Friday, June 10, 2011

Going, going, gone.

The past few weeks have been all about the acceleration towards The Big Move. I am physically and emotionally tired. Breathless. Excited. Torn.

FF and I have agreed to buy a house in North Carolina where we will start a very new and different life together, and that feels radical enough for a troubadour like me. Next week it is likely that the New York apartment will close and I will hand over the keys, forever losing my "foothold" in the New York City. That too is breathtaking change, even after all the build-up as remarked upon in this blog. And we are also leaving Tiny Town after two enchanted years and two months here, and it feels surprising and shocking to me though the leaving comes from plans long in the making.

I do not do all that well with change. Viewed from the outside, I am efficient, organized and admirably energetic in the way I organize people, re-locations and projects of all sorts. My image is especially shiny right now in my circle considering that I am closing on two residences and moving from two residences in 90 days time while still rather hobbled by my recently broken right ankle. Yet I appear to be a whirlwind of forward movement against all obstacles. Within, I am straining to slow down, bending against the existential speed of it all and I am in mourning over the places and people that I am leaving behind. Again. Only FF gets to see the tired, the occasional flood of tears, my existential struggle. Poor FF. But that's one of jobs of a mate.

While I patted dark, powdery coffee grounds into my little silver Bialetti espresso maker this morning in order to rev up the old engine, I was contemplating my mother. She has lived in the same house in the same town that I grew up in for half a century. She has no intention of leaving, not even for a short trip. My mother has been there so long that, in some ways, she has become the place while the place has actually left her. She has been the constant, living in that house, opening her bookshop every day, going to the Acme market, the post office, the local bank, the local privately-owned pharmacy. For many people in the area, including old school friends of mine, Mother is more of a constant than the streets and buildings themselves.

Every so often she will tell me how another store has closed, another person has died, and some other has moved away. The other day it was the Acme supermarket that she's been shopping at since I was a little girl. She knows everybody there, and calls them by name (first) and they call her by hers (title and last). When that store closed recently, it was a death for her, the loss of another piece of her life, and until my sister took her over to the Penn Valley market where she saw most of the old staff had been relocated, she didn't brighten. She walked through the market like a union shop steward, reported my sister with an audible grin, checking in on everybody to make sure they were OK. Yes, my mother has been where she lives long enough to have actually become more the place than the place itself.

That has not been my experience. I've moved a lot. Even the moves within Manhattan Island have been like moves to other countries. I separate my Lower East side period from my Harlem period with a thick black line. My trail has gone from Mom's house to New Haven, New Haven to the Lower East Side, Lower East Side to Upper West Side. Upper West Side to Long Island. Long Island back to Upper West Side. Upper West Side to Harlem, Harlem to Berlin, Berlin to Cologne, Cologne back to Harlem, Harlem to New Jersey, New Jersey to Tiny Town. And there are missing bits in that chain of events, too. Now this move, perhaps my last, is from Tiny Town to North Carolina. That's a lot of boxes, baby! Of course, material things have been lost along the way, though I have always tried to be careful to place my belongings with care and not leave a trail. Always there are people lost along the way, jokes, a place that made good tacos, and lots of other bits and rituals. As we get ready to make this Great Leap South, I am already conscious than many of the faces that now furnish my world will not remain in my ken. As it has been and ever shall be, a very few stick and many fall away.

Why have I moved so much? Why have I embraced constant change when I love so deeply, and lose the familiar so hard? Like Esperanza in Sandra Cisneros's excellent book, The House on Mango Street, I have always carried within me the ideal of My House. It would be a house with two floors and an attic, not too big and not too small. It would have a fireplace or two, and it would not be new but would have the wonderful scars and beauty marks that age brings, and its basement would offer the cool, mineral smell of the earth and unperturbed air. My House would have land, not too much and not too little, where I would grow fruit trees and a vegetable garden and perennials that would surprise and delight me every spring with their faithful coming. And (here I am different from the highly independent Esperanza) it would have in it a man who loved me very, very much.

None of the places I ever lived before were My House. I knew it when I lived in them. And though each of these places had its clear purpose, they were like passageways to another place and I lived lightly in them. I would never really settle in, never fix those cracks in the wall, choosing instead to cover their defects with a bright cloths, pictures, temporary furniture and my gaze left deliberately out of focus. I adjusted my eyes to not see the imperfections, because the inherent and more important imperfection of all of these places was that they were not My House. I knew, I always knew, I'd be moving on.

Ironically, my life as a traveling musician made me feel as "at home" as I have ever felt. The migrant life of the troubadour suited me as nothing before ever had with its sensation of constant motion and novelty, aided by the occasional revisiting of familiar stages and favorite hotels. While I was on the road with a guitar on my back, a suitcase in one hand and an amplifier in the other, I was at home in the whole wide earth and I did not have to feel the constant tension of seeming to be living in place while knowing that it was not my place. I was truly transient, an acknowledged outsider. On the road with my huckleberry partner in music, Mountain Sea, nowhere and everywhere was our home, and we took possession of our world with our songs, our rituals, and our laughter. Anywhere the wandering troubadours arrived was good enough for us: a favorite hotel room, a stage we liked, an isolated railroad station near the Black Sea, or a first-class cabin on an ICE train going 300 KMH. We knew the ropes, knew how to sleep on trains, we knew how to pack a bag -- and we were always on our way by check out time, leaving to others the hard job of staying in place.

Coming back to New York after traveling the world, both Mountain Sea and I felt a bit lost for a while. Lost were the familiar rocking motion of the train and the rituals of the road that made everywhere seem like home. Coming to a stop, we felt completely uncomfortable. Sometimes motion can calm you down, and stopping can make your mind race. My mind raced a lot, until I realized that what I needed was FF, and I set off to find him.

Each move brings with it loss. Each move brings with it some gain. Mother says she hates long goodbyes, and I think both of us suffer any length of leave-taking. I learned it from her. But isn't all life and every moment a sweet goodbye to something? And isn't any thought of permanence an utter illusion?

FF and I so look forward to moving into Our House in a month. We are happy. I know there are cool, empty rooms holding their breath and waiting for our coming, waiting to be filled with new music, new spirit, and new love. We go there knowing that the walls have held other loves, other lives, other sorrows and, if all goes well, we will make it a better place than we found it and, after we are gone, Our House will stand sturdy, ready to hold other hearts.

It is Our House now, the one I have been waiting for all my life. The door is opening to so many possibilities. We are almost home.

Photo above of artwork by Nils Udo: "Das Nest"


Tenured Radical said...

Really great essay. Consider publication in the meat world....

Dorothy Potter Snyder said...

Thank you very much, TR. You are always teaching me new words..."meat world"? One has to presume that one means tangible, ink spattered print on paper and not "Inside Pork Monthly"!

Tilda said...

So many facets of this precious gem of life we share, from NY to travel to the roots of PA...your mother is perhaps the last root tendril I have in that place too! (she just emailed to see if the fires had reached my doorstep). I cant imagine what a major tectonic plate shitfed for her when the acme closed - she lives in the kind of rich community of time and place that so many of us long for! Wishing you all the beautiful blossoming that true home can bring. when you get restless, mi casa es su casa, aqui, en la frontera.

SuR said...

i've been reading your words for a bit now; i too left NYC after 9 years-- you are a joy to read!

Lily said...

D -- it's so moving to read about this change. We're not so awfully old, but sometimes I think about how maybe it really is the last time for certain things. Except of course there is no "last time," because it all still lives in you, the things that matter, I mean. As I write this I'm looking out the window of my house in Berkeley, where I can see the same lemon bush, the same wisteria, the same magnolia that I've been looking at for the last 15 years of my life. I love where I live, but I also love the possibility of other places. And that's how your post made me feel -- that there are these rich alternatives out there. I know you're on to one. And I wish you much love there. xoxo L

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