Where Nobody Knows Your Name…

Moving is in that top 10 list of life stressors, along with things like marriage, divorce, childbirth and death. Some say it takes 3 years to really “move-in,” the point at which things become familiar and your home is really yours. You know where the grocery store is, how late you have to leave to get the kids to school on time, and what corner of your bedroom has morphed into the unofficial laundry basket.

But I haven’t been here 3 years. I’ve been here 6 months. And even though this was a move for many good reasons, moving still, in a word, sucks. I used to not think about the effects of moving and considered myself something of a rambler. That’s likely because from 18 on, I moved roughly every two years (with the exception of my longer 5-year stint in Chicago) until I was 32. Moving was the norm in my life, and my mind had adapted to living in an existential suitcase. Friendships were of the moment, to be grabbed by whoever could be found, because you or the other person might be leaving at any time. Carpe Diem made practical, not just philosophical, sense.

And then I had that 10 year lag…the one where I had things like children, mortgages, pets, parent-teacher conferences, annual holiday parties, restaurant special nights, season passes, oh and that job thing. The one where I showed up at the same job for 10 years, the first time in my life I’d had the same job for that long, went to the same office, saw much of the same people. Drove to the same places, saw the same buildings, taught the same classes, walked the same halls. Attended the same stupid, pointless, mandatory start of the term meeting every year. Crossed my eyes and doodled on my brain during the same committee meetings in the same boring rooms with the same glazed over faces dozens and dozens of times for 10 years.

Routine.

As much as my younger self recoiled at the thought of ever having a routine, the bottom line is I had one. Even when it included the things I didn’t like doing, it was still a routine. I learned how to navigate that space; I didn’t just know how to get around, I knew the backroads including avoiding the train that regularly blocked the entrance to my subdivision. I knew everyone in my neighborhood because my dog and I had walked the same route twice a day for several years and we met everyone who also walked, ran, or biked that route. When I was bored at work, I knew who to waste time with. When I didn’t want to get into a pointless conversation, I knew who to avoid.

Without realizing it, I had created “roots,” even though I wasn’t too pleased about where those roots were. I knew a long time ago I wouldn’t spend my life there, but in spite of that roots still developed and anchored me to a place and a way of life that was, for all intents and purposes, “normal.” It was what I knew.

I have been completely derailed therefore by the experience of knowing absolutely nothing now. Perhaps it was naive`, but I presumed I would bring something familiar with me. I still had my furniture, clothes, car…my family were still the same people and even the dog was still with us. It would just be a matter of changing the scenery, adapting to a different backdrop. I would still be teaching, reading, writing, and all that regular stuff. Life couldn’t really be that different, could it?

Wrong. I have watched every tiny piece of familiarity slowly dismantle itself as it walks across the threshold. The furniture I brought doesn’t fit in the new house. The car doesn’t work. The clothes are for the wrong season. And my family – still the same people, but now as turned around as I am. We bump into each other regularly because we haven’t figured out what direction to move in.

This is figurative and literal; when I get a moment to myself now, I still haven’t any clue where to sit in my own house. I haven’t found “my space.” When I find a spot, I don’t know what to do because I’m not sure how to fill that time. Even the little things I used to do, the hobbies, the activities, the ways of killing time and stretching through boredom just don’t exist the way they used to. Even my job, the teaching thing – it’s true there is an encyclopedia in my head that was written over the last 10 years, but I can’t deliver it the same way I used to. The format I teach in is nothing like what I did before, and every day is an adaptation to a new context. I have had to remind myself that I can put together a sentence and work a room, but my audience is not the same one I had before and I am learning them all over again.

It’s a weird kind of identity crisis. I’ve found myself wanting to volunteer for almost everything, things I’ve never even heard of because I don’t know where I belong. Outfits that I wore in the past don’t seem to match anymore. I am constructing an image all over again and I don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  This is an experiential lesson in social construction; the context of myself is impermanent, my knowledge of me fluttering constantly with the unrecognizable mirror of my unfamiliar social sphere.

I don’t have a clear answer out of all this. And it may seem surprising when I say I like being here. But I have made myself remember things like patience and temperance. Slowly the new little things are making themselves known to me; I recently ripped out a lawn feature left from the previous owner because I could finally say, “that isn’t mine.” I bought 4 pairs of shoes too many in trying to figure out this new fashion only to settle back on my old, reliable set of doc marten’s. I’ve abandoned local television to Netflix binge old seasons of House, the show I was addicted to (curiously) 10 years ago when I moved and started my last job. I bought a new car, and I blast 80’s music on my drive to work.

My spaces are still being developed. What’s it going to look like? I don’t know. Check back in 3 years.

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Transitions…

…are a bitch.

There, I said it. I know, counselor-types aren’t supposed to say things like that. We’re supposed to be all, “it’ll be a difficult time but you’ll get through” and “it’s a normal phase of life” and “you have the resources” and blah blah blah blah. Bullshit. Transitions are rough, unpleasant, unpredictable, and overpowering. Transitions demonstrate how very little control you really have in your life and how most of the control you think you have left is really  just an illusion you’ve created to console yourself. Transitions are Nietzsche’s wonderland, pools of existential angst bubbling like primeval mud ready to suck the reason right off your puny little soul.

So it’s safe to say this hasn’t been the easiest of changes…although as I’ve said before, this is a problem I am happy to have. I am glad to be in a process of transitioning because it does mean things are changing; in fact they are transforming right before my eyes and the real problem is my brain simply can’t keep up. The landscape is moving too quickly so I have no idea where I am at any given moment.

