Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Move to Something, Somewhere

The photo is deceptively personal, full of the sense of a certain communal peace, an idyllic setting most would love to insert ourselves within even for a short time. It is my home, so I should know. Or, rather, it is not my actual property; I do not live on either side of those river banks. But it is within my territory since we moved from the close-in city neighborhood to the current spot. And it is much like this–green-treed, near water, seemingly far from the constant din of city life heaving itself into consciousness. Here, the conscious mind is alive with nature and at a distance from much else, and this results in a stunning quietude.

But it has felt like living a small mystery, being here, and every day when I first look out the large opened windows or take walks along serpentine pathways that surround acreage, I am surprised.

For one thing, it is a wealthy enclave. Let’s call it Lakemont. It is a city set apart from the Portland metropolis or other suburbs. And we are not wealthy, so it may seem odd that we are here now. We do alright, could’ve done better if we’d planned differently (if life hadn’t thrown curve balls, if the economy hadn’t nosedived in 2008–if-if-if!)– and will likely manage when we’re fully retired. But we certainly don’t aspire to occupy the manse-like or maybe a bit more reasonably classy homes that characterize the city, each nestled within ubiquitous trees. I like to look at them–I enjoy such variety of architecture– but we’ve been apartment dwellers awhile. And so we now appreciate our spot within green, birdsong-infused expanses.

It was a joke that I even looked here as the deadline pressed upon us beginning in January. The goal was to vacate the old place and inhabit the new by 1st of March, in order to be much closer to one daughter undergoing a hysterectomy (so we could have here with us to support recovery days after the move), then another giving birth to twins 6 weeks later (so we could help daily). And, too, my husband was leaving for a long business trip within days of relocating.

So it was with urgency that I searched for something affordable–not at the top of the limit, not too cheap–and roomy and comfortable enough, with walking areas close by, too. I wanted to get to all within five minutes. There was little to be found anywhere within five miles of them. Places were way too small, worn out, lacking in sidewalks or parks nearby, or way too expensive.

And then an advertisement on a website caught my eye. What– in Lakemont? So fancy, no way! But I kept going back to it–looked at the square footage, the prices, rooms. And that location. Under 7 minutes drive, depending on traffic, to the daughters.

The decision was made after a visit and a long drive about the neighborhood. When sharing that, people we knew couldn’t believe we’d choose to live there. Far from our city’s fab bustle, for one thing, which we’ve enjoyed decades. Wouldn’t we be lonely? And Marc and I are aging hippies, still working on living more simply. Moderate, overall (but I am still well in more liberal zone), in lifestyle and ideological choices. Far more invested in various intellectual pursuits and nature’s delights/activities than money or–really, just forget this–status. Those simply do not cohere with who we are–and would not , still, if there were greater means.

And yet. This apartment felt like home even empty, like it would be the best place when all was said and done. We called the movers. I was ready to go. Now, each morning we open our doors and windows to refreshment of mind and body.

Today, after visiting my new, more pricey dentist, I reflected on the costs of that choice. I do think of money some, though I cannot deny one tends to get what is paid for. How much more do I get? Well, the solitude and tranquility of rolling woodlands, for one. Every time we step onto the long, deep balcony–a treat–we are inspired by towering trees, bird watching, bright summer skies; the lack of fire/police/ambulance sirens and not-infrequent night-time gunshots and late night revelers weaving home from bars around the corner. Our old area was pretty well heeled, but it was deep within big city stuff. Which we were comfortable with, overall. And which, strangely, we no longer miss much. We can always get fast into the city to attend a concert, visit the huge farmers’ market, stroll amid colorful jumbles of humanity and events.

It, though, sometimes feels as if we are living a charade–even though this matters much less than proximity to family now. No, I do not drive a Tesla or Mercedes; yes, I adore my worn Teva sandals; and we enjoy sandwiches and Italian dishes and chicken/veggie/rice pots with a seltzer water, not rare prime rib or fancy French cuisine (okay, a French bakery for week-end brunch) with fine wine or whatever else is eaten and imbibed here.

As I drive about, I grow more accustomed to circuitous streets, aged woods, cleaner parks, valley and mountain views, lake and rivers. It is a sweet relief on tough days, a sudden happiness on easier ones to enjoy these.

I watch the other women at church, at the library, on the trails or on quiet streets and wonder who I may meet, who I might become friends with here. I don’t care how much money is made, who you know. I care how you act. I smile at all; I often enjoy a smile returned, a hand raised in greeting. I look for graciousness, a friendly sort. I hope at least some are genuine… as well as basically accepting of varieties of persons, genders, statuses, religions, races–or at least courteous, kindly. Do I ask too much? Though I am short on time and energy, anymore, I think of ways to reach out.

It is true that Lakemont is known as a mostly white community; I was looked at askance for moving here by some since we do have an interracial family. And an extended family of eccentrics, creatives, and those challenged in varying ways, most all of whom are generous and can be zany fun. Maybe a few of our friends forgot what matters most now: to be closer to family, with a room enough for all to gather; to be situated within nature’s bounties–walk outside and find peace as an antidote to a multitude of life stressors. We’ve lived in well over a dozen places and a high priority has generally been to stay close to nature. Now, again, we are. So we embrace change even as we learn to adapt.

This afternoon I seriously muse on this feeling of dislocation–is this the right choice made, can this be a true home for us, at least awhile?–that may be closer to resolving as each week passes. We are intent on making it so but I wonder what really lies ahead. For it is not just new housing. It is an emotional and spiritual territory that is different for us. The birth of our daughter’s twins was not an easy event. It still is not but rather a most intricate dance, a breath-taking journey, and a time of consternation, too.

I remain restrained in what I share here but this has been a period of upheaval and worry and of deeper, broader love. A daily laboring toward better but healthier times. Prayers are said every busy day, and in the still deep cup of night, there come tears. Yet pitching in to help a new mother is standard labor no matter what comes. We hold those new ones so close, helping feed and diaper and soothe them, usher them toward better slumber, a gentle security. Tapping reserves as we go, and finding, too, small cheer here and there, moments of victory. Things will get better in time, always it takes time, we tell each other and offer love songs to the grand babies, these heartbreakingly wonderful ones.

Becoming a neophyte mother is a monumental transformation, perhaps more so when a bit older–and so is becoming a new father. Why does modern society insist it is roses and moonbeams and laughter from the start? Or gloss over many variations, including those of endless confounding, exhausting days and nights, plus the hugely unexpected? There is such judgement, so very high expectations, and there even seems a lack of empathy, at times. Birthing into this world is a risky venture for every parent and that each infant undertakes–in this case, two–and for some, more so than others. A risk but additionally opportunity to discover ways to thrive. To become one’s self more profoundly– as the little ones will do, too.

My daughter asks questions I cannot answer well enough. I sit with her, work beside her. And there is a well of silence as she summons courage to sort it all out. Her husband is stalwart, stressed, yet I witness their bravery every day, am overwhelmed with respect as well as love. I feel the ache of things paired with beauty of the twins’ lives, and want to obliterate any harshness that dares to impede the rooting of happiness. They are resourceful adults, are so conscientious, and will prevail. Rather, commitment to parenting will; it is that mammoth push that initiates movement in right directions.

Being a 69 year old mother and a grandmother is no walk in perfect weather, either. It is accepting the storms and waiting for transparent, lush rainbows. It is having faith when faith is pummeled and the bones are hurting, tired. And one wonders if one did the best thing or the worst; if one was a smart young mom or a foolish one way back then, if too misguided, impulsive. We can only have done what we did and let the past be past. I have this one day to carry on with my life tasks and missions, even if insignificant to others. I also stand right beside or protectively before my family; that will never change.

Those of us who have lived longer lives know what that stone lighthouse means as it prevails, shining and defiant, amidst all weather. There is a print of such, right above the bed. I look at it each day, then I pause on my balcony, scan branches for juncos, hummingbirds, chickadees, stellar jays, listen to wind song and squirrels scrabbling. And I do know why I am here: we were blessed to have been led to this haven. In truth, I knew it was critical to move as close as possible to this part of our family. The reality is that these are very hard and beautiful times… and here Marc and I can gather sustenance like blooms of light.

We are never sure of well being in this world–so why do we persist in believing life is so finely wrought, a story brilliant and bursting with wonder? Because it is this, too, whether we can perceive it or not. Because we can make it so if we become open to such, and realize persistence in becoming a more compassionate and courageous human is key. How can we live well without these as guidance? To be brave we have to put one foot in front of the other, not win awards for major heroics. And seek a helping hand as well as offer one. We must not attempt this life alone, not for long.

We arrive here with expansive heart and eternal soul, a calculating mind and so well-outfitted body; we have been given excellent tools. Thus, we carry on, with even thinnest of hope as a tether and perhaps a plethora of fears striving to sink us. We create ways to celebrate what small gifts are found and shared even as we know that, yes, it is true, once again tears will come. I am too well acquainted with grief, as sooner or later all of us are. Yet I will corral potential for better and brighter, within and without. There is no other worthy choice than to reach for and grab hold, then get on with it. Whatever it takes. This has aided me well for nearly seven decades. So often we must simply stand firm when shaken, take a first step when we can. And I count Divine Love as my most constant companion for those endeavors. My truest compass is God.

We each sooner or later make a move for something more or different, to somewhere else. To find out what’s next. We are just travelers in one way or another. May we make the move count. Make it wholehearted. I am taking it all in, creating my story while mending ripped portions and weaving in new pieces with many others’; then, the whole of it is richer. Heartier. May it be, oh God, enough, as I praise this life that yet allows me to live it with opened hands: let me have every, I mean every single moment.

She Finds Her Homing Instinct/It Finds Her

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In the middle of the night there is a pingpoingscritchscritch that gathers velocity in her sleep, rearranging her legs and arms, soon despositing feet off the soft edge of the bed. It’s not as if she sleeps restfully, anyway, yet she has a habit of diving back into the blackness and willing herself to re-enter slumber’s sweet exile. But this noise is foreign. She soon is fully and consciously sentient and stands up on the dusty wooden floor. The very act of becoming vertical seems enough of a feat that she hopes the racket turns out to be worth the effort. On the other hand, she wants it to be nothing much. Either way, she will likely muse over it’s power to interrupt rest.

This is not, she realizes again, home. That is, it is not the home she knows well, familiar nooks and crevasses, creaks and whistles the other place offered like a nightly serenade in a cozy cave. The old spot was tiny, four hundred square feet. Enough room to live but not to entertain others for more than a short visit–not without some regret, at least. Yet she thrived within it, or perhaps it was the context, that job, those friends, the sculptures she created. Creativity ruled that space. It was required in order to live efficaciously, happily. Spareness and a need for objects skirmished, then made, broke and remade truces. But she is slight of stature and weight so such areas accommodate her with little complaint from either. However, her mind is expansive, a virtual accordion of energy and thought patterns. Space has little to do with her survival, much less thriving. It is all in how you view it, she thinks.

So here she landed, smack into a new  job and this large, newish place. It is at least twice as big as the other, perhaps two and a half times. The house it is a part of is enormous but reverberates emptiness until renovation will be complete. The idea captured her attention even more when the lower rent was quoted, that of inhabiting part of a building in the process of transformation. But it is a little odd now, in a night beset by pings and scrtiches.

She finds her way through her room and enters the kitchen, bumps into boxes and a chair, pots and skillets. How is she filling it so easily already? Where did all this come from and how did everything fit before? Will things snug together like a smart puzzle again? The thought paralyzes her for a moment, an equation she can’t figure out and must. And will. Her apartment feels so full yet empty. She shrugs and leans toward the mess and the sound as she does any task, with resolution.

The five rooms take on their shapes as her eyes peer into the width and depth of each space. It is as if they come alive as she studies them. As if they are quiet, vacant expanses that have been waiting to relinquish their bland, amorphous state under her deft direction. She thinks of performance art, of the theatre of the absurd.

Pingpingpoingpingscritch. Breeziness wraps around the leftover space as wind swirls through raised windows. She pads over to the sun room, drops to her knees and sniffs the air. Damp. Earthen-sweet. It is raining. The drops are striking the multi-leveled metal roof and bouncing onto the porch and back hoe in the back yard. A few blow onto her arm. There is a green plastic chair in the sun room or breakfast room, she isn’t sure what it is, and she sits in it. There was a moon in the deep earlier, making its way to fullness, so the rain is a surprise. It seems more reasonable as she sits with it, closes her eyes, presses against the wall. The outdoors trying to come in feels like a mother murmuring or a mythic god beginning a long story. It is strange to hear life here; there are real acoustics. When speaking or singing along with the radio her own clear voice cascades through each room as if seeking a destination not yet found.

She sleeps. The rain and her breathing lift and take her elsewhere. Soon there are tree frogs and cicadas and crickets chirping and rasping with a monotony only found in hot, humid country. She walks down the road in the dark, into woods, and pauses at a clearing. The frogs jump across the path–she recognizes them even though she is night blind, sleep blind–and she greets them. They look like friends. They are on their way to studios where things will be created–etheral paintings, kinetic sculptures, crazy pottery and moving or satirical drawings and photographs. All of which you have to peer at as though into a very deep wishing well. So she feels like taking a frog home whre she gives it a place on her pillow, then guards its primitive beauty. It rests between comments, sees and is transformed by her kindness. The frog, it turns out, is humanoid and a friend. She feels a swell of happiness inside the dream. They share mugs of tea that fit well in their froggy and people hands as they talk creativity and cost of living and tenured teaching jobs and what it means to become art. For art to be more and less than what they even imagined.

The light awakens her. She comes to once more with reluctance. Feels a cloak of sadness slip and slide about her. A bright eastern sky blinks, blue-eyed and finely spread like chiffon above the river and grass. Her neck aches. Feet and arms are chilly. Stomach grumbling. Homesickness will grow like a pernicious weed if she isn’t careful. She gets up and carries out her morning toilette. There is so much more work to be done, aching neck or not. Tree frogs speaking in dreams or not. Here there are mosquito eaters, moths and tiny spiders that cling to the walls like ninjas. She leaves them alone, glad of company.

She picks up the tape measure and measures. Questions the boxes. What to do with you? Where to place your contents, well-loved items that carry stories of people who made them or gave them to me, every piece well-travelled now? This is home, she repeats without speaking. Here. Now. Or, if not yet, will be. It will accept her things, the comings and goings because that is what happens to places: they are somehow made to fit those who live there. But other times she is made to fit the place, the work, the passage of time. It can’t be helped and it sometimes is just what she needs. It is a mutual design encounter. She likes to accept challenges, even looks for them. You trade some things for others, life is constant bargaining, she thinks. She traces contours and textures of each handmade ceramic mug, cup, plate.

Across the road is a busy diner, a white church, a stolid hotel that seems empty, and people who do not know her yet but know she is here. Down the street is a market, a laundromat, a bank, a disheveled house. Turn a corner and there is a library that once had hundreds upon hundreds of villagers reading books, rubber stamps marking dates due. She will visit there. In this new place there are people whose names will become as familiar as the shopkeepers she has just left behind. There are faces that will stay with her and others that will fade the moment she sees them. But it will all imprint upon her, odd and lovely tattoos of life, residual nicks and bruises and invisible healing, colors and constructs, wonderments and passions that carve and illuminate her way. This is how it goes for an artist roaming the world. First, the nest is made, an honorable task. Then, the deepening work, the striving and living that begets the art that begets the woman. Or the wiser woman who begets the braver art. It all counts.

Her soft hair flutters as the front door is opened. August’s light divides the living room floor into two spaces, each shadowy side soon to become more useful. She steps outside. Her luminous eyes send greetings into the north country atmosphere as a passerby nods. The rain lingers as a taste of summer in her mouth. She finds her sketchbook, pencil hovering. Soon autumn’s radiance will arrive, then the shocking dreamscape of winter. In the passage of time another mystery or a few will be revealed. Possibilities. Home will again be a place to welcome her, keep her close to what matters. There is room enough for more than one good potluck, much more art.

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