, in that context, where I fit in.
I just realized I intended to focus this post on abundance, and instead went off about fitting in. Oops. Let’s get back to abundance.
So, I didn’t have a book to read that night. And not having a book to read is a very weird feeling. At home in Oregon I always have unread books on my bookshelf. If I don’t feel like reading any of them, I mine the bookshelves in the upstairs hallway, or Mom’s bookshelf in the office, or Amy’s bookshelf, or Jenny’s, or the piles of books on the coffee table in the living room.
Having an abundance of books is something I never thought about much until I didn’t have it anymore.
Right now our home is sparsly furnished. In my room I have an armoire that the previous tenants left behind, and a bed. That’s all.
I don’t mind the lack of a desk as much as you’d think. In college my desk was a little rolltop and my open laptop didn’t quite fit inside, so I did almost everything from my bed. A bad habit, probably, that’s supposed to make insomnia even worse, but nevertheless I’ve gone back to it.
But in college I had two tools I don’t have now: a nightstand, and a tray.
Now, every day my bed becomes littered with multiple books, notebooks, pens, my planner, and my laptop. Then I grab some tea and, where am I supposed to set it? If you set a mug on your bed it will tip over. So I put it on a notebook which is still precarious and will potentially leave rings or tip over and ruin it. Or I grab the lid from the big plastic bin where I store my skirts since I don’t have skirt hangers yet. (The bin also doubles as a laundry basket. We are very innovative over here.)
Come bedtime, it’s all just kind-of a mess.
What in the house can I use to solve my problems? I think over the options. We only have one little tray, and it’s mesh, so spilled tea would go straight through. Also we’re using it as a dish drainer.
And we really have nothing that can be used as a nightstand. My plastic tote already serves three functions and needs to be constantly moved around, opened, and closed. We have one metal rack in the kitchen, but if we move it we’ll have nowhere to put the microwave, not to mention the blender, crock pot, and toaster. And if we did have an extra metal rack it would go in the hall closet, which is a mess.
So I’m left with the options of shopping, keeping an eye on the dumpster, or doing without. Which is not what I’m used to. I’m used to abundance. In Oregon, if I needed a nightstand I would have so many options. I could fashion one from a crate I found on the porch, or go out to the playhouse and rescue the little set of shelves that used to hold towels above the toilet. I could dig into Mom’s abundant stash of trays. With enough creativity, I can find everything I need lying around the house somewhere. No need to make purchases.
I find it so interesting how the way one grows up affects how one views “stuff.” Mom and Aunt Margaret grew up in a family that was poor but super creative, and they both learned how to get everything one needed either free or cheap. This trait was also passed along to me. If I find a suit jacket lying in the middle of the street, I will rescue it and make something useful out of it. No shame.
However, they also grew up in a home where their needs were not always met. In consequence, they gather stuff around them, hanging on to things they may need in the future. In this way they have enough to not only meet their own needs, but meet other people’s needs as well.
I, on the other hand, grew up in a home where my needs were always met. Too much stuff stresses me out, so I try to keep as few things around as possible. I like to travel with only a backpack, and move across the country with only my little Toyota, leaving enough space to still see out the back window.
It works for me, because I always assume that the world is full of abundance. Someone will leave what I need in the dumpster, or I’ll find it cheap at a garage sale, and I can survive without a nightstand until I find one for free on the Facebook buy nothing page. But I only think this way because my needs have always been met.
Even moving here, we didn’t have much, and it was Aunt Margaret’s abundance that saved the day.
Spending money has always been a struggle for me, although I have gotten better in this area. I work hard to avoid being stingy if anyone besides myself is affected, but when it’s just me, figuring out how to do without is a fun adventure. But sometimes it leads to slightly ridiculous situations.
For instance: Last September, I was camping with my siblings in southern Oregon, and as I camped I began to wish that I could work in beautiful places like this. But I wasn’t about to drag a heavy fragile laptop up a mountain with me. Besides, my laptop battery only lasts a few hours. And it’s extremely hard to see the screen in bright daylight. You have to turn your brightness up 100% and squint, and that drains your battery even faster.
So I googled for a solution, and that’s how I found out about the AlphaSmart. It was perfect–basically a keyboard with the sort of screen you typically find on calculators. It was lightweight, sturdy, had batteries that lasted for months and maybe years, and you could use it in bright daylight.
I knew that I wanted to buy it. I wrote “buy an AlphaSmart” on my to-do list for October. But it was August before I bought one. Yep–I waited almost a year. I don’t know why. It’s silly. If I feel like I can do without something I have a really hard time actually buying it, even if I want it.
The AlphaSmart showed up just in time, though, because my computer cord finally gave up the ghost. It had been sketchy for a while, but I’d always been able to make it work. But last Thursday I thought, “you know, I really should get a new cord before I end up in a sticky situation.” So I bought one, and then the old cord promptly died for good.
Amazon takes forever to ship to Blacksburg for some reason. (I just think of the poor overworked Amazon drivers pooping in plastic bags and try not to mind the delays.) But in the meantime I’ve been writing on the AlphaSmart. Friday I wrote a Patreon post (the one about church), and then Jenny let me borrow her laptop to transfer and post it. I also at times used the library computers to transfer stuff to my Google Drive.
There’s an area near campus where the street is closed off, and they’ve set up picnic tables and tents. It’s quite nice, kind-of like a town square. I went there to write on Monday, and as I was composing this blog post, pontificating about abundance, a guy stopped and looked at me with delighted recognition.
Do I know him? I thought. Maybe he’s friends with Jenny?
Then he said, “Is that an AlphaSmart?!”
“Yes!” I said.
He’d had an AlphaSmart when he was a kid, he said, and hadn’t thought about it in years. So I told him that they’re becoming popular with writers. He asked what I was writing. I said, a blog post about moving to Blacksburg. “No way!” he said. “I also just moved here!”
I asked his name, and he said something that sounded like “Zhan Flip.” I repeated, questioning, feeling like I’d missed something. “It’s French, I’m from Quebec,” he said.
“Oh cool, I’m also Canadian,” I said. “But I don’t know French.” (As if that wasn’t obvious.)(His name, for the record, was actually Jean-Philippe.)
I asked if he’s a student, and he tried to explain his situation. He’d graduated a while back and now worked remotely. But his brother was going to Virginia Tech. So he thought he might as well come live with his brother in Blacksburg.
I. Kid. You. Not. “No way!” I said. “Me too! My sister’s a student and I work as a writer so I moved here too!”
Of course after that series of remarkable similarities we were instantly friends. He set his laptop down and we just sat there and worked for a while. Like we were co-workers. It was very nice.
I think, after all, that the mushroom girl was right. Blacksburg is growing on me, like a fungus.
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