Downtime

The Lease Makes the Lady

Why I procrastinate by imagining myself in different apartments around the world.

Woman on laptop teleporting between multiple different apartments.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Unsplash.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways we procrastinate now. To pitch your personal rabbit hole, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Once a week, when I should be writing, I search for a new apartment. I look through listings on the internet and services like Zillow, trying to find something spacious and affordable in an area with sidewalks where I can run. My new apartment needs to allow dogs. It absolutely must have a washer-dryer set, though I can live without a dishwasher. I save apartments in Orlando, Brooklyn, Miami, and Prague. In each new city, I imagine a new life for myself. I make up new friends and new habits. I find coffee shops, bookstores, and parks. I create whole new lives for myself. In another city, I could be someone else.

In Orlando, Florida, I’m finally close to my friends. I’ll live in Lake Baldwin (which, OK, I’ll admit it, is technically in Winter Park). My townhouse is two stories tall with black shutters and dormer windows. The siding—is it clapboard? pseudoclapboard?—is painted white. A service keeps the grass trimmed and the hedges squared off at just the right angles.

In Lake Baldwin, everything is just so. I imagine myself getting up every morning while fog still hangs over the lake. I’ll run with my black lab. I come back and drink a green smoothie. I will never procrastinate. I’ll get right to work. Because in Lake Baldwin, I’m a morning person, and my dog, somehow, is no longer 11 years old and arthritic.

After my morning workout, I make the trek to Austin’s Coffee, my favorite graffitied hole in the wall, where the Wi-Fi password is “buysomething,” if that gives you a sense of its character. I make plans with my friend who lives down the street. Except she’s a doctor and never has time. Really, we’ll probably end up spending just as much time (i.e., not much) together as we do now. Plus, the public transit in Orlando isn’t the best. It’s a driving city, and I’m sick of driving.

New York—New York would be the place to go. Then my friends would want to come visit me. I have plenty of acquaintances in New York, bookish people, people I have only talked to on Twitter. I imagine sharing a cup of coffee with them, talking about—I don’t know, Karl Ove Knausgaard? I’ll probably have to read his books before I move to NYC.

In New York, I am a flâneuse. I take walks on the dingy streets, thinking. I am artistic and cultured. I go out at night to dimly lit bars and talk about political theory and the novel I haven’t finished yet. People know of me, but they don’t really know me. In New York, I am definitely not a morning person.

I look up apartments in Brooklyn and cringe at the prices. My one-bedroom in Boynton Beach, Florida, costs a little over a thousand dollars a month. The equivalent in Brooklyn looks like it’ll run three or four times that. No wonder the New York version of me is a nihilist. It would literally be cheaper for me to live in Florida and fly to New York City once a month.

Besides, there are places in Florida more cultured than where I am right now. I have driven to Coral Gables before just to go to Books & Books, a bohemian bookstore wrapped around a courtyard café. Very cool, old-school South Florida. So I look up apartments in Coral Gables. These aren’t Brooklyn prices, but they still make me wince. (Sometimes I can’t believe my first apartment in Daytona Beach only cost $650 per month.) When I find a place, a Spanish-style condo with a red-tiled roof, I can’t believe it’s in my nonhypothetical price range, and I close the window. Any condo that perfect and that cheap has to be some sort of scam.

Miami is too close, anyway. In Miami, I would still be the current version of me. I want a new scene. Maybe I could live abroad. I could visit Prague again, maybe. Or Spain. But why do I need to go there? Why do I have to leave to be somebody else?

Before last year when I moved to Boynton Beach, I only ever really lived in Volusia County, Florida. I was a teacher, and every time I went out, a student would recognize me. They’d yell, “Miss Renner!” and I’d jump out of my skin. When you live in a small town and everyone knows you, it’s hard to change. You become a character, a set version of yourself. In Volusia County, I was the bookish one. I was sensible. I was, maybe to some, even boring.

But the real version of me likes to travel, to take chances. She makes friends with strangers and goes on adventures. Thoroughly planned adventures, but adventures nonetheless. The longer I live outside of my hometown, the braver I think I can be. Nothing is holding me back anymore. I could move anywhere. I can be whoever I want, in theory.

Too bad moving is such a pain in the ass.