It is interesting how easily though my mind is removing itself from what I’ve known for the last 10 years and relocating itself into my new west-coast world. It is very easy to let go of the problems that I no longer have any involvement in and say, “well, you get to deal with it now” and go dancing away like a pixie. I recently found myself driving through southern California repeating to myself, “I am actually going to live here” and found it remarkably simple to forget that I had ever lived in Texas.

Yet it is still an angst-ridden experience; I’ve realized I’m not really moving me, I’m moving a family, and the home I’m trying to create isn’t about me but about the life the little people I care for will be able to have. Now that is brand new, and fills me with hoards of nightmares regularly. The logistics of finding schools, homes, neighborhoods, where the nearest grocery will be, is there a park, will there be a place to play soccer or swim, what will the high school that they’ll attend in 5 years be like, where is the pediatrician, who will be the band leader, and on and on, fills up my head before we’ve even figured out who the internet provider is going to be. I’ve no idea what my new email address will be, how could I possibly be expected to know whether or not my children will be secure in their attempts to get into graduate school?

So it’s a little upside down. I have been touched by the outpouring of grace and generosity exhibited by those who seem truly sad to see me go. As much as I shun ego, I do like hearing that something I did or said made a difference. The goodbyes have been more difficult than I’ve experienced in the past. This time I’m going, what will happen to these relationships, will they continue, will I make new ones where I’m going, will I be able to make a difference there too? Or was the last 10 years just a collection of luck and happenstance?

In spite of being someone who teaches about the power of influence, I still have tremendous incapacity for connecting my own efficacy to the influences occurring in other people’s lives. I would prefer to simply not know if I’ve done anything. It is therefore gratifying to hear that I’ve done something that was effective, meaningful, even just entertaining. And yet I do quietly fear that I won’t be much of anything as I start this new phase of my life.

I suppose the reality is I won’t be much of anything. No one will know me, I’ll have nothing to show for myself, it will need to be built. What is different now though is that I’ve got some experience having built things, and more importantly I actually know who the builder is. 10 years ago I was still figuring myself out, still deciding what “team” to play on or if I would play at all. I’ve come to some very difficult understandings about myself and had to make hard decisions, and I think what I’ve figured out is the stuff that actually matters to me. It is so much less about accolades, recognitions, fame, even principles, and so much more about people. Who is important in my life and how do I make it clear to them that I value them too. No work should get in the way of such things, and if it does then that tells me it is time to do something different.

So to those who have taken this transition as a time to take last minute pot-shots at me, fuck off. To those who have gone out of their way to let me know that our time together mattered, thank you. You have affected my life in ways you likely have no idea about as well; I have had a chance to meet some really amazing and interesting people and that has taught me more than much of my years in school. I hope whatever I do next will continue to make you proud.

And on a complete side note, I’ve found that my questions about my career have either been so shelved that I’m not thinking about it, or I’ve managed to find some answers. The most interesting answer I’ve found recently is I’m tired of asking the “what if” questions. So rather than ask what if, I’ve just been doing whatever it is that I’ve wondered about. I think what has changed is I’m willing to find out if it’s no good or if I can’t do it. I think I’ve finally learned that I’d rather make the attempt and learn that I suck rather than spend years asking if I could’ve done something to begin with. Oh, and I’ve found out that some things I thought I was good at aren’t that good after all. Or more fairly, sometimes I produce things that are good and other times I produce things that are crap. That’s a pretty typical thing though, isn’t it? We in the USA do this absurd thing to ourselves, buying into some ridiculous notion that everything we do is supposed to be superb, producing peak experiences ad infinitum. But getting knocked off your feet isn’t so disastrous as we let ourselves think. It hurts the pride, and it does create self-doubt. It is not fun to hear that what you made is ugly. But that doesn’t mean that everything you make is ugly, or that the ugly thing is without merit. That’s the newest lesson, that there are still many things to learn and that doesn’t mean you didn’t know something to begin with. Which means during my transition, I find myself yet again, confronted with the phrase I’ve shared with students:

“Why do we fall…”

“So we can learn to pick ourselves up…”

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Damn you, Batman

Moving On…

As I teased in a prior post(s), we have received the word that we are getting new jobs and moving. Yippee! There are many parts of this change that are very good for us, our careers, our family, and in general our well being and peace of mind. So very happy. Of course also very sad at saying goodbye to many people we’ve come to know and care about. In truth the outpouring of gratitude for our work and commitment has been touching, to say the least. There has also been a bizarre validation that has come through this process of ending this part of our lives; validation in that many are showing us the effects of our efforts, and also validation in that now that politics is no longer a barrier, we see that we really weren’t crazy after all. So onwards – which translates into getting one house on the market, packing, locating a new house, hiring a moving company, packing, getting rid of stuff, figuring out where to unpack, planning a trip, getting paperwork together to end a job, packing, getting paperwork together to get a job, packing, chasing down all the loose ends that have piled up over the last 10 years, packing, still continuing to take care of the family on a daily basis, decluttering, packing, occasionally managing to remember what lecture I’m supposed to give this semester, packing, taking care of the other parts of my work that are quickly getting neglected because I am PACKING… I am, in a nutshell, overwhelmed. It is all for good reasons though. Some problems are worth having. Of course it does mean that I’m slowly turning into this: