# The Magic Number

36 is a number.  To be precise, it is a square number. 6 to the power of 2. 6×6=36.

36 is three dozen. That’s a lot of bagels or buns or eggs or cookies. Why are perishables sold by the dozen? Is it because there are 12 hours on an analogue clock, and their time is slipping away? Bakers always throw in a bonus five or 10 minutes.  A dash of time.

36 is a magic number.  It’s divisible by 9, and when you multiply any number by 9, then add together the integers of the product, the sum always equals nine. 9 x 4= 36 and 3 + 6 is nine. Nine always returns back to it’s origin, home, without fail. Like a circle. Like magic.

36 is also my age.  That’s me. Perishable. Magic. Simultaneously a circle and a square.

Also, I’ve come home.

I left Arizona when I was 19. Although, I didn’t so much move away as extract and catapult myself 3000 miles across the country, leaving an abscessed pustule behind, in the collective heart of my parents.

The Short Story is: I met a boy.

The Long Story is: I met a boy, moved to Massachusetts, lived with his family for several months, saved up money working at a bakery, went to Europe, came back, worked at a photo lab, moved to New Mexico, attended film school, got a cat, worked at a cheese shop, worked at a camera store, became a projectionist, graduated film school with honors, went to Europe to visit my folks who were teaching in Albania, got engaged, came back to the states, moved to Oregon, married the boy, started working in the film business, got divorced, continued to work, had another relationship, took a year off from work, went to Central America, came back, learned to teach yoga, learned to speak Spanish, learned meditation, returned to work, broke up with my boyfriend, and then…my cat died. After that I worked another six months before quitting my job, falling in love one last time, selling all my belongings, moving out of my beloved apartment, and driving back to Arizona, where I would stay with my parents while planning an open-ended trip around the world.

Elapsed time: 17 years.

Of course, there is also the Really Long Story, which is the truth.

That, I’m sure, will unfold over time.

Home. What does that mean? My parents now live in Tucson, four hours south of Prescott, where I grew up. I’m in a city where I’ve never before lived, so am I really home? It’s admittedly strange to be in Arizona again, a place that I always felt was too spiny for my softness, too dry for my thirst.

Is Arizona home? Is Prescott? Tucson? Are mom and dad home? Am I, in reality, a person of the desert? Do I belong here?

When I left Portland, I wanted to sneak out the back door, unnoticed. I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was going or say goodbye or even leave a note. I wanted to disappear without a trace.

Truthfully, I feel hurt by that city, and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it is because that is where I suffered heartbreak after heartbreak, where my job beat the life out of me, where I was depressed and isolated, exhausted, where I learned the foolishness of hope, developed chronic pain in my hip, got an eating disorder, euthanized my cat, didn’t make art, hardly wrote, felt like nobody really knew who I was or genuinely cared about me, was afraid, suicidal, anxious, filled with self-hatred, and terribly alone. Maybe that’s the reason.

I don’t know if any of that is Portland’s fault, or just mine.

It doesn’t matter. It happened.

And if it was Portland’s fault, maybe Portland didn’t really mean it.  Maybe it wasn’t personal.

Still, when I think of living there again, my organs flinch a little, like someone is threatening to poke at a deep sore.

I’ve been in Tucson for five weeks now, and I’ve got to say, living with my parents isn’t half bad. After living alone for 6 years, it’s nice being around other people. The best thing is that they are people who thoroughly know who I am, perhaps even more than I do.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I know that there are parts of myself that are unknown to my family, but I at least don’t have to always start at the beginning with every thing that I say. I don’t have to prove myself or defend anything. There are so many givens, things they already organically and intuitively know. I don’t have to fill in the back story. Maybe that is home.

About a week after my arrival in Arizona, I drove to Phoenix to have lunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in 18 years. I met her at her house, and when Lindsay opened the front door she said, “Oh my god, you look the same. Like, exactly the same.” She did too, except she was now pregnant. It was five days before her due date.

She drove us to a near by Mexican restaurant, and as we sat across from each other in the booth, I watched her long graceful fingers dissect a burrito while I tried to explain the latter half of my life.

When I talked about my time in Portland and what I did there I said, “Nobody who I’ve met in the last 10 years really knows that I’m an artist.”

Lindsay’s eyes widened with shock. “When I think of you, that is the only thing that comes to mind. That is you. That is what you are. You’re and artist.”

And I felt what she was saying, and I knew that it was true.

“Yeah,” I said, “But I’m afraid now. I’m so out of practice. What if I start painting and I’m no good anymore? And I’m not even sure why I would make art. What do I have to say? I don’t know what I have to say.”

Lindsay looked at me as if I were a stranger.

“No, really, though,” I protested, “Every time that I make something now, I look at it and get embarrassed. My work doesn’t match up with my ability or what I think my ability should be.”

“Are you finishing things?,” she asks, “or are you getting frustrated and giving up before they are done?”

“Giving up,” I say.

“You have to finish things. If you just keep going you can make it good. Things aren’t good until they’re done. It’s a process.”

Thank you.

Three days later, Lindsay gave birth to all little girl and named her June.

I worked in the film business for nine years, the last four of which were spent on episodic television. 9 years. 9.

I don’t know what to say about my job except that it was hard. Stupid hard. Tortuously hard. Magnificently, horrendously, painfully, hard. Also, I was fucking great at it. I was so good that the people surrounding me were convinced that it was what I was born to do. I was a total badass. Strong, confident, powerful, funny, smart, and durable. Like a quality machine.

But I was not born to do that job, not at all.  I was not born to stand for 15 hours a day, then get five hours of sleep before waking up to do it all over again; my body feeling like it had been stuffed full of needles during the night. Every joint swollen and aching, eyes bloodshot, puffy and sore.  I wasn’t born to live under the stress of the constant expectation of perfection. I was pretty good at being perfect, or at least impressive, but that level of vigilance has no longevity. I could feel an ever-increasing dark weight of decay spreading through by belly. My diaphragm was made of petrified charcoal. I couldn’t breathe. I felt trapped, like there was no escape. I was anxious, always anxious. I had never known anxiety before. My entire life became about stress management. My entire life became about testing the limits of my endurance.

My only choice was to leave.

What I decided to do was travel the world, the entire world, and be an artist, be a writer.

Because that is what I was born to do.

My last year of work was fueled by the knowledge that it would all be over soon. When we came back from Christmas break I began counting down the days until the end of the season. 72. 7+2=9

I remember telling a good friend from work that I was quitting my job and immediately he said, “Well, I don’t want you to go.”

“If you knew how hard this was for me,” I retorted, “you wouldn’t want me to stay another second.”

Although my inner emo teen wanted to give PDX the middle finger and run, that is not what I did. There are many many people there who melt my heart, and I made sure to see them all before I left and give the proper nod goodbye. Two days before my departure, my beautiful friends, Jackson and McKenna, kindly allowed me to throw a party in their families home. Friends came to give me their blessings and send me off with care.

McKenna bought kits for making friendship bracelettes and we sat on blankets in the grass and knotted threads and strung beads and I felt loved, I did.  Her three-year old son, Elliot, made me a necklace out of colored beads with letters on them which read “Eliza plus Elliot.” The word “plus” was spelled out just like that.

I remember exclaiming at one point, “Wow, all these people are opening to me just as I am leaving!”

“Eliza,” McKenna said, giving me a wicked sidelong smile, “We were always open to you, it was you who weren’t open to us.”

I think she was joking, but in the truthful kind of way, and I also think that to some degree she was right. I protect myself. The question is: why? Sometimes I know in my gut that it is justified and necessary, and sometimes it is more clear that I do it out of irrational fear.

Yet, maybe I squandered my chance to really find a home in Portland. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe.

But, no, that doesn’t have the ring of truth.

I think it’s more likely that it just wasn’t right, and like a dying relationship, I tried to make it work for too long.

Nah, that’s not it either.

My last month in Oregon was consumed with the task of sorting through the massive tower of crap which had become intertwined with my person, and redistributing said crap into the world.  As the dissemination of my material existence progressed, my apartment became more cavernous and hollow. Each room produced it’s own cold echo, the volume of which increased exponentially with each passing day. The feeling inside went from a warm grey to clear.

Every item that I departed with held the weight of a careful emotional decision. I gave my grandmothers piano to a friend. Making it a gift was the gracious thing to do.  I sold my tiny couch to an enthusiastic group of twenty somethings who who’d never be able to fit on it at once. My sleigh bed was bought by a couple who had finally arrived home after living for three years in China. I made seemingly dozens of trips to the Goodwill, and when I no longer had the energy to allocate a new location for each treasure, I resorted to placing them at the base of the telephone pole outside my back door, like an offering. When even that began to take too much effort, I threw things away. It wrenches my gut to put a useful thing in the garbage, but I did it over and over again. Pens, pencils, nails and screws, hangers, things that were gifts, things that I had bought not long ago. Useful things that were no longer of use to me. I dropped a flashlight into my trashcan and just stood there staring at it, confused and sad.

Hours before driving away, I scattered my 20 year collection of shells and rocks over the ground throughout my neighborhood. I didn’t know what else to do.

“To confuse the geologists of the future,” I told myself, but I knew they would be smarter than that.

Since I’ve been in Arizona I’ve ridden my bike nearly 800 miles. It’s true. Every morning I have woken early to the desert and welcomed the day kinetically, on two wheels.

I’ve drawn three new pictures.

I’ve created a blog, written two essays, and taken hundreds of photos.

I’ve discovered new music, sold my car, open a bank account, gone to at least one grocery store every day, gotten a new drivers license, eaten excessive amounts of peanuts in the shell as well as countless mangos.

I’ve laughed in the comfort of my family, making jokes that are particular to our brand of humor. I have also sat quietly in their presence, like only intimate friends can do.

I’ve thought about who I want to be and what feels right. I’ve thought about the word “home” and what it means and how to harness its essence inside my heart wherever I am. How do I do that? Is home a place, a state, a person or group of people? Who is the “me” that is my home, and how can I muster the courage to be her? So open and true.

I have also been planning and plotting and waiting for the time in which I felt ready to embark on my journey.

Last week I finally bought my plane ticket.

I will fly to Mexico on July 27th.

That will be the first stop of this trip that has long since been a dream.

From there I will work my way south, with a plan and without a plan.

I’m excited to know all the new places and people and fruit and smells and sights. I’m excited to see what I didn’t before know existed and laugh in wonder at the gift of uncertainty.

I’m excited to find out why exactly it is that I need to do this.

What has been calling to me for so long?

When will I know that I have found that thing, and when will I decide it’s time to come home?

I’m excited.

I’m terrified.

July 27th.

27.

9 x 3 = 27

2 + 7 = 9

9

Like a circle.

Like a square.

Like magic.

• elizaplumlee says

thank you, friend

1. Valerie says

Amazing! I think, but I could be wrong, that home is where you feel comfortable enough to be open to those around you. To be comfortable just sitting quietly in the same room with someone…when that feels intimate. Whatever. I love you!

• elizaplumlee says

I love you too.

2. says

I found your art….then found your blog…which is your art too of course.

3. JJ says

Eliza, it’s always a journey, it never ends, it only becomes more clear as time meets with age and wisdom. I’ve enjoyed working with you, your kindness, smile and energy. I hope you have wonderful travels. Thank you for your amazing, hard work on set ?

4. Jacque Madden says

Eliza! I just read this and I love it! Beautiful and honest. I hope your travels bring you wisdom, growth and happiness! Much love